A Lesson From The Shamans, Witches And Magicians

Or, Education in Finland

by jun asuncion


What do I know about Finland aside from my nokia handy and the outstanding PISA ranking? I digged down and remembered Alvar Aalto, (February 3, 1898 – May 11, 1976)  a celebrated Finnish architect and designer, the Kalevala which is a book and epic poem compiled from the Finnish and Karelian folklore by the Finn Elias Lönnrot, herds of reindeers and moose, the thousands lakes, the Vikings that occupied it, the Lapland region with white snow and unspoilt nature and vast wilderness. For me it is a mystical place that has since excited my imagination, a place so remote that even now when I think of Finland I remember instantly  those Finnish women co-workers of mine who were white as snow covered in golden hairs, reminding me of skilled ancient Finnish witches, magicians and shamans who used music by singing special spells, herbal medicines and also by entering a trance, letting their souls travel to foreign places.

Hunger is not a specific Philippine problem.The worst famine in European history happened in the soils of Finland, killing 15 per cent of its already small population. Added to that, as a Finnish friend tells me, “During the second world war, we have lost almost all our men in Finland”. Finland fought against the Soviet Union and the Nazi-Germany and incurred heavy losses. Heavily dependent on Soviet union as its primary trading partner, Finland suffered deep recession in the early 90’s when the Soviet Union collapsed, simultaneous with its banking crisis, political mismanagement and with the global economic downturn at that time. Not to forget,  this agricultural country was and is better known also for having globally the highest suicide rate and high alcoholism. Alcohol has become the leading cause of death in Finland for men and for women and is surely a contributory factor in suicides, and is involved in deaths caused by accidents or violent crimes.

The population did not rise dramatically even when the economy became better after the second world war. With a total land area of 338,145 square kilometers and an estimated 2008 population of only 5,320,000, Finland is one of the sparsely populated lands of the world. By contrast: The Philippines is only 38,145 square kilometers smaller than Finland. Imagine now if the Philippines had only over 5,000,000 inhabitants! Bulan would have been empty, a wild park.

To survive, the government liberalized its economy and spent large amounts for high-tech education, training of highly-skilled teachers (mostly with master’s degree). This investment in education has paid off. Now Finland is one among the leading  global economies with highly-skilled work force. 

It is said that  Kalevala, that precious book of epic poems had provided the inspiration for the national awakening that ultimately freed the Finns from Russia in 1917. As I see it, the seed of their high-tech culture was already contained in that book, as described in the practices of the shamans like letting their soul travel while in trance, this astral projection as we used to call it. My brother-in-law studied architecture and design with Alvar Aalto in Finland and he provided me some of the most interesting reports about his master teacher Aalto and about Finnish culture in general. One specific story that got stucked in my memory was his story about the practice of mental telepathy by the local Finns. He was told by these people that it was natural for them to communicate with their friends and relatives via mental telepathy for there were no phones (at that time) and they live in great distances from each other. In winter it is cold and dark, thick snow and ice hinder travel even by foot. Telepathy was borne out of this necessity to communicate over wide distances and harsh weather conditions. Astral projection and mental telepathy? What do they have in common? It’s a wireless technology! This technology has always been there looming in the souls of the Finns; they seem to have this natural affinity to wireless technology since the beginning. Now, Finland  is the world leader in wireless communication technology. Just recently, I have read a report about it in a newspaper and reproduce here salient features of it:

-“Nowhere has mobile communication caught on as it has in sparsely populated Finland, where nearly 70 percent of the 5.3 million residents are armed with wireless phones and an ever-expanding array of tools, games and services they can use on the fly.”

-” Finland’s role in wireless development has been a boon for the country that only a decade ago was overly dependent on slumping wood-products industries and doomed trade with the Soviet Union.”

-“Although the phones can’t do all that a home PC can, Finnish companies have soared to the forefront with services that allow users to check news, sports and weather wherever they are, as well as read their horoscopes or biorhythms, order food, pay bills, buy Christmas presents and collect e-mail.”

-” What you see happening here today will be happening in other markets very soon. We’re just a year or two ahead of other Europeans, and Europeans are just a bit ahead of the United States,” says Olli-Pekka Kallasvuo, chief financial officer for Nokia, the world’s largest wireless communications provider.”

-“Only about 25 percent of U.S. citizens own mobile phones, compared with about half the European population. Finland’s current 67 percent market penetration is expected to exceed 70 percent by the end of the year, a higher rate than in any other nation. Finland is followed by Hong Kong, Norway, Sweden, Israel, Japan, Denmark and Italy in the ranks of top cellular consumers.”

-“Wireless operations also allow Terentjeff to custom-fit the work environment to his employees’ needs, he says, noting that one valued co-worker has negotiated a protracted maternity leave on condition that she keep an eye on her projects via wireless conference calls from home.”

Tangible results of huge investment in education and research:
-“Gross domestic product rose more than 30 percent in the five years after 1992 and is projected to post an additional 20 percent increase by the end of this year. Unemployment has dropped from 20 percent at the start of the decade to 10.5 percent now — a level not expected to change despite healthy increases in new jobs each year because of the specialized training needed for the country’s new high- tech focus.”  ( source: San Francisco Chronicle.)


Pre-school begins at age 6
Comprehensive school: age 7 to 16
Upper secondary school or vocational school: 16 to 19
Pupils in Finland, age 7 to 14, spend fewest hours in school
Higher education places for 65% young people
Second-highest public spending on higher education (source:oecd)

Major features:

The World Economic Forum ranks Finland’s tertiary education #1 in the world
-Free Education: No tuition fees are collected in all levels – elementary, secondary and tertiary education, be it public or private school.

– school health care and a daily free lunch

– school pupils are entitled to receive free books and materials and free school trips

-teaches the same curriculum to all pupils


Like all of you, I also wish we would have free education in the Philippines and all the other benefits like the Finnish system. Why not? It pays off in the end for the whole country. It would break the poor education-poverty cycle that we have talked about before. Other things being equal, all people could have education which in turn would give them the chance to work and get out of poverty. With educated population and a country without poverty, the Philippines would move forward. Here is one sad fact about our current educational system: it is elitistic and discriminating, fosters poverty and social divide. It attacks the family itself: for in a family of five or more children, the average parents could only send perhaps a child or two to college and what about the rest of the chiildren? So the system injects into the basic unit of society itself  the evil of division and discrimination. What kind of educational system is it then?

I do not believe that Singaporean minister’s statement  that increasing the teacher’s salary-as rudyb shared to us- is not the solution to the problems of education. It may apply to Singaporean teachers but not to our own teachers. It is indeed not the only solution but it is one of the solutions to encourage the teachers for in my view, the teachers are very much underpaid in the Philippines. In our country, things are a little bit more complex for our politics doesn’t understand the importance of education- and of educated politicians.

Going back to Bulan, I respect the Bulan Teacher’s Day  as started by Mayor Helen De Castro (see her 2007 report- Edukasyon). This is one of the many ways to give incentives to our teachers and teachers to be.

Otherwise it’s about time for us to consult and to learn the lessons from the shamans, witches and magicians. They know the way.


Bulan Observer





7 thoughts on “A Lesson From The Shamans, Witches And Magicians

  1. Thanks, Jun, for this interesting article.

    I don’t want to sound negative but ever since, our colonial education has left us dreaming of greener pastures beyond the Philippine archipelago. Garo su Finland na kaito pa man, nasa subconscious na ang wireless communication though in the form of mental telepathy. But unlike the Finns, instead of utilizing this “Filipino dream” to the positive light, our present government is driving us outside of the country not because of the “dream” but because of the lack of opportunities for our equally talented people. So we have people like you, Mr. Rudy B., and the rest whose skills and talents are being acknowledged not by the very country that raised you but by the people of those lands who haven’t even knew you exist until you came to them… or shall I say for most Filipino migrants and OFWs. Ang malala pa, ang paghiling sa mga OFWs kan gobyerno garo mga dollars na nagkikirinang-kinang. Pero agadon mo an tabang kan gobyerno, even the embassies would not lift a finger lalo na kung dai banatan kan media.

    While there is nothing wrong in going and working outside the country, dapat sana may direction man kuta an gobyerno para i-channel an efforts kan mga Pinoy na nasa luwas kan nasyon. Arog kan ginibo kan South Korea. After the world war II, South Korea was very poor. Mas mayaman pa an Pilipinas kaito next to Japan. So what the Koreans did is to get out of the country and work as overseas contract workers. But the Korean government utilized the efforts of its citizens, the dollars earned and the knowledge gained to build a different South Korea — a rich country with a very vibrant economy. Ngonyan, an mga Koreano nagluluwas na lang sa nasyon ninda bako para mag-trabaho kundi maging turista o kaya mag-adal kung bako man magnegosyo. Sana an maging direksiyon man kan gobyerno arog man kaan. Even local governments siguro na arog kan Bulan should think like the Korean government officials. Aren’t the municipality missing guys like you and Atty Benjie and the rest of the Taga-Bulans who are now in Manila and other places living far from your hometown for lack of opportunities? And when I say opportunities I just don’t mean jobs but also quality education, proper health care, etc. Or are they happy that you are away because you are sending money to the municipality? Well, it seems like it’s the latter because our government, both national and local, only values its citizens monetarily.

    Sana it’s the other way around. Sana arog kan Finns na su pangaturugan may pinadumanan – teknolohiya. O kaya arog kan South Korea, nagamit nin husto su kwarta asin kaisipan na nakua sa ibang nasyon para mapaasenso an mga Koreano para sa masunod na pagluwas kan mga ini sa nasyon, maging mga turista na sana na nagpapasiram-siram sa iba-ibang lugar kan kinaban.

  2. Education is and always be one of the best vehicles for social change.

    It has the power to give the less – fortunate opportunities they may have never had before.

  3. Thanks Mr. Carizo for the good comment!

    Colonization actually started also with the dream of greener pasture which, as in the case of Spain, not really to spread Christianity and glorify their God and His Ten Commandments like Thou shall not kill, Thou shall not steal, Thou shall love thy neighbor etc. , for in fact they came in search of resources and employment and, worse, conquered, enslaved the natives, murdered and looted the whole Philippine archipelago. In the Philippines alone, colonization provided jobs for tens of thousands-perhaps millions- of Spaniards at that time in the Philippines and surely substantially increased Spain’s GDP during this pillage that lasted for 333 years. How about if you add to that the colonized South American countries? You may recall the Galleon Trades en route Mexico-Manila-Spain resulting to sinking some of these ships for being overloaded with golds, silver, goods and slaves. Some treasure hunters are still on the way mapping out the oceans with the hope of locating these lost cargo ships.

    Now, we may just say it was the past and we just happened to be one of those unlucky nations that fell into the hands of those European colonizers. Some European friends of mine also admit that they were the ones who started the troubles in this world. It was painful for the colonized, glorifying for the colonizers. But from today’s modern perspective, for the former colonizers, what they did was a shame and source of remorse, for the former colonized ones, it was the birth of nationalism and authentic heroism, in short, a source of pride. You see, how situations and meanings change with time, true to the maxim that time heals if you were the victim, time injures if you were the perpetrator. In other words, time brings justice. From the modern, civilized, humanistic perspective, the Philippines is a proud nation for it has a clear conscience unlike Japan, Germany, Spain, France, Great Britain and America who unti now suffer from this collective guilt and in some cases have to pay reparation fees.Viewed against this context, we can shout with clear conscience to the whole world “Mabuhay Ang Pilipino!”.

    However, we now can comfort ourselves with the idea that the Spanish colonizers’ landing on the shores of Mactan was far from being an exact planning. The work of Professors Feyrer and Sacerdote of Darmouth College showed that it was wind direction and speed which decided where Europeans settled first and not by cherry-picking,i.e. choosing consciously better islands to settle. In short, by chance. Good or bad luck for us, you may say, for in truth colonization had both its negative and positive sides. Spain helped accelerate our development in many areas like education, arts, literature, sciences, engineering, architecture, nation building and -whether you like it or not-religion and Catholicism. The same with our American and Japanese colonial periods; they also contributed to the development of these areas mentioned. In effect, it has united us as one people, gave birth to nationalism, provided the platform for the development and cultivation of the Filipino mind and stimulated our political consciousness. We are all familiar with the negative sides of colonization so it’s about time we talk about its positive sides and use these with our modern insights to help us overcome those negative ones for as a nation we cannot afford to linger forever in the past and keep romanticising the pains of colonialism; we have to move forward.

    Translated into our Bulan politics, we should act in such a way as to help those people in our municipal government be aware of their own good sides and good intentions so that they’ll think and act accordingly resulting to positive achievements for the town. This is what I mean by redefining many things in Bulan. We have been acting and behaving for ages according to the old definitions we carry in our subconscious that’s why we never move forward. We have to define our politics anew if we want progress: For the politician or politician-to be, think of how you can enrich your town while in office or if elected; for the political opponents including their supporters who lost the election, think also of how you can help those elected enrich the town. Fair play and teamwork is needed for the town to grow. This is simple but hard to do for this means transcending the ego for a higher end. This is difficult for it goes against the natural man in us and requires a civilized step we call reflection. Not transcending selfish motives and hate means staying by the old definition of politics and therefore against the idea of Bulan moving forward. The mayor should respect her office and use it to motivate and unify our people and act according to our new definitions of things in Bulan. This is the only way for Bulan to move to the next form.

    You have mentioned OFW. The same way that Spain suffered a big outflow of human capital at that time the problem of human capital flight in the Philippines is as old as our colonial history itself. Think of the years spent by Rizal, Luna, Hidalgo, etc. outside the Philippines during their most productive years. Brain drain, originally coined by the Royal Society to describe the emigration of scientists and technologists to North America from post-war Europe, is not a new phenomenon and familiar causes of emigration are conflict, lack of opportunity, political instability, etc.. , reasons also known to Rizal in his time. But we should not forget that it was not one sided at that time. Our country profited during that time time also from a huge in-flow of human capital or brain gain; educated European brains settled in our country and improved our GDP by bringing with them their knowledge and skills we never had before they came. Actually it was the colonizing-and later the war-torn Europe- that first suffered from brain drain. The families and relatives of the OSF, or Oversea Spanish Workers, knew already long ago the sentiments we Filipinos are experiencing now with our own OFW. Actually, brain drain in the Philippines started in the 1970’s due to the government’s adoption of international contract work known thereafter to us as Oversea Contract Workers whose first wave landed mostly in Saudi Arabia and in other Southeast Asian countries as well.

    There are by now around 8 million Filipinos working abroad and last year they sent home over 10 billion dollars which is about 12% of the country’s GDP. Arroyo’s government is happy about this money that’s why it boasted last July 25 of “coffers with monetary reserves” to face the world’s food and fuel crisis. But this is the hook to it: The lack of nurses and doctors and other medical personnel is continuously damaging the country’s health care system (resulting to closures of hospitals) – that with around 15,000 nurses leaving the country each year.

    The problem in our country is that our political and economic situation is only conducive to brain drain but not to brain gain, i.e. in-flow of highly skilled individuals. Many foreigners are hesitant to invest their money, time and knowledge in our country for we do not meet the requirements of these people; it’s unthinkable for instance for European or South Korean nurses and doctors to apply as such in our country. However, brain drain is not only a problem among developing countries, it is a global problem. On the other hand, countries benefiting from brain gain (human capital) and economic gain (financial capital) are countries that invested and continously invest in education and research and are politically and socially stable ones. A case in point I know so well is Switzerland. This is a place of brain gain from almost every imaginable discipline. I can say with certainty, as an example, that at the moment in history, the best brains of theoretical and astrophysics are gathered in Geneva working for CERN’s recently opened Large Hadron Collider (LHC), the world’s largest particle accelerator.Whereas, to talk about headhunting in the Philippines is still taken literally by many foreign nationals, which understandably triggers fear and flight instinctive reactions in these people.

    To qoute J.A. Carizo, “Aren’t the municipality missing guys like you and Atty Benjie and the rest of the Taga-Bulans who are now in Manila and other places living far from your hometown for lack of opportunities?”. Well, Attybenji would somehow find it easy as a lawyer to find a job in Bulan. I could imagine him as practicing lawyer, a competent politician or as a legal counselor to our mayor, for instance. But for a clinical psychologist, I think it wouldn’t be easy to find clients in Bulan, a psychiatric hospital or a psychological clinic or research institute. Or, am I mistaken? I stand to be updated!

    jun asuncion

    Bulan Observer

  4. Lessons That We Should Have Learned Long Time Ago…

    On Technology Development :

    The research agency that virtually turned Taiwan around from an agrarian to an industrialized economy suggests that the Philippines should put up a similar agency that can get technologies take off from the shelves. The Philippines may derive a model from Taiwan in having established in 1973 the Industrial Technology Research Institute (ITRI), which widely bridged the gap needed in technology commercialization.

    ITRI told a Congressional Commission on Science, Technology, and Engineering (Comste) forum that the US technology model (of the academe collaborating with industries) may not work in Asian countries like Taiwan and the Philippines. But the ITRI model may work too for the country as much as it did in Taiwan. US companies are very big and have the capability to do research through links with the university. ITRI is like something in between to get the universities to work with industries. Such institution, should be run like a private enterprise, although it may receive seed money from government.

    Comste said that government has been studying the setting up of an institution that will enable the country to develop niche products that have high commercial potential. And ITRI may just lead the way. We may set up an R&D institute that’s partly government and partly private. This may need legislation. The role of government is basically to set incentives, maybe give some grants, some tax breaks. Essential to making research institutions meet private enterprises’ needs for technology is a law that allows government-funded R&D works to be owned and patented by researchers themselves. Comste said that to start off with a similar ITRI agency, government may pass a law converting the Advanced Science and Technology Institute (ASTI) into a profit-earning corporation. ASTI at present is one of the Department of Science and Technology’s (DoST) seven-research institutes. While earning a small profit, ASTI remits much of its earnings to government. In my own personal view, I would probably start small and consider ASTI which is now focused on ICT (Information Communication Technology) and electronics to “corporatize”. Their mandate can cover many areas, not only ICT. Because it is advanced science and technology, it can also be on biotechnology and nano technology.

    As Taiwan has been beefing up its R&D budget, which is now approaching three percent of gross domestic product (GDP), the country should devote more budgets for this from its present minuscule 0.12 percent of GDP, many times less than that of Taiwan, a lot smaller country of 23 million people, in the 1950s-1960s, the Philippines had a higher per capita income. Taiwan with its investments in R&D, ninth biggest in the world, has experienced an economic miracle that has made it sixteenth in rank in global trade and foreign exchange reserve fifth in the world. The Philippines still has an edge in being an English speaking-country and in having many natural resources, unlike Taiwan that only has its people as resource. However, its sole wealth in people, enabled Taiwan to tap its greatest potential in developing high-technology industries. ITRI, an agency with more than 5,000 researchers and more than 1,000 Ph.Ds, has enabled the spin-off of many technology companies.

    The emergence of world’s biggest wafer foundry Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co.,
    is partly attributed to it. ITRI has invested more and has helped growth and birth of 255 companies under its Open Lab. These are Taiwan’s world market share in technology products: soho router, 93 percent; WLAN, 90 percent; Ethernet LAN switch, 84 percent; and cable CPE, 80 percent.

    On Melamine Scare : Gov’t should strengthen dairy industry

    The global impact of the melamine scare should push the government to reexamine its dairy program and accelerate its milk self-sufficiency target, which is originally set for 2018. The National Dairy Authority (NDA) set 2018 as the target for 100 percent milk sufficiency even as the discovery that large inventories of milk produced in China were laced with melamine, a chemical ingredient in the manufacture of plastics, has cast doubts on the integrity of imported milk. NDA is targeting to secure 11,000 dairy cattle in the next five years in its bid to raise production to 63 million kilos of milk yearly.Total national production is only five percent of demand, and the country’s entire population of milking cows is a pittance at 15,000 head. The annual production, mostly from cooperatives, is only 13 million kilos, while a big Thai dairy cooperative produces one million kilos a day.

    A foremost backer of a strong dairy industry was former Senator Leticia Ramos Shahani, who launched her White Revolution years ago to bring in Indian cows and bulls to propagate higher yields of milk and meat in the country. The Philippine Carabao Center (PCC) also developed in vitro fertilization (IVF) to propagate better breeds, including some from Hungary, to increase the number of livestock for milk production. Dairy farmers have complained that there is little incentive for milk production even though there are large pasture areas in the country that have not been adequately exploited.

    Industry players have said milking cows could increase milk production by consuming moringa or malunggay leaves, as proven by the experience of Nicaraguan farmers who secured an increase in milk by 45 percent. Malunggay could be intercropped with fruit-bearing trees to ensure that farmers would earn more. Experts said that with enough malunggay in pasture areas and with abundant grass sufficient for 10 cows per hectare, milk production could increase significantly.Some enterprising dairy farmers have proven that with enough pasture land; a cow can produce 15 liters of milk a day. More pregnant cows mean more milk, and cows can produce milk from seven to 10 years. They give birth on the eighth month and can get pregnant again after three months. Experts said small farmers all over the country could participate in the dairy improvement program through proper training and education on the long-term benefits of milk production.

    The government needs to invest at least P500 million annually to enhance the local dairy industry’s capacity to produce milk and help lessen the country’s dependence on milk imports. The country imports between US$ 500 million to US$ 600 million or P25 billion worth of milk and other milk products annually. About 99 percent of milk and dairy products available in the Philippine market is imported, while only one percent is produced locally.The country’s dependence on imported milk and milk products makes the country vulnerable to the entry of toxic food products. Should the government “diversify” its focus and invest in the local dairy industry’s capacity to produce milk, the country could ensure the safety of dairy products in the market. The annual investment, will cover the importation of milk producing animals such as cows, which is estimated to cost P70,000 per head. The P500 million per year investment can easily be recovered by lessening the country’s spending on imported milk. Only a small portion of the Department of Agriculture’s budget is allotted to the local dairy industry, with the bulk of expenditures focused on rice sufficiency and operating expenses. Food security advocates, on the other hand, said the influx of contaminated food into the country could be traced to the Philippines’ trade policies. According to the Task Force Food Sovereignty, the trade liberalization strategy adopted in the early 1980s has caused the “inevitable toxic food dumping” at present.

  5. The Philipines has a much wider social diversity than Finland. What works in a small country, where everyone looks and thinks alike, such as Finland, may not work so well where there is a broad range of opinions. Diversity is the strength of the Philipines.

  6. Thanks for the comment, Bill.

    As in nature, diversity is what makes life interesting.

    No doubt the diversity of the Philippines is a social, cultural and even biological strength.

    But as you have already hinted, this isn’t necessarily an economic and political strength in our country as in smaller yet economically strong Finland where “everyone looks and thinks the same”.

    Filipinos may think, believe and speak differently from each other- and this is alright for today multiculturality is in- but in practice I see in it the reason for our slow economic development.

    For if people think, believe and speak differently, it follows that people also act differently for interest are also diverse and so as opinions or positions where each cultural group tends to uphold to be the only one wihich is right. So political conflicts abound in such a multicultural country such as the Philippines. This explains why- aside from our geographical barriers- we never advance economicaly and politicaly as a nation as quick as Taiwan, Finland, Switzerland, etc.

    In these countries mentioned, there is practically no racial or ethnic tension present or terrorism, separatist movements and insurgency problems like in the Philippines. And this is a big factor that has made these countries socio-economicaly progressive for local and foreign investments abound because there is peace, security and political stability- and less corruption.

    Diversity is culturally interesting yet it also breeds political and economic poverty. Hence, it is a double-edged phenomenon.

    jun asuncion

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