M. V. Carpio-Bernido
UP Manila Commencement Speech
April 19, 2013
Honorable members of the Board of Regents, Chancellor Manuel B. Agulto, Vice-Chancellors, Deans, Members of the Faculty, Staff, distinguished guests, parents, grandparents, relatives and friends of the graduates, members of UP Manila Class of 2013:
First of all, I would like to congratulate the graduates, their mentors, parents, grandparents, and relatives. This is a special moment of achievement for you, and it is a great honor for Chris and myself to be invited by your University officials to be part of this memorable occasion.
In January, when we received the invitation from your Chancellor, through Vice-Chancellor Josephine De Luna, to be the commencement speakers in your graduation rites, the thought occurred to me – whether Chris and I are good role models for you. After all, when we returned in 1989 to UP Diliman after doctoral and postdoctoral work in the US and Germany, my UP salary was far smaller than my graduate assistantship stipend; the gap between his UP salary and his research fellowship in Germany was even greater. Then again, ten years later, in 1999, as Principal of a struggling high school in Bohol, my salary was drastically reduced further. Each of us earned around 2k in our first few months in Jagna, Bohol. We have earned increases since then, but we now basically earn just about the equivalent of a newly hired public school teacher. If the measure of success would then be the steepness in trajectory of salary increases, Chris and I would be poor role models for this graduating class.
I would suppose then that our being here is testament to the different measure of success delineated by your University officials. Indeed, in the letter of invitation watermarked with the words, “Honor, Excellence and Heroism”, Chancellor Agulto asked us to share our experiences and insights in helping uplift the lives of people in Bohol and in different parts of the country.
In this sense, our mindset converges with that of the Chancellor. From the time Chris and I met, we have always put premium on our common desire to contribute to the building up of our country. We have both been strongly influenced by our parents. His father, a guerrilla officer in Bohol, fought for independence during the second World War. My father, a human rights lawyer and briefly head of the National Bureau of Investigation, always said, “Bayan muna, bago sarili.” As students, both Chris and I experienced joining rallies during the Martial Law days. Yet, both of us, after much thought, independently chose to pursue higher studies and advanced degrees so that we can be better trained and equipped to help our country as scientists and educators. Later, after having been exposed to the lifestyles and intellectual intensity of academic communities in the advanced countries, it became increasingly painful for us to see our own nation suffering in backwardness – in both economic and intellectual domains. Thus, for us, we could only find fulfilment if we could contribute to the effort to work out solutions to present problems faced by our nation.
The most serious problems faced by our country, like many developing nations, are: ignorance, poverty, disease and injustice. In a simplified model of governance, this is why there is the Department of Justice to address issues of human rights and justice, the Department of Health for issues of prevention and treatment of diseases, the Department of Social Welfare and Development for issues of poverty, and the Department of Education and Commission on Higher Education to eradicate ignorance and elevate the people to higher levels of intellectual development. National and local government units then exist to ensure the proper implementation of departmental programs in the great national effort to improve the quality of life of all citizens, regardless of socio-economic and cultural background.
However, it is not as simple as it sounds. Reality is far more complex. Ignorance, poverty, disease and injustice continue to plague the nation. Nonetheless, there is no reason to despair. Every batch of graduates like you renews the nation’s hope for progress and development. The diversity of your chosen fields of expertise, from the humanities to the natural and social sciences, can address the diversity of challenges in our society.
It is possible that there are a number of you here who agree with me that the more difficult the problem, the more exciting it is to find a solution. After all, UP students are proverbially used to dealing with extreme challenges – from extreme professors to extreme exams, laboratory and thesis work. However, academic problems that we deal with in the rarefied atmosphere of a university are of a far smaller scale and impact compared to the problems we encounter in the real world. Out there, the success, or failure, of our solutions is not marked in grades but in number of those imprisoned unjustly, or denied basic human rights and opportunity for a better life, or number of injuries, or even death.
Poorly crafted solutions to social and economic problems do not result in just a grade of 4 or 5, or Incomplete. Bad solutions result in millions of Filipinos suffering in subhuman conditions in many cities and provinces while the government continues to incur billion-dollar loans misused or misappropriated, or worse, used to train manpower now serving donor nations. Squatters and mountains of garbage cannot be offset by the proliferation of five-star hotels and condominiums, five-star shopping malls and residential villages.
Poorly crafted educational solutions result in the Philippine image of mediocrity in the age of the World Wide Web as shown by poor performance indicators: We score among the bottom performers in basic education in international assessments, and none of our universities is in the top 400 in world rankings, unlike our neighbors in Southeast Asia.
This is why we agree with the order prescribed by UP: Honor, Excellence and Heroism. Today, more than ever, heroism without proper training and discipline can do more damage. So first, we need to have excellent training for disciplined practice of profession according to the highest international standards. Then we can talk about helping our nation. In his speech, Chris talked about the challenge of helping our nation push the frontiers of knowledge through high level globally competitive research. Here, I focus on basic education, our other passion.
When Chris and I were requested by his 77-year old mother to help her manage the school founded by her father, we saw it as both a challenge, rather daunting, and an opportunity to get insights on a shared problem. You see, although it seems that we have among the best and the brightest in the world in terms of ability and aptitude, there is something wrong with us Filipinos since our country remains poor and underdeveloped. We wanted to know why and how educational institutions fail in the Philippines. Then, if we are armed with an objective and comprehensive analysis, we could then systematically determine low-budget yet sustainable remedies that would progressively bring millions of our young people to globally competitive performance levels.
Our vision has always been to have the average Filipino child from any part of the country – in Luzon, Visayas or Mindanao – perform at least as well as the average Singaporean, Chinese, German, or Finnish child. This should be in spite of lack of human and material resources, and without incurring new loans from international funding institutions. After all, financial dependence could lead to intellectual subservience. It could then be difficult to question prevailing pedagogical dogmas, nor go against fashionable trends, even if these have failed in delivering quality education to generations of Filipinos.
Our small school in Jagna, Bohol, the Central Visayan Institute Foundation, clearly was a microcosm of the larger Philippine society. (Of course, we were helped in our endeavors by the fact that in Jagna, Bohol there is no night life, and we do our groceries 63 kilometers from where we live. The drive along the coast of the Bohol Sea allows many opportunities for deep thinking and contemplation. Moreover, Chris and I have not had a TV for the past 14 years so we can fully focus on our work.)
After over a decade, we offer a package of solutions contained in the CVIF Dynamic Learning Program (DLP). From experience and observation, from studies of recent results of pedagogical and neuroscientific research, from statistical analysis of extensive data we have accumulated so far, we can now say that we have a learning program that satisfies the following criteria:
- Efficiency: low input in terms of time, manpower and infrastructure yet high output in terms of impact and scale;
- Cost-effectiveness: does not need multi-million dollar loans;
- (I say this because this is UP Manila.) Supportive of health and wellness: strategic rest component (PE day on Wednesdays, and absolutely-no-homework policy).
We have also designed and implemented the Learning Physics as One Nation Project (LPON). You see, in the 1990’s, the Department of Science and Technology found in a survey that only 27% of high school Physics teachers were qualified to teach Physics. The government embarked on various heavily funded projects – for scholarships, training and workshops – to address the issue. However, the results of surveys in 2003 showed that the number of qualified Physics teachers went down to 8%. This means over a million high school students graduating each year while possibly terrorized or traumatized by the subject Chris and I both love. The materials of the LPON, designed to help solve the problem of lack of qualified teachers, have now been made available to over 600 schools in the country.
With the CVIF-DLP and LPON, we realize that it is possible, in a relatively short period of time, and at small cost to the Filipino people, to have many of our young people performing at globally competitive levels, even in the proverbially challenging disciplines of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
I mentioned heroism earlier. Frankly, Chris and I are embarrassed when we are referred to as heroes. There are thousands of Filipinos – heroes – out there, doing their job quietly and unrecognized. Chris and I just happen to get more attention. (Perhaps it is the price to pay for being UP graduates.) So at this point, I wish to pay tribute to doctors since this is a gathering of health professionals. You see, I would not be standing here had it not been for the care of my doctors. In 2001, I had an accident; I slipped at the airport and sustained multiple fractures – spiral, comminiuted. Surgery was delayed since my case was considered complicated – a freak injury. My orthopedic surgeon was Dr. Antonio Tanchuling, Jr.; I was fascinated by his explanations and drawings. I asked him whether I would still be able to teach dance to our students. In fact, I had just bought new ballet shoes at that time. He told me not to worry. They will go for ‘100% functional recovery.’ So here I am, in high heels.
I cannot mention the other doctors, anaesthesiologists, my cardiologists, dentists, for the list is long. What I can say is that in this country, we have a diversity of interests, a diversity of professions. If we could only work together, if we could practice the words of the Doxology led by the student at the start of this program: “Where there is injury, to pardon;…to seek not so much to be understood as to understand…”, then we could live to see our nation rise to a place among the great nations.
Let me end by mentioning one of my memories of my mother since here we have families with the graduates. During our nightly family rosary, with me often struggling to keep awake, she would add, “Pray for good men and women for our country.” I hope that the graduates this year, and in the coming years, will be the answers to my mother’s prayer.
Thank you for your attention.
Note: No Philippine university entered the top 800 in the 2015 THED world rankings.