Critical Thinking


MANILA, Philippines - "I know how education can transform lives," industry-changing engineer, successful venture capitalist and noted philanthropist Diosdado Banatao told a reporter recently, "because it transformed mine." The story of the boy from Iguig Village in Cagayan who walked to school barefoot while his father toiled as an overseas worker is by now well-known, and well-documented.

Three things stand out for me whenever I read a news report about Mr. Banatao, or listen to him speak. When he speaks of education's transformative impact on individuals, Mr. Banatao - in my experience - never refers to the knowledge he acquired, the skills he developed, or the research he conducted in the course of graduating with honors from high school, college, and university.

Instead, he talks of acquiring the capability of thinking critically. Mr. Banatao seems to be saying that knowledge and skills matter little if they are not accompanied by the ability to logically evaluate an idea and determine whether it has practical applications that make it worth spending time on to develop. Knowledge and skills have little relevance if they can't be put to use to achieve practical results that provide meaningful benefits.

According to Mr. Banatao and reports on his philanthropic activities, he generously funds a number of initiatives that provide Filipinos the opportunity to acquire a transformative education, including fellowships at the University of California at Berkley. Many of Silicon Valley's elites - and Mr. Banatao is among the elites of the elites - provide funding for similar as well as numerous and varied initiatives meant to uplift beneficiaries.

For all of them, I suppose these efforts are meant to give back, and to put their wealth to work earning a return for deserving individuals and causes. For Mr. Banatao, it seems to me that the effort is more personal. For close to half a century, Mr. Banatao has worked toward or been at the pinnacle of computer engineering success. While his star was rising, however, that of his country was falling. He would like to see that change.

Most of the startups that Mr. Banatao invests in and mentors aren't Philippine firms, or run by Filipinos. But his philanthropic efforts appear to be directed exclusively towards his countrymen and women. There is a special caveat: Beneficiaries must not have an open application for residency or citizenship in another country. Mr. Banatao wants beneficiaries to put their ability to think critically to work at home.

There's good reason for that requirement. Speaking recently at the 1st National Conference of Scholars of the Accelerated Science and Technology Human Resources Development (ASTHRD) program of the Department of Science and Technology (DOST), Sen. …

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