Sigue: The cost of short-sightedness

Disruptive Mode

THE low scores in reading and mathematics are simply symptoms of a deeper problem. Short-sightedness. Our leaders suffer from extreme myopia. They keep on doing or allowing things that lead us to the wrong path. This utter lack of foresight among our policy makers and leaders is going to hurt this nation more than any other issues today.

Every country today is racing towards increasing the digital competence and improving the digital skills of not only its workforce, but its citizens in general. Sadly, we are still struggling with improving our reading and math skills.

In the latest Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), the Philippines scored the lowest in reading comprehension in the 2018 according to the results released December last year among 79 countries. PISA is a worldwide study by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) that examines students’ knowledge in reading, mathematics, and science.

I do not wish to delve on the nitty-gritty of the subject but instead focus on the other salient findings which is that we have the “largest percentage of low performers in reading among socio-economically disadvantaged students” and the average class sizes of 15-year old students in the Philippines are the largest, and the ratio of students to teaching staff in socio-economically disadvantaged schools is the highest”.

Fourteen years ago, in a high-level academic discussion, I was shown the figures for employability – reading, listening, speaking, and writing. The red flag was already in reading. How much more reading comprehension? The red flag should have been raised higher when we ended up with a country average of 86 in IQ last year – lowest in Southeast Asia. I wrote many columns regarding raising the bar, promoting knowledge and tools that lead to knowledge to address the global findings instead of brushing it aside.

We cannot constantly disregard these rankings as baseless or untrue and continue down the path of disbelief. Why are we always trying to find excuses for our lapses instead of defining the problem and designing solutions? I have put together piles of international studies, spent nights reading hundreds of pages of global researches, all indicating that a country’s economy is directly proportional to the productive knowledge of its citizens. Yet, there will always be some smart-alecks who will say creating a knowledge-based economy doesn’t matter as long as we have food on our table. Sadly, this is a chicken and egg scenario today. Not enough knowledge, not enough jobs. Not enough jobs, lesser chances of growing knowledge.

We need productive knowledge to grow our economy. Most prosperous modern societies are wiser, not because their citizens are individually brilliant, but because these societies hold a diversity of knowledge and because they are able to combine it to create a larger variety of smarter and better products. This is according to The Atlas of Economic Complexity: Mapping Paths to Prosperity written by Ricardo Hausmann and Cesar Hidalgo.

According to Hausmann and Hidalgo, for a society to operate at a high level of total productive knowledge, individuals must know different things. Diversity of productive knowledge, however, is not enough. In order to put knowledge into productive use, societies need to reassemble these distributed bits through teams, organizations and markets. Ultimately, the complexity of an economy is related to the multiplicity of useful knowledge embedded in it.

For a complex society to exist, and to sustain itself, people who know about design, marketing, finance, technology, human resource management, operations and trade law must be able to interact and combine their knowledge to make products. These same products cannot be made in societies that are missing parts of this capability set. Economic complexity, therefore, is expressed in the composition of a country’s productive output and reflects the structures that emerge to hold and combine knowledge.

In understanding productive knowledge as part of policy research, our leaders should ask the question if we combine the knowledge of various sectors in our country, can we make valuable products and systems? Are we able to create outstanding products that will add value to the world? It is not a question of having intelligent Filipinos, it is a question of harnessing collaboration both as in the leaders and workforce sector to create value. Do we have massive productive knowledge in this country? As starting point to see a thriving economy right in the eye of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, or are we too concerned of simply just working as individuals.


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