I was going to conclude Ten Letters this week, until a rather more interesting subject for discussion surfaced in my high school batch’s e-Group in the last few days. The issue concerns a throwaway (or so the scriptwriter thought) line in a recent episode of Desperate Housewives, where the character (and this we must bear in mind) of Teri Hatcher is in effect questioning the competence of medical practitioners from the Philippines.
Thanks to the mi-racle of modern electronic technology —no sooner had the line probably been spoken, when the snippet found itself all over the Internet, fuelling heated reaction from many offended countrymen—physicians and non-physicians alike.
On first hearing (I, too, found it difficult to resist viewing the clip on YouTube), I have to admit that I was rather shocked. Here was a popular character on primetime TV, actually saying something that cast aspersions on the capability of Filipino doctors, and by extension, on the abilities of all Filipinos to hack it in today’s global economy.
Had she said India, Sri Lanka, China, or any other country for that matter, I would probably have thought it was somewhat of a bigoted line for about a minute, and then I would have forgotten about the whole thing entirely. But no, she actually uttered the word “Philippines,” and thereby lay the whole issue for all of us.
Sometime ago, I too had the same line spoken to me (not in form, but in substance) by no less than an official of the United Kingdom’s academic recognition body.
In effect, what I was told was that my post-graduate degree was not even the equivalent of a UK undergraduate course, simply because the institute where I got it from was located in the Philippines. This, notwithstanding the fact that this institute happened to be only among a few officially accredited by global standards bodies in North America and Europe, in the company of Harvard, Wharton, London Business School, etc.
In the end I was able to prove my case, but only after having educational authorities in the Philippines, and the institute’s peers in the UK itself, back up my claim. My case was precedent setting, in that any graduate from the institute now seeking official recognition in the UK automatically receives it without question.
I was irate at the UK authorities in the beginning, but after careful reflection, my anger turned to our own education policymakers back home.
Philippine education, in general, is in a shambles, and it is not up to the standards that a developing economy ought to be aspiring to. I was able to extricate myself out of trouble only after proving that I received my degree from an “international” rather than a “Philippine” institution. In winning my case, I did not win a victory for our national educational curriculum, but only for myself and for the institute.
There is a bigger battle to be fought, and unfortunately I neither have the time nor the inclination to be leading it anymore.
Most of us who are offended by the remark are feeling insulted “personally,” because we think that we are not “inferior” to anyone, anywhere in the world. But in the cold light of day — stripped of any malicious intent and racist undertones — her character is not way off the mark.
Our medical education (and our entire educational system), in general, does not compare favorably with education in the West. The fact that our system still turns out good physicians (and good nurses, managers, engineers, etc.), in spite of its limitations, is an entirely different thing altogether. And that’s something we ought to be very proud of.
If we are to take something constructive, rather than just feel personally slighted by it all, I hope our education policy makers take heed and do something about our situation.
That our countrymen still manage to survive and even do well abroad is no thanks to the education they receive at home, but all down to their excellent skills at adapting quickly, and learning on the fly in their foreign environments.
Published in the Sun Star Daily, Saturday, October 06, 2007 (http://www.sunstar.com.ph/static/ceb/2007/10/06/bus/batuhan.desperate.housewives.html).