16 February 2005


Understanding Makabayan
from The Philippine Star, 13 January 2005

There is no question that, of all the five learning areas in the Basic Education Curriculum (BEC), the most problematic is Makabayan.

Born out of the perceived need to collapse as many subjects as possible into one and the equally urgent need to teach as many subjects as possible, Makabayan appears to be neither here nor there. Sometimes seen merely as a garbage dump of all the other subjects not needed by a growing child, sometimes seen as a miracle cure for the lack of values in Filipino society, sometimes seen as merely a new name for the average of all grades received in all the subjects left out by the four staples, sometimes seen as the Mother of All Subjects, Makabayan has occasioned instant conferences, quickie workshops, loud demonstrations, heated arguments, reversals of official policies, fears of being fired – all symptoms that no one really knows what is going on.

I cannot presume to be an expert on Makabayan, since no one really is right now, but perhaps, as the person who conceptualized the BEC as it now stands (though the movement that reformed the curriculum actually started more than ten years ago in the Department of Education), I may have an insight or two to contribute to the ongoing debate.

What is Makabayan, and why is everyone against it? (To be candid, I have not met many who are for it, except those who are, by virtue of their positions, forced to support it publicly.)

Everyone is against it because no one knows what it is. That is the oversimplified, but nevertheless correct, reason for the desire to remove or distort or neutralize it.

Simply speaking, Makabayan is Values Education.

We have known Values Education by many names. Our parents knew it as Good Manners and Right Conduct, which was not bad, except that it sometimes deteriorated into Etiquette and Passivity. Mainstream America now knows it as being politically incorrect (against gay marriages, against stem cell research, against African Americans and other Americans of color, against wars of liberation, against human rights for terrorists, against civil liberties for foreigners). MalacaƱang knows it as being for the incumbent president, no matter who it is; anyone with any kind of independent mind is automatically called a destabilizer and, therefore, not makabayan.

What it should really be, however, is education in its classic sense, which is a way to ensure that a child grows up to be an adult.

The question, then, is what is an adult? If we complicate the question by asking what is an adult Filipino, we can now see what the problem is.

Is an adult Filipino one that stays in the country or one that leaves the country? To say that one should stay in the country in order to be a Filipino clearly is plain stupid, because if we all stayed here, no one would be out there sending us dollars to keep our economy afloat. We might all be in the country, but we would all starve together faster than you can say “visa.”

To say, on the other hand, that we should teach all Filipinos how to speak English because they will go abroad is also plain stupid, because only ten percent of our population is abroad. To force 90% of our people to learn something only 10% will use is to oppress the many for the sake of the few.

Numbers, in fact, reveal the lie that is at the root of our identity as Filipinos. We should probably be grateful that so many call centers are based in the Philippines. But how many Filipinos are actually employed by call centers? The latest count says that less than 2% of employable Filipinos work in call centers. In any other field, anything that accounts for only 2% is ignored. (A simple analogy: there is more than a 2% chance that you will be run over if you cross the street, but everyone, without exception, crosses the street anyway.)

Why, then, are universities educating Filipinos for call centers? In fact, why are universities educating anybody at all, since the figures for unemployment among college graduates is, to put it mildly, disturbing?

If universities were really doing their jobs well, why do companies still have training programs for new hires? On the other hand, if companies think that they can do better than universities, why do they require university diplomas of applicants?

What I am driving at is simple. We do not know what it means to be an adult Filipino. We do not know if an adult Filipino should or should not speak Filipino, Tagalog, Cebuano, Ilocano, Chinese, Arabic, English, or whatever. We do not know if an adult Filipino should know how to operate the latest nursing equipment that can be found only abroad and not here. We do not know if an adult Filipino should be working in a farm to begin with, since that is where the bulk of our population works.

Because we do not know what the child should grow up to be, we have no idea how to make that child grow up. There is no problem with the tool subjects of Filipino, English, Math, and Science. Every child in every country needs to know a native language, an international language, the language of math and business, and the language of science and technology.

But there is a big problem with being a Filipino child in the Philippines. That problem is the problem of the Filipino identity, which is also a problem of Filipino values. That problem is supposed to be addressed by Makabayan. That Makabayan has to address a problem that has no solution in sight is the root cause of the confusion regarding what the learning area should be.
My answer is simple: Makabayan is nothing else but Values Education. Perhaps, in fact, it is time to rename Makabayan into what it really is and should be – Values Education.

Makabayan as Integrative
from The Philippine Star, 27 January 2005

When Confucius, Plato, Aristotle, and other ancient thinkers spoke or wrote about anything, they did not classify themselves the way we do now. They were not specialists, but generalists. They were not lawyers, doctors, nurses, journalists, artists, economists, or whatever. They were, for lack of a better word, philosophers.

When Jesus, Muhammad, and other great religious leaders spoke or wrote about God, they did not classify themselves as Christians, Muslims, or whatever, the way we do now. They thought of themselves as God’s servants, children, or creatures. They were, for lack of a better word, human beings.

Today, if we talk to literary critics, social scientists, physicists, and just about anybody in academe, we will hear pretty much the same names and terms, such as Freud, Marx, Chardin, Lacan, Foucault, and so on. Fields of knowledge today are coming together in a way not seen since antiquity or, to a lesser degree, during the Renaissance. The splitting up of Truth into areas of specialization has stopped, and the world is returning to the days when everybody studied everything.

The learning area Makabayan reflects this trend towards being integrative and generalist, rather than narrowly specialist as in the early twentieth century, when our present system of public education started. In fact, the entire Basic Education Curriculum (BEC) is integrative, with the five learning areas merging seamlessly into each other.

Even the two languages, which should be taught separately, for example, actually depend on each other: in an English class, difficult English terms are defined through translations into the vernacular languages; in a Filipino class, English terms are employed to fill in missing words in the vernaculars. Math and Science, though separate subjects, clearly cannot be understood without referring to each other: math has little practical use except in science and technology, and science and technology cannot be learned without also learning math.

Filipino, English, Math, and Science are tool subjects. That means that they are to be used to understand or to do something else. That something else is Makabayan. Makabayan is the subject in which the students learns what the world is, what life is all about, how to live life, how to become human. As the Filipino proverb goes, it is easy to be born human, it is something else to become human. Or as the feminists say, one is not born a woman but has to become one.

In Makabayan, students learn about the world. In particular, they learn about their world, which is, first of all, their local community, secondly, their country, thirdly, the earth, and finally, the universe (including the unseen part of it, often called the supernatural).

Makabayan, then, is the logical culmination of the long tradition of human thought, from Confucius, Plato, Aristotle, Jesus, Muhammad, and so on, down to the most recent movements (such as Complexity Theory, the Theory of Everything, and stuff like that) derived from modern thinkers like Freud, Marx, Chardin, Lacan, and Foucault.

In the old days, Makabayan would be called philosophy, but even philosophy today has become a specialization, with people actually taking a doctorate in it. The tradition of philosophy being integrative, of course, persists with the academic practice of calling doctorate degrees Doctor of Philosophy or PhD, even if the student majors in something like Computer Science or Accounting. There are attempts to move away from calling all doctoral degrees philosophy (such as Doctor of Fine Arts or Doctor in Business Management), but by and large, such degrees have not displaced the PhD from its exalted position in academe.

Makabayan is an attempt to bring basic education in step with the latest movements in higher education. Just as colleges now offer Philippine Studies, Environmental Studies, Peace and Conflict Studies, and the like, in an attempt to break the stranglehold of specialization, our elementary and high schools now offer Makabayan as the integrative content learning area.

When we talk about being human, we are really talking about values. Values Education itself, unfortunately, was taken in by the trend towards specialization; there are actually graduate programs in it! If we go back to the old meaning of values, however, we will realize that Makabayan and Values Education are really synonyms.
We can see this if we take any description of Values Education and match that with the DepEd description of Makabayan. Take, for instance, Jesuit Vitaliano Gorospe’s explanation of former Education USEC Minda Sutaria’s values outline: “A Filipino experiences family closeness and solidarity (pagpapahalaga sa pamilya), politeness (use of po or ho), hospitality (tuloy po kayo), gratitude (utang na loob) from ‘within,’ that is, subjectively and emotionally, unlike a non-Filipino observer, social scientist, or psychologist who studies Filipino values objectively from ‘without’ or ‘from a distance.’ Such Filipino values as social acceptance (pakikisama, amor propio), economic security (pagmamay-ari), and trust in God (paniniwala sa Diyos, bathala or Maykapal) find their philosophical basis in man’s [sic] dynamic openness toward nature and the world (e.g., the value of hanap-buhay ng magsasaka), one’s fellowmen [sic] (the values of paggalang, hiya, katarungan, pag-ibig), and God (the values of pananampalataya, pananalangin, kabanalan).” In that description can be seen all the subjects that are now integrated into Makabayan.

Makabayan Decalogue
from The Philippine Star, 26 May 2005

To understand Makabayan, we can recite ten descriptors or principles.

First, Makabayan is a work-in-progress, not a completed work. Because each high school holds (or is supposed to hold) regular sessions among its Makabayan teachers where continuous integration of lessons takes place, there is no single Makabayan curriculum completely applicable to all schools. Strictly speaking, there is no Makabayan, but there are Makabayans. There can also be no fixed list of lessons and competencies, because each school designs Makabayan according to the changing needs of its students and the community to which it belongs.

Second, Makabayan is a work-in-progress from below, not from above. Because no human being can possibly understand all the aspects of Makabayan (from cooking to car repair to website design to martial arts to all sorts of other intelligences, skills, and knowledge areas), no one in the Central Office of the Department of Education can dictate what the individual schools need to do. Just to take a simple example, take an agricultural high school in a place where there is no electricity and where people usually eat only one meal a day. How can someone in Metro Manila, used to computers connected to the internet, figure out what competencies students in that school must have in order to find a job? The content of Makabayan has to come from the schools themselves, not from any central office.

Third, Makabayan is our responsibility, not that of DepEd. Because the human beings we are educating are our own children or the children of our neighbors, we are responsible for the content of Makabayan. We know what we want our children to become. As Secretary Abad has put it in management terms, school governance has to be local, not regional nor national. Abad has correctly challenged parents to govern schools themselves.

Fourth, Makabayan, like the Basic Education Curriculum (BEC), is integrative. It is a mistake of many high schools today to treat Makabayan as merely the total of several separate subject areas. The original Department Order that created Makabayan stated very clearly that the duration of the pilot project was only one year. We are way past that one year. It is a violation of the Department Order for any school to still add and average grades taken from separate subjects. There should by now be only one grade for Makabayan, not a mere average of several grades. The idea of Makabayan is to integrate previously distinct subjects, not merely to put them together mechanically.

Fifth, Makabayan has the psychomotor objective of engaging the multiple intelligences of students. Most schools now realize that Makabayan does not address merely the cognitive aspect of the human being. Since what used to be called Physical Education is part of Makabayan, for example, teachers that used to teach only history or art must integrate physical exercises into their lessons.

Sixth, Makabayan has the cognitive objective of acquainting students with the way the human body works in the context of human society. The object of study in Makabayan is the human body. That is why learning to swim, learning to cook, and learning to plant are part of Makabayan. But since each human being lives within a community (from the local one to the global one), students have to study the way the human being depends for its very existence on the way society is structured. The body, after all, contains not only muscles but a brain, which is obviously affected by, say, the amount of oxygen in the air – a product of the number of trees in the area (something one learns in geography and social studies, not to mention science).

Seventh, Makabayan has the affective objective of socializing students in the context of their own generation. All education is meant to train students to live as adults. They will all become adults only in the future, not today. The world in which they have to live is not the world their teachers live in and are familiar with. It is important that students learn to live with their own contemporaries. That is why a huge portion of the Makabayan period is devoted to activities that allow students to talk and act with their classmates.

Eighth, Makabayan is the content part of the BEC, for which Filipino, English, Math, and Science are tools. The other four learning areas in the curriculum are merely tool subjects. They are means to an end. The end is Makabayan, which contains such topics as history, etiquette, and values – in other words, what life is really all about.

Ninth, Makabayan prepares students for the long term goal of lifelong learning and the short-term goal of earning a livelihood. Because students have to live in a future world that their teachers have no experience with, Makabayan focuses on how to learn rather than what to learn. This does not mean, of course, that Makabayan is a skills course. In fact, Makabayan is a content course, but that content must be taught with a practical end in view – to allow the students to find a livelihood, either by themselves as entrepreneurs or family employees, or as employees or managers in corporations. In some schools, for example, students learn to fix electronic equipment or to fish or to drive during their Makabayan sessions. The ultimate objective of the entire BEC, in fact, is to make the students already employable by the end of high school (the way Americans, for example, get hired immediately after high school).

Finally, Makabayan is the heart of the BEC. The curriculum exists for only one purpose – to prepare students to become adults. Although every adult has to know a language to communicate with others in the community (Filipino) and elsewhere (English), has to understand how the world works (Science), and has to manage finances (Math), an educated adult needs to become responsible for the community, the nation, and the whole world (Makabayan). The four tool subjects train, but Makabayan educates students.