The strange death of education and religion in the Philippines

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News came out that the Department of Education is allowing private schools to continue with blended and distance online learning even beyond November. This was, of course, giddily welcomed by that peculiar sector of society that seem to thrive on being forever terrified of a virus with a 99.9% survival rate.

We don’t need no education.

In any event, such a development does not bode well for Philippine universities. The past two years are already standing on decades of continuous education devaluation. As I pointed out previously (“If college degrees are not important, have companies dumbed down?,” BusinessWorld, December 2018):

“… even though commonsensically not everyone is fit for a university degree, to avoid offending those unfit for such, to make education more ‘inclusive’ (a term worth despising), admissions and education criteria were adjusted to allow almost anyone to get a degree. And it’s also not far-fetched to think that commercial interests played a role.

“The point: university degrees used to be compelling because schools previously took only those with clear talent and then sifted out or molded that talent even further. That rigorous process gave employers obvious incentive to prefer university graduates.

“But if anyone can now become a university graduate, then a degree practically means nothing. Making employers logically search for other credible criteria to separate the good from the mediocre.”

Now add to that the fact that universities have basically declared to everyone that going to the classroom is not a necessity and that you can get the same quality of education while in the comfort of your sofa and pajamas. Which leads to the logical question: “why pay for such high amounts of tuition at all?” Fees should then no longer be needed to maintain classrooms, laboratories, meeting rooms, libraries. Why hire a varied amount of faculty when a single teacher’s recorded lecture could repeatedly be played asynchronously for hundreds, if not thousands?

Higher education’s meek kowtowing to all of government’s non-sequitur COVID-19 policies (lockdown, distancing, masks, vaccination) are such that we now have the ridiculous situation of vaccinated faculty and students refusing to go to school due to their continuing fear of COVID, which led schools to accommodating them by resorting to blended learning, that however deprives unvaccinated faculty and students raring to go to school of face-to-face instruction.

The point of a classroom is to encourage the very valuable interaction between students and between students and teachers. The point of a laboratory and libraries is to train students to research and learn things personally, directedly, disciplinedly. The point of a university is for students to develop the self-mastery of getting out of the house, make themselves presentable, and act civilly day in and day out, and — even more importantly — to hear and listen to ideas (and be in the presence of people) they find objectionable (rather than have the online ability of filtering or blocking such ideas or people) because that is the only way they can learn the truth and value it.

But no.

Our universities have basically declared their utter willingness to abdicate their duties for the sake of comfort, popularity, and “inclusivity.” And the results are palpable and quick: the Coordinating Council of Private Educational Associations of the Philippines lamented that only 201,147 students enrolled in private schools for school year 2021-2022. This is already on top of a 50% decline from the previous school year. The education department itself noted that 865 private schools were contemplating closure due to low enrollment.

The same predicament is happening in the US. According to a report by the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, total enrollment for both undergraduate and graduate students decreased by 4.1% — equal to about 685,000 students — in spring 2022 compared to spring 2021 (which in turn fell by 3.5% from the previous year). That makes the overall drop to be 7.4%, or nearly 1.3 million college students from 2020. (see “New Report: The College Enrollment Decline Worsened This Spring,” Forbes, May 2022)

And the reason for the drop is not primarily COVID but rather the economy created by stupendously overreactive and incompetent COVID measures and — equally troubling — great skepticism as to the value of a university education in the first place: “The percentage of aspiring adult learners who believe education will be worth the cost dropped from 77% to 59% since 2019; those believing education will help them get a good job dropped from 89% to 64%.” (“Wake Up Higher Education. The Degree Is On The Decline,” Forbes, September 2020)

As it stands, expect declines in enrollment (and hence university closures) to continue for another decade. If universities continue to go along with these anemic online and distance learning measures in reaction to a virus that is turning out to be at most as dangerous as the flu, then they have virtually signed their own death warrants.

And no religion too.

The same goes for religion. The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) president Bishop Pablo Virgilio David recently urged the faithful to go back to personal attendance at Mass rather than continue with merely watching online: “We strongly encourage our faithful to return to the Sunday Eucharist with a purified heart, renewed amazement, and increased desire to meet the Lord, to be with him, to receive him, and bring him to our brothers and sisters with the witness of a life full of faith, love and hope.”

But like education, the damage has long been done and the COVID “pandemic” merely exacerbated it. For so long, the Christian faithful had to endure seeing their religious leaders unable to tell the difference between their vocation and that of politicians, seeing their shepherds in the faith more interested in talking about politics, the environment, and international relations rather than Church doctrines. But many set all that aside on the trust that, when difficult times come, Catholic priests and Christian pastors will lead the way, as they have constantly preached about the glories of martyrdom and the virtue of sacrificing for the faith.

So just imagine the utter dismay that when the tests indeed came in 2020, the reaction of most was to close churches in meek obedience to government dictates and deprive many of the faithful the consolation of the sacraments.

For two long years.

And the CBCP’s continued bizarre insistent acquiescence to government mandated “health protocols” has made ordering fried chicken takeout a more welcoming experience than going to church. Talk about inclusivity.

All that coming amidst many of the clergy and supposed Catholic schools bending in either fright or ideological agreement to the woke mob, whether it be about Marxism, feminism, or the LGBTQ+ fanaticism. Whatever happened to the fight against contraceptives or abortion? Which raises the question: What then is the difference between a secular university, a public school, and a Catholic school? Higher tuition rates?

Hence, it is not surprising that the number of Filipinos who believe religion is “very important” has gone down by 10% (see SWS survey 2020) and that church attendance remains at a low.

The US, who culturally we either mirror or vice versa, as well paints a bleak picture: “According to data collected in April/May 2020 by Barna Group, one-in-three practicing Christians dropped out of church completely during COVID-19. Last June, the AP broke a story about many houses of worship in the US that were shuttered forever due to the pandemic. What’s worse, church membership in the US dropped below 50% for the first time in 2020, according to Gallup data dating back to 1940.

A new IFS analysis using the American Family Survey suggests that religious attendance has declined significantly in the past two years. The share of regular churchgoers is down by six percentage points, from 34% in 2019 to 28% in 2021. Meanwhile, the share of secular Americans who have never or seldom attended religious services increased by seven percentage points. (“The Decline in Church Attendance in COVID America,” Institute for Family Studies, January 2022)

To hell with it.

“Education,” “virtues,” “character,” “rights,” “truth,” “faith,” “courage,” and many others upon that which our society rests are not mere words to be discarded when difficulties arise but are precisely there to be adhered to in the midst of difficulties. They are the ones that give meaning and direction to our lives and if we let them go just like that, should we be surprised if we find ourselves bewildered and cynical at the shallowness and confusion of societal existence?

This reminds us of a dinner sometime in the 1950s where one of the guests, writer Mary McCarthy, spoke of her having recently received Communion and thought of the Eucharist as a “symbol and a pretty good one.” Whereby Flannery O’Connor, the great novelist and devout Catholic, retorted: “Well, if it’s [just] a symbol, to hell with it.”

We have to put our youth back in the classrooms and our faithful back in the churches. There is a great deal of wrong choices, fear, and inertia needing to be overcome, true, there is the problem of traffic and transportation expenses, true, and there is the whole allure of a life of convenience and the self-justification that goes with it, true — but these are problems to be solved not circumstances to surrender to.

To do otherwise would ultimately render learning and teachings and doctrines as just empty words. And education and religion? To hell with it.

Jemy Gatdula is a senior fellow of the Philippine Council for Foreign Relations and a Philippine Judicial Academy law lecturer for constitutional philosophy and jurisprudence


Twitter @jemygatdula