By the time you finish reading this post, I hope to have convinced you that—contrary to what some politicians think—it is not just “business math” that can make you rich, famous or influential.
Just learn from the story of Dado Banatao, the most recognized Filipino Silicon Valley-based engineer and venture capitalist.
Mind you, it is not business math—or simply, the math dealing with money—that first paved his way toward billionaire status.
Rather, his love of (and mind for) engineering, including all its allied areas in mathematics—algebra, trigonometry, geometry, statistics, and calculus—made it possible for him to graduate with honors from the Mapua Institute of Technology, which then led later to a job with Boeing as design engineer in the 1960s and brought him to the United States, which led to higher studies at Stanford University, and which allowed him to move in the same circle as the likes of the young Steve Jobs.
So Yes, Virginia (or Virgilio), algebra, trigonometry and their geeky cousins have very good reasons to remain in our educational system’s curriculum.
Who is Dado Banatao?
Just google his name, and you’ll appreciate what this Filipino has contributed to the modern computer industry—of the world.
Let us count the ways: Dado is credited for simplifying computer designs by reducing the number of chips from the then-industry standard of 150 down to five. The impact? This paved the way for smaller and ergo, less costly computer units.
He innovated on a technology that could speed up computer chips and introduced the first Windows accelerator chip.
As an entrepreneur, he founded at least three technology companies. Intel bought one of these firms for a cool $430 million in 1996.
He is now the founding partner of Tallwood Venture Capital, which invests in companies engaged in semiconductors and semiconductor-related technologies.
His beginnings, however, were nowhere near what you might consider a charmed life. He grew up in a barrio in Iguig, Cagayan Valley, Philippines. His father was a farmer-turned-OFW.
His is another rags-to-riches story.
Dado has proven that a child from some barrio can become an innovator with much success. Today, his company supports exceptional students so that they, too, can receive top-notch training in engineering. His organization, PhilDev, funds Filipino scholars both in the Philippines and in the United States.
My father was a farmer. I am an engineer. There are countless kids who just need a chance like I did. I am not so special. But I am determined.
Fear Not The Subjects
Of course, there is nothing wrong with business math. What makes it wrong is if other math areas such as algebra or calculus are undermined just because these are seen as “more difficult subjects” and whose applications are not well understood.
Do you know that when you want to cook for 10 people, you use simple algebraic expressions to adjust the ingredients of your dish?
When you are driving your car, you use calculus when you decide if an approaching car is going slow or fast?
Is your lot space not a perfect square or rectangle? Well, appraisers turn to trigonometry to properly calculate the space.
And truth be told, there is a bit of algebra in business math, too.
Filling the Gap: The Big Picture on Innovation
Perhaps the question one should ask is: Is the problem really because these are innately difficult subjects? Or is it because the quality of mathematics education in the country is not “good” enough?
Let’s look at some stats.
The quality of higher education can be partly determined by the quality of math and science education. In the 2015-2016 World Economic Forum report, the Philippines ranks the 67th out of 140 countries. When compared with ASEAN countries, the country ranks lower than Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Vietnam.
The Philippines also trails behind its Southeast Asian neighbors in areas such as the number of science and technology (S&T) workers as a ratio of total population.
Of those working in S&T fields in 2010, 39 percent were nurses and midwives. Engineers came second at 31 percent.
In a nutshell, we need more workers in S&T, and could benefit from an improvement in the quality of education in mathematics and science.
Innovation: Endless Possibilities
Dado’s scholarships in the field of engineering under PhilDev—reported to be P151 million (or P1 million per scholar)—provide part of the solution. Policy decision-makers should be taking their cue from his initiatives. After all, his exposure and direct experience within the global tech industry have given him a clear perspective on what it takes for Filipinos to be competitive.
The betterment of the next generation will be enabled not by politicians but from engineers and entrepreneurs rich in ideas for innovation and businessmen who know the dynamics of wealth accumulation.
— Dado’s speech, AIM-Phildev Launch (2016)
Know the saying “one small step for man, one giant step for mankind”? Try applying this quote to the Philippines.
Imagine: What if Dado’s very scholars come back to the country to teach the next generation of wannabe-engineers? What if they churn out pioneering research works that could put the Philippines on the map as an emerging tech hub? What if they share their expertise with local startup companies that are stumped with how to make their local products better, faster, more intuitive?
What if all these 151 scholars pay it forward by nurturing and supporting 151 more future Filipino engineers each. That’ll be roughly 22,801 would-be scientists, engineers, and innovators for the Philippines.
The possibilities are endless.
And with luck, all of these future engineers will replicate Dado Banatao’s global success.
So, how does that sound as a driver of Philippine economic growth?