By Herman Tiu Laurel
A short review of Philippines-China educational cooperation
“To gain knowledge quietly, to learn without losing interest, to instruct others relentlessly,” – Lao Tzu
Last July, as Chinese State and Foreign State Minister Wang Yi attended President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr.’s inauguration, he also made a side visit to Vice President and Department of Education Secretary Sara Duterte. During the visit, Wang proposed to Duterte that China and the Philippines strengthen “educational cooperation” between the two countries.
The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) and the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) both reported that Duterte "fully agrees" with the proposal and looks forward to the strengthened cooperation of the two nations. In its own statement, the Office of the Vice President said that “she (Duterte) looks forward to partnering with China in the field of education to enhance the academic performance of Filipino students.”
For this part, Wang said, "... education comes first in national development. China is ready to deepen educational cooperation with the Philippines to enhance the understanding and cognition of China among the younger generation of the Philippines, cement the foundation of public support for friendship between the two countries and provide intellectual support for bilateral practical cooperation..."
The Chinese foreign minister added that "China supports more Philippine young people to study in China and will facilitate the return of the Philippine students to China for their studies. " The agreement signals further enhancement of the cooperation in education between the countries that goes back at least two decades but had achieved new heights in 2019 when the two countries signed an MOU agreement between the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) and China’s Ministry of Education (MOE).
The August 2019 MOU signed by the Philippines‘ Commission on Higher Education (CHED) and the Chinese Ministry of Education (MOE) was meant to fast-track bilateral cooperation in higher education. Wang and CHED chairperson J. Prospero E. de Vera III signed the mutual commitment that stipulated:
1. Mutual recognition of degrees to promote lifelong learning and the practices of profession in both countries;
2. Increasing the number of universities recognized by both countries in their registry;
3. Faculty and student exchanges through scholarships, training programs and country visits;
4. Information sharing on the structure of higher education, academic quality, performance standards, evaluation of results, methodology development, student affairs, and qualifications frameworks;
5. Establishment of credit transfer arrangements;
6. Strengthened cooperation in the study of languages and the establishment of additional Confucius Institutes in the Philippines; and
7. Promoted participation in educational congresses, conferences, workshops, symposiums, training courses, and exhibits.
CHED Chairman de Vera said, “This academic cooperation manifests our collaborative efforts to deepen and expand support and opportunities to develop future-ready graduates and contribute to innovation and technology for economic growth and national competitiveness for both countries...” To implement the agreement, CHED and the MOE set up a joint working group (JWG) to develop programs and projects between the two countries.
PhilSCAT 2000: Agricultural Education and Research
Even before the 2019 MOU, Filipino and Chinese cooperation in education and its ancillary fields had been ongoing in past decades. In the year 2000, the PhilSCAT (Philippine-Sino Center for Agricultural Technology) was established by the Chinese and Philippine governments with an initial US$5 million donation from China and situated within the Central Luzon State University, the Philippines’ premier agricultural school.
Over the years, PhilSCAT has served as a bridge, linking experts in the two countries in demonstration trials of quality hybrid rice varieties, showcasing advanced and practical agro-machinery and the training and promotion of agricultural technologies., Equally important, the Center brought in more than 150 Chinese varieties to test their adaptability in the Philippines. Thus far, four varieties, including Mestizo 38, have already passed the tests of the Philippines’ National Rice Cooperative and are poised to be sold in the market.
On March 25, 2022, PhilSCAT held the inauguration and blessing of three new laboratories and a cold-water irrigation system for hybrid rice breeding that had been donated by the Chinese. The event was graced by the Honorable Huang Xilian, Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines, and a team of Chinese hybrid rice experts. Secretary William D. Dar of the Department of Agriculture (DA) attended the event and served as the guest speaker together with the other DA officials and heads of its attached agencies.
As a recipient of agricultural grants from China, PhilSCAT has successfully implemented three Technical Cooperation Programs (TCP) over the past 20 years. With the progress and accomplishments of PhilSCAT, Hon. Ambassador Huang Xilian expressed his support and commitment to pushing for the fourth phase of bilateral cooperation that will strengthen further technical support for agricultural modernization in the country.
There are four Confucius Institutes (CI) based in four Philippine universities, Ateneo de Manila (AdMU), Angeles University Foundation (AUF), Bulacan State University (BSU), and the University of the Philippines (UP) Diliman. These Confucius Institutes are all doing fantastic work in promoting Philippine-China understanding and friendship, boosting intergovernmental working relations with China, and promoting productivity in Philippine-China trade and tourism through Mandarin language education.
In 2011, the AUF-CI signed an MOU with the Philippine Department of Education (DepEd) to conduct Mandarin language programs in high schools. So far, 72 public high schools nationwide and over 20,000 public school students have benefitted. AUF-CI has also inked an MOU with the League of Provinces of the Philippines (LPP),the Presidential Communications Operations Office, Presidential Security Group, House of Representatives and Philippine Army to teach Mandarin to its personnel.
For its part, the UP-CI reached an agreement with the Department of Foreign Affairs Foreign Service Institute (FSI) to conduct a Mandarin Language and Culture Program. It also has a similar MOU with the Clark Development Corp. to train its officers and frontline staff in Mandarin to better serve its trade and tourism clients. Finally, the AdMU-CI has also signed an MOU with the Caloocan City Government and University of Caloocan City to establish a BS Education program that teaches Chinese as a second language.
Fujian University’s ‘Doña Soledad College’
The College which may be classified as a China-Philippines people-to-people educational cooperation project, was donated by John Kho, a Chinese real estate tycoon from Xiamen. Kho, whose Chinese name is Xu Ming Liang, donated USD20 million in seed money to set up the “Soledad College” in Fujian National University (FNU); the College is named after the mother of President Rodrigo R. Duterte whose ancestry has been traced to Fujian, China.
In March 2021, Vice Consul Elaine Mae Laruan Hernandez from the Philippine Consulate in Xiamen visited Soledad College and had a forum with Filipino students of Soledad College and the International College of Chinese Studies. On behalf of FNU, Chen Qinghua extended a warm welcome to Hernandez and her party. During his remarks, Chen emphasized the educational cooperation with foreign countries in the FNU, and the efforts of the university to overcome the impacts of the epidemic and ensure the safe study and life of international students.
Hernandez spoke highly of FNU's considerate care for Filipino students during the epidemic and expressed hope that Soledad College would cultivate more talents as it has become the standard of educational exchange between China and the Philippines. The Doña Soledad College in Xiamen will certainly continue to serve as a bridge to promote the further development of China-Philippines friendship and educational cooperation.
Huawei educational programs in the Philippines
Huawei is a top Chinese technology company with a huge but quiet presence in the Philippines, not only in the technology field but equally significant in education with a surprisingly wide imprint in Philippine science and technology. In July 2021, Huawei partnered with 15 new universities and colleges with its Huawei ICT Academy providing certification courses in artificial intelligence (AI), big data, cloud computing, storage, 5G, security and so on.
“Huawei cultivates talents for the ICT industry in the whole world. We hope to build a strong and meaningful talent ecosystem in the Philippines for Filipinos,” said Ken Bijianjun, Director for the Channel Department of Huawei Philippines Enterprise Business Group, at the signing ceremony. Huawei ICT Academy was launched in the Philippines in 2018, with the University of Southeastern Philippines (USeP) as one of its pioneering partner universities.
Huawei’s “Seeds for the Future” program, is the company’s flagship Corporate Social Responsibility project, brings together young talent from top universities around the world. It was launched in 2015 in the Philippines.
As of the end of 2021, it had already given the rare opportunity to 200 outstanding students from over 20 universities in the Philippines to be immersed in technologies, cross-cultural experiences, and propose technical solutions to social problems.
Education as bridge between cultures
While Philippine-China educational cooperation has not been very noisy, anyone can see that a lot has been going on over the past 20 years. As shown by our short review of these many educational initiatives, the bilateral cooperation has reached the highest levels of policy making of the two countries and the broadest spread of social sectors is evident in the tens of thousands that have already taken Mandarin language courses and benefited from agricultural and technological knowledge exchanges.
Filipinos like to say that, “in the past millennia, China brought pancit (noodles), siopao (buns), siomai (dumplings) to the Philippines.” Today, China is bringing cultural gifts that enable the two cultures to work together towards a strong, peaceful and prosperous bilateral future and have enough to share with other neighbors in the region and the world, whether these be in terms of language, agricultural technology information and communications.
From these government-to-government and people-to-people projects it is clear that educational cooperation between the Philippines and China is truly building bridges of understanding and progress for the two nations. As our eyes witness this cooperation bearing fruit, we can expect more seeds to be planted in the years ahead, promising more harvest of goodwill, friendship and cooperation between China and the Philippines.
Editor’s note: The opinions expressed in the foregoing article are solely the author’s and do not reflect the opinions and beliefs of the Philippine News Agency (PNA) or any other office under the Office of the Press Secretary.
About the Columnist
Herman Tiu Laurel is a veteran journalist and founder of think tank PHILIPPINE-BRICS Strategic Studies.