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Commentary: Developing the Philippines' human capital

Father taking his children home from school, Bacolod City, Philippines in 2015. Brian Evans/CC BY-ND

In the latest United Nations Human Development Report, the Philippines ranked 116th out of 188 countries. While progress was made in the last 25 years, poverty and inequality rates remain high. More worrying is that countries such as Vietnam, Thailand, and Indonesia, which ranked below us in 1990, are performing better than we are—the Philippines is now the second-most unequal society in ASEAN.

To ensure that growth becomes more inclusive, the Duterte administration should address pressing concerns on human capital development, particularly in education, and start preparing for the impacts of potentially disruptive technologies.  This will provide those who have not reaped the benefits of economic growth a better chance of enjoying the benefits of economic and technological progress.

Dr. Vicento Paqueo and Dr. Aniceto Orbeta Jr., in "Unlocking the Filipino People’s Potential in the Next Six Years and Beyond," a study published by Stratbase ADR Institute, discuss strategies to address future challenges brought about by the looming Fourth Industrial Revolution (FIRe). The FIRe is characterized by emerging technologies that will cause disruptions in the global value chain and labor markets.

Investing in education

The Philippines still needs to work on improving the quality of its education in all levels. The mean percentage scores for Grade 6 and 10 pupils are lower than 75 percent or below mastery. The average passing rate in professional examinations is less than 40 percent, which means that over half of the graduates do not get to practice in their respective fields.

While elementary enrollment is already near universal, access to education still needs to be expanded, particularly for the secondary and tertiary levels. State universities and colleges are the gateway to post-secondary education. Yet, existing Student Financial Assistance Programs (STuFAP) in tertiary education are poorly funded and badly designed.

STuFAP was supposed to be rationalized and strengthened under Unified Student Financial Assistance System for Tertiary Education (UniFAST), which was signed into a law in 2015. The grant can be used in any tertiary institution and covers the student’s living allowance and tuition. However, the senate recently the passed a bill providing funding for free tuition for SUCs. Since funds in education are limited, providing free tuition might not be the best way to utilize our resources. The bill will eventually encourage students from private institutions to transfer to SUCs. It also prioritizes college education over technical vocation.

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Moreover, Technical-Vocational Education and Training (TVET) also needs to be more responsive to industry demands. While graduation rates are high, the employment rate of techvoc graduates is only around 65 percent. This implies that there is a disconnect between what industry needs and the training provided, especially since TVET certifications are not given as much importance by employers.

During the previous administration, investment in education formation had been increasing. Despite this, the resources spent for every student were still lower than the regional average. To improve, the government could target education spending to GDP at 5 percent. Pouring money into the sector, however, does not guarantee better quality. This underscores the need for the government to use its resources more efficiently.

Above all, institutional reforms are needed. While DepEd has already implemented several key initiatives, including compulsory kindergarten and mother-tongue based multilingual education, among others, project monitoring and evaluation are not well-established. Evaluating the outcome of these projects is critical to ensure that resources are utilized effectively. Meanwhile, TESDA should promote more enterprise-based training to bridge the gap between employers and prospective workers. CHED needs to be more effective in safeguarding the quality of higher education. 

Research and development (R&D), which is crucial for the country to break away from the middle-income trap, needs to be promoted further. The Philippines is significantly underspending in R&D compared to other Asian countries. It is also important to promote lifelong learning.  Technology-driven learning is a cheap way to make education accessible to more people.

For the country to sustain its growth momentum, it has to invest heavily on its people and adequately prepare for rapid technological changes. The government must ensure that its programs and policies are responsive to the needs of the Filipinos.


Dindo Manhit is the president of think tank Stratebase Albert del Rosario Institute, a partner of Philstar.com.

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