Better Late than Never


| May-June 2009

Philippine educators are taking another stab at changing their country’s entrenched culture of tardiness, reports the Chronicle of Higher Education (Jan. 23, 2009). The country already had a national punctuality week—but at the beginning of 2008, its department of education launched a comprehensive 10-year campaign to root out the arrive-when-you-arrive ethos “affectionately known by many as ‘Filipino time.’ ” 

Project WATCH (We Are Time Conscious and Honest) makes timeliness part of elementary and high school curricula, with workshops and symposiums on time management. There are also national essay contests and games highlighting the fruits of punctuality, which “encourages civility and raises productivity.”

This isn’t the first time that a government has attempted to transform its citizens into watch-minders; tardy Singaporeans felt the pinch in 1993, and a decade later Ecuadorans were in hot water. More recently, Peru’s leaders debuted La Hora Sin Demora, a “time without delay” campaign.

Critics of efforts like these point out that not all cultures mark time in the same fashion: “Some define events by the clock and others allow events to run their natural courses,” Psychology Today reported in 2007. The promotion of punctuality may very well spring from good intentions, but it also represents the imposition of more traditionally Western cultural values.