Bam Aquino on education

MINI CRITIQUE - Isagani Cruz (The Philippine Star) - February 7, 2013 - 12:00am

I asked the senatorial candidates what their first bill on education would be if they were elected or reelected. Last week, I featured the answers of Ramon Magsaysay, JV Ejercito Estrada, and Samson Alcantara. Here is the continuation of my series on the Senatoriables.

BAM AQUINO will sponsor a GoTrabaho Act. He writes:

“We believe that quality education goes beyond imparting knowledge and skills to our students, to actually ensuring that our graduates are placed in jobs that are matched to their competencies. However, over the years, we have seen the mismatch between our graduates and the kind of workforce that our industries need. Hence, one of our priorities will be to pass the GoTrabaho Act, which will provide for, but not limited to, the following:

“Stronger linkages between industry and educational institutions through a national internship program that will help establish industry requirements and standards for employment with the current offerings of educational institutions;

“The use of information technology to pool information about industry requirements, vacancies, skill requirements, etc.;

“Incentives for educational institutions that are able to place their graduates in the appropriate jobs, and, conversely, the re-evaluation of educational institutions that are not able to produce adequate board/bar passers, job-ready graduates, etc.;

“Incentives for businesses that employ more regular employees;

“Strengthening and enhancing the capacity of TESDA to be a market-focused and accessible training and re-training authority.”

What Bam Aquino wants (to remove the mismatch between education and industry) is clearly what everybody wants. I have a little problem, however, with his description of what his GoTrabaho bill will be.

One of the main features of the K to 12 reform program is the involvement of the business community in the formulation of the new curriculum. Philippine Business for Education (PBEd) sits in the Steering Committee of K to 12 (the group that approves everything related to the program). It seems to me that Bam Aquino is not familiar with President Aquino’s achievements in the area of linkages between education and industry.

I am also against more regulations for higher education. Already, the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) is paradoxically being criticized for being more regulatory than developmental (paradoxically, because CHED Chair Patricia Licuanan is committed to moving the agency back to its original developmental nature). Evaluating Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) “that are not able to produce adequate board/bar passers, job-ready graduates, etc.” is a step in the wrong direction. The market, rather than the government, should determine which HEIs survive and which will not.

It is also important not to lose sight of the reason we have HEIs in the first place. Although it is true that HEIs supply the country with skilled graduates (from clerks to doctors), it is also true that HEIs are the research and development arm of the nation.

HEIs are expected to extend the frontiers of knowledge. By definition, there are no industries at these frontiers (otherwise, they would not be frontiers); graduates of HEIs that work on “the next big thing” cannot be employed by industry. Our country will not fully develop unless we produce graduates that innovate in the area of science and technology, that are dissatisfied with any existing industry, that will create new industries. Entrepreneurship, rather than mere employment, will move our country forward. (Where would our country be if Henry Sy or Lucio Tan were employees?)

Given his industry orientation, Bam Aquino would be better off thinking about how industry (rather than education) will help remove the mismatch. He is thinking about a national internship program anyway.

Most college students go for On-the-Job Training (OJT). The idea of the OJT system is to have young people experience the real-life conditions of the workplace. In reality, however, most companies restrict OJT students to making coffee or doing photocopies. How can students learn what work means if they are not allowed to do real work?

The problem is that most companies have no idea how to educate students. The OJT experience is an educational experience. It needs industry mentors who have some training in educational theories and practices. That training is sadly lacking in our corporations.

The visit of the German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle this week is relevant to this concern. The Germans are very much interested in helping Philippine industries work hand in hand with our educational system. We can learn a lot from the German dual education system (already a major feature of the ongoing Senior High School modelling scheme), where young people become apprentices in industries, learning real skills rather than making coffee.

Training OJT mentors in companies costs a lot of money. Industry people have to have time off to be formally trained as educators. Bam Aquino may want to include in his GoTrabaho bill incentives for businesses that will allow their Human Resources staff to attend formal education courses. He could also make our bureaucratic red tape less of a nightmare for foreign funding agencies (such as those in Germany) eager to help Philippine HEIs train OJT mentors in corporations.


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