We need a better academic culture in the Philippines

I’m so glad to see news articles of Filipino scholars pursuing masters and PhD’s in other countries! However, I also wish the country and its universities would support more Filipino students who would like to do postgraduate studies so that there’s no need for Filipinos to keep looking for scholarships abroad. Our universities back home are good, but the hindrances to finishing a masters and a PhD are insurmountable. While getting a masters or doctorate in other countries are somewhat the norm, the Philippines produces relatively few masters and PhD graduates. There was a Twitter thread/discussion a few months ago how different academe is in the Philippines and in other countries. A few observations:

1. A masters degree in other countries is 1-2 years. You write and finish your thesis in a semester/term. No, we don’t need to defend our thesis proposal. In the Philippines masters degree can take time just with the thesis alone. I was told by a professor in DLSU that the expectation for a masters student is to produce a dissertation that would produce new knowledge and contribution to the field…but that’s a PhD level of thesis in other countries. Ideally, a masters thesis would only show the mastery of the topic. I myself didn’t even have to defend my masters thesis. No one goes through any defense doing their masters in the UK. At least no one I knew who did their MA/MsC in the UK did any kind of defense. We passed our dissertation, it was checked and graded, and done!

I know so many people who took 7-10 years doing their masters in the Philippines, mostly because of their dissertation. It really takes the fun out of learning and you can get dissuaded to pursue a PhD. Meanwhile other countries even offer you a scheme where you finish your masters in a year and then go straight to PhD and finish everything in four years.

2. There are not enough scholarships and no national student loans to help students while they study. Other countries allow you to borrow money from the government so you can study and not worry about money for tuition fees and daily expenses. You pay them back once you get a job and a percentage of your salary is automatically deducted to pay your loan back (in the UK it’s 10% af your earnings above 25,000GBP so if you earn 25,100GBP in a year, you will get deducted 10GBP). Loans are scholarships help more people pursue the academe.

Most Filipinos, even those who want to study further, have to worry about money, which hinders them from getting into postgrad. If the Philippines had a scheme where people can borrow a loan and pay back in a way where they don’t run into a pile of debt (the US student loan system is not the best thing to copy in this case), that would make postgrad studies more accessible to Filipinos.

3. The culture of smart shaming needs to stop, and we need to start cultivating a love of knowledge. We constantly hear people say, “Matalino ka kasi,” or “Nagmamagaling ka nanaman,” or “Eh di ikaw na matalino.” I don’t know where this smart shaming started in our culture but something needs to change here. Why do we constantly use the word “matalino” and “magaling” as a derogatory remark? Even when I get told, “Karunungan apelyido mo eh di matalino ka?!”, I get embarrassed and say, “Ay hindi naman po,” like having knowledge is a bad thing. We have an internalised dislike for knowledge. So instead of encouraging people to study further smart shaming can stop people from pursuing that path.

4. It shouldn’t be about the titles. Filipinos love to put all these titles after their names : Juana de la Cruz, BsC, MA, MsC, PhD, MBA. You rarely see this in other countries. We don’t even call our professors as professors, we call them by their first name. Because it’s not a competition who gets the most degrees or the most titles, it’s about pursuing the field of knowledge because you genuinely love it and have interest in it.

This kind of competitiveness harnessed from when we start school by giving out all these awards (valedictorian, salutatorian etc) can be counter-productive. Those who don’t feel they are rewarded for their efforts to study can feel that the academic life is not for them. Instead we have to cultivate a love of learning not based on competition but based on what children are interested in.

Anyway, I just wish Filipinos didn’t have to go abroad to study. It is sad the we a lose some of the country’s best minds to other countries. If the government has better support for Filipinos who want to do a masters or a PhD, I’m sure many of us will choose to stay home. The academe also has to reinvent itself so that it cultivates a love of learning and so that Filipinos don’t see it as something that they will have to do in a decade.