Bernardo M. Villegas
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Economics Education for Enlightened Citizenship

           The presidential debates that preceded the last elections focused to a great extent on economic issues.  The candidates were literally grilled by those who organized the debates on such issues as agrarian reform, contractualization of work, tax reforms, infrastructure spending and above all poverty eradication.  Even before he was inaugurated as President of the Republic, President Duterte already presented to the nation his ten-point agenda which were predominantly economic in nature, e.g. macroeconomic stability, conditional cash transfer program, agricultural productivity, the regulation of monopolies, etc.   There is no question that Filipino voters have to be increasingly familiar with the intricacies of economic theories and applied economics to choose their leaders intelligently as well as to monitor closely the performances of the officials they have elected into office.

          As a life-time economics educator, I am a bit concerned that the introduction of the K to 12 Curriculum during the current school year may lead to a retrogression of economics education for the ordinary Filipino citizen.  Although there can still be modifications of the proposed curriculum, I understand that the usual Introduction to Economics course that is an integral part of the General Education curriculum in every university program is being dropped at the college level.  Economics as a separate subject is now to be taught at the Senior High School level (Grades 11 and 12) only in the Business Administration track.  I think this is a mistake.  Economics is not a specialized subject but is part of the liberal arts like history, literature, and mathematics.  It should be included in the curricula of all the four tracks of the senior high school if we are going to turn out citizens who are ready to perform their indispensable role in a democracy. The Economics course offered in Grade 10 barely scratches the surface.   Since a full-blown course in economics is one of the most effective courses in equipping students with the skills of critical thinking and effective communication and the ability to relate the various disciplines to one another, the Introduction to Economics course (say, the equivalent of Economics 11 in the old U.P. curriculum) should be required of all students finishing senior high school.  As an aside, I am proud to say that Senator Cynthia Villar was one of my students in the Economics 11 course I taught at U.P. in the late 1960s.

          Another reason why this Introduction to Economics course should be offered in senior high school for all is that there is a high probability that the K to 12 curriculum will encourage many more graduating high school students to seek gainful employment after they finish Grade 12, especially in the Business Process Outsourcing sector and in blue collar work requiring technical skills.  It is hoped that many more Filipino youth will see the wisdom of becoming skilled carpenters, mechanics, welders, plumbers, electricians, masons, etc. occupations which do not need a college degree and in an industrializing economy can command higher salaries than some of the traditional professions like accounting, law, nursing, etc.  Another sunrise sector that will absorb numerous young people immediately after they finish Grade 12 is the tourism or hospitality industry.  All these gainfully employed youth without a college degree will constitute a larger portion of the electorate and will have to be conversant with the major economic issues for which they will hold our political leaders accountable.

          Considering that our laws do not require a college degree for one to run for public office, from Barangay Captain to the President, from Barangay Kagawad to Senator, it is possible that a good number of these elected officials would just be products of the K to 12 curriculum.  If these officials have been exposed to the economics courses included in both junior high and senior high, they would have a better chance of being enlightened leaders.  Even at the level of local government, a growing number of groups are addressing such predominantly economic issues as agrarian reform, microcredit, sustainable mining, alternative energy sources and cooperative development.  It would be difficult to intelligently discuss these issues without such conceptual tools as land productivity, the effective interest rate, opportunity costs of natural resources, and economies of scale.  These are concepts that must be fully grasped by anyone with at least a high school education.

          I am alerting the new leaders in the Department of Education and the Commission on Higher Education to take a closer look at the role of economics education in the new K to 12 Curriculum.  Without being overly dramatic, the future of Philippine democracy will rest on how our formal educational system can produce economically literate graduates on both sides of the political spectrum:  the voters and the elected public officials.  I also appeal to our institutions of higher education to address the challenge of producing a sufficient supply of competent economics educators.  I look back with nostalgia at those years in the late 1960s and the whole decade of the 1970s when I was very much involved in the training of economics educators, especially for colleges and universities in Mindanao.  The then incipient Center for Research and Communication partnered with the Notre Dame Educational Foundation, with financial support from the Ford Foundation, to give an intensive masteral program in economics education to teachers coming from all over Mindanao.  Many of our products have done much to improve economics education in the country.  We are especially proud of Ms. Milvida Guevarra who is now President of the Synergia Foundation, which is very much focused on improving the quality of basic education, and a very active economics educator through her columns, especially on tax issues.  May her tribe increase.  For comments, my email address is bernardo.villegas@uap.asia.