By Federico M. Macaranas
(Second of two parts)
The Education Commission 2 (EDCOM 2) must connect our primary school learning crisis to more fundamental questions of the Philippines as a Lifelong Learning (LLL) nation. Formal and informal learning in communities and corporations must be integrally pursued.
Long-term education-work-life issues of EDCOM 2 cover the more difficult subject of systematic risks (basic skills covered by the 4 Cs of 21st Century education — critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and creativity) in grade school.
On the other hand, the short-term LLL agenda are specific risks related to individual sector reforms, industry-vetted micro-credential courses, and granularly targeted government programs, including improved literacy and numeracy, and vocational-technical education for adult learners.
Both short- and long-term agendas must be chased at the same time.
It is best for our economy to survive with the present sectoral winners through targeted strategies, thereby helping finance the improvement of the future workforce in grade school now.
So, what can EDCOM 2 pursue to avoid death by a thousand cuts — when learners find that, despite hard work, their skills are deteriorating rapidly relative to the changing times? Where should we focus the additional LLL training of the current workforce?
AREAS FOR SHORT-TERM LLL FOCUS
Four reasons for continued employee training were found out to be critical among 11 variables in the 2007 International Labor Organization (ILO) study on the Philippines: 1.) GDP growth relative to other countries, 2.) flexibility (adaptability of people in the economy is high when faced with new challenges), 3.) educational system (meeting the needs of a competitive economy), and, 4.) knowledge transfer (highly developed between companies and universities).
These are as relevant today as in 2007. Only the first two are discussed in greater detail here.
DRIVING GDP GROWTH
Whole-of-nation LLL in the Philippines was required, but never addressed, based on its low GDP growth relative to dynamic Southeast and Northeast Asian neighbors in 2007.
Today, with the false comfort of higher short-term GDP growth rates after a disastrous pandemic fall, LLL must be pushed by leaders in key sub-sectors where the industry growth slippage is most problematical, e.g., evidenced by increased difficulty in hiring qualified talents. Specific training must be directed where we have the most potential comparative advantage to promote for domestic and global markets.
Our marine resource wealth is one new area to scale up, from marine flora/fauna and seabed minerals protection, maritime services provision, to asin/rock salt production. For the first time in its planning history, we have a marine archipelagic nation document which must be explored by Filipino science, technology, and innovation talents in collaborative programs with producer and consumer stakeholders. (NAST, Pagtanaw 2050: STI Foresight Document, 2021).
Two factors augur well: in the last generation (25 years), the relatively speedy rise of our innovative startups, and the continued flow of excellent ideas from many programs between the Department of Science and Technology (DoST) and private firms.
Other LLL for GDP growth drivers are current major foreign exchange earners with large number of employed workers and concerned families:
1.) Cybersecurity for maritime, and technical/conversational English for nursing services (both delivered overseas where we are the top supplier of global talents and thus potential sources of related business ideas),
2.) 4Cs of 21st C education for business process outsourcing and tourism sectors services (rendered domestically where fewer family problems may ensue),
3.) Liberal Arts plus STEM-influenced learning for fields requiring professional examinations and substituting micro-credentials — doing away with college diplomas, as Singapore selectively started in some industries for employment purposes in late 2021 [Congressman Go noted three weeks ago: the most recent passing rates of licensure exam-takers are about 56% of first-time takers, and 38% of graduates across disciplines], and,
4.) Arts and culture, other cybersecurity services, marine-based products (carrageenan, seafood, mariculture), and natural products for climate change mitigation.
FLEXIBILITY IN THE FACE OF NEW CHALLENGES
Five of the top 10 global concerns of leaders surveyed for the 2021-22 Global Risk Report of the World Economic Forum are on climate change. The Philippines is in a region where extreme temperature changes will bring in more severe precipitation and harsher typhoons, as Karding ominously warned us along with other contemporaneous disasters around the world most recently.
Can we adjust our learning systems here, in modality and content?
Our flexibility as a nation has been exhibited recently in the dramatic increase of local startups, largely inspired by our overseas talents. They brought the Silicon Valley joie de vivre back to the country and sparked a brain circulation vs. the brain drain spawned by the education-skills mismatch and attractive migration offers.
Many entrepreneurial Filipino domestic and expatriate professionals can be drawn into local businesses directly — to impact on livelihood and environment concerns through further training, marketing, and financial support in new ventures to speed up and scale efforts. For example:
1.) Coordinated planting of bamboo for region-specific species to counter disastrous soil erosion and greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture, transport, and industry, additionally to fulfill import offers for bamboo charcoal for gasification in renewable energy plants (part of the Philippines’ Billion Bamboos Campaign through 2030 as our contribution to some UN SDG targets),
2.) Speeding up of translational research from universities to industries, e.g., bioethanol production from nipa palm as renewable energy (for bancas (outrigger boats) and vehicles use, and electricity in remote areas), and other DoST programs from the “Filipinnovation” strategy which is now the trade and industry department’s responsibility, and,
3.) Mangrove reforestation in Marine Protected Areas, for increased fishery catch, ecotourism, and eco-system-based adaptation for climate change problems (championed by the French impact investor Blue Finance in the Verde Island Passage between Batangas and the Visayas, the most marine biodiverse region of planet Earth).
These practical adult LLL concerns are what micro-credentials should focus on. Obviously, they include adapting the 4Cs of basic education skills to community and corporate adult learning — what the country needs today as schools attempt to re-invent old ideas into new curricula for new mindsets.
Indeed, they are at the heart of whatever LLL we have, sinking so fast in rising seas that our archipelago risks having fewer islands of talent excellence.
This article reflects the personal opinion of the author and does not reflect the official stand of the Management Association of the Philippines or MAP.
Federico “Poch” M. Macaranas is co-chair of the Sub-Committee on Lifelong Learning of the MAP Management and Human Development Committee. He is author of the ILO Monograph on Lifelong Learning in the Philippines (2007).