Access and quality

Nov 6 2018 - THAT the State must make available a complete, adequate and integrated system of education is not debated.

That everyone who desires to should be admitted to universities or colleges of their choice is not only debatable, it is false! More perverse yet is the proposition that when the State grants students the benefits of free tertiary education, the beneficiaries owe the State no service at all!

Access is an issue especially for state universities and colleges because that is their raison d’être: to make available the benefit of higher education to as many as qualify for it. True, every Filipino enjoys the right to education but that does not fling the doors of higher education institutions wide open to every bum who loiters in, takes a leisurely stroll through different subjects on the curriculum until he decides he has had enough, and then wanders out, as senselessly and as cluelessly as when he came in.

Teachers with PhDs after their names are not necessarily effective or even competent teachers. After all, there are many graduate schools in the Philippines that churn out PhDs each year in whom there is not the least philosophical thought nor any genuine doctoral stature. Just the title, nothing more. But experts in their disciplines who can teach effectively — that is a rare breed, and it costs a lot to engage their services. And books are expensive, no matter that the Philippines will soon be the copyright infringement capital of the world. A motley collection of disparate volumes will not meet the requirements of regulatory, much less accrediting agencies. And so a well-stocked library with recently published volumes by acknowledged authorities is a treasure trove, and only institutions with well-packed treasure chests can establish such libraries. Laboratories are another matter, for while one has only admiration for the ingenuity by which teachers in far-flung barangays make do with whatever they have for contraptions in place of proper laboratory equipment, this cannot be for the laboratories of higher education institutions of which very high levels of research are demanded.

Given the scarcity of resources for tertiary education, right reason dictates that the slots available be distributed to those with the best chance of making optimal use of them. Access to university then cannot be access for all — but access for those best able to benefit themselves and their communities from university or collegiate education. This is not being unfair. This is simply the acceptance of a fundamental human phenomenon: capacities and the possibilities they offer are never the same for different individuals, and the formation of the human spirit does not take place only within universities under the tutelage of professors. Artists of the highest caliber are trained, their artistry honed, in conservatories, in art galleries and even the homes of masters of the arts and of the crafts. And they have gifted the world with many of its inestimable treasures, compared to the trash that many term papers or supposed researches turned in to despairing and despondent professors indeed are!

No, it is not a universal right to be admitted to university. If it were so, then every applicant could bind the university to accept her — a position as impracticable as it is legally bereft of warrant. If anything at all, it is every higher education institution that enjoys the right to determine, on academic grounds, who it will accept — and this includes the right to choose the more capable students through stringent admission requirements and screening tests. Sadly, of course, those who come from secondary schools with better prepared teachers and more helpful facilities have the better chance at garnering the available slots. But well-conceived and fairly implemented affirmative action should be able to address this systemic bias in some significant way. Quality schools do not only produce quality graduates. They also need quality students — where quality is not necessarily defined by economic indices.

What should be demanded is that the selection mechanisms be fair — that they project capacity for university education rather than the effectiveness or insouciance of learning in basic education. If it is possible to do this with children before school age, I do not see why this should be any problem at all for high school graduates.

And that is why universities and colleges that routinely reject letters of recommendation in behalf of students who do not meet the mark are correct. This snobbishness is healthy and helpful. It turns its back on the habitual importuning of politicians for whom quality is not necessarily the priority, but patronage. It is as bad to deny access to those to whom it should be granted as it is to grant it to the undeserving only because of the bellowing of well-placed patrons!

This story was originally published by The Manila Times, Philippines

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