Skills development and Philippine competitiveness (Part 3)


Monchito Ibrahim

We have been saying for so long now that we are an attractive country to invest in because of our large, young, talented, and English-speaking workforce. But is it ready to make the Philippines become a potent global player as the world economy starts embracing Industry 4.0? Recent global skills assessments do not reflect that it is.

Filipinos ranked at the bottom in both reading literacy and mathematics and science among 79 countries assessed in 2018 by the Programme for International Student Assessment by the OECD. 

Education involves many stakeholders, and educational issues are complex to solve. But the Philippines has to face the music if it wants to be competitive globally. We need to get our workforce ready for Industry 4.0. We have to move their skills sets up the value chain and make them ready for more complex work that is not easily replaceable by automation. The threat of technology displacing workers is nothing new. It has been happening in ripples for so long. The pace is expected to accelerate exponentially as the current digital revolution continues to transform industries. Automation has the potential to disrupt the status quo as AI capabilities are fast replacing human labor, reducing the breadth of many human jobs and eliminating others.

Andrew MacAfee, co-director of the Initiative on the Digital Economy at MIT Sloan School of Management once said: “Digital technologies are doing for human brainpower what the steam engine and related technologies did for human muscle power during the Industrial Revolution. They’re allowing us to overcome many limitations rapidly and to open up new frontiers with unprecedented speed.”

Schools have been struggling to find the right model of 21st-century education, one that enhances student achievement and prepares them for a changing economic landscape shaped by automation, providing the skills and experiences to adjust to the nuances of the future workplaces. We need to move beyond traditional approaches to create new pathways to success by looking at the best use cases implemented here and in other countries.

Some schools have moved beyond the traditional educational concept of study-then-work to a study-and-work strategy combining classroom instruction with relevant, real-world experience. Project-based learning highlights the importance of studying a wide set of skills that can then be applied to each work setting, as opposed to sticking to a set of skills directly linked to a specific job role. With this approach, students are able to develop the right collaboration, problem-solving and critical thinking skills. This concept is not new to the Philippines as some schools such as the Asia Pacific College have implemented it resulting in a much higher absorption rate for their graduates.

We may also need to look at new classroom models. A number of schools, for example, have adopted the Student-Centered Active Learning Environment with Upside-down Pedagogies’ or SCALE-UP model. With this set-up, boring teacher-student lectures become a thing of the past because the teacher now becomes a classroom facilitator rather than a traditional instructor. The set-up used to be– listen to the lecture, take notes, do the homework, and study. SCALE-UP has done away with this worn-out way of doing things and has flipped lessons on their heads. It takes the focus off the teacher and makes learning much more student-centric. Students work in groups on in-class activities to reinforce lessons learned in a setting that is more like a restaurant than a typical classroom that encourages discussions and critical thinking.

I have been part of the Technical Panel for IT Education (TPITE) of the CHED since 2010. It is a recommendatory body composed of representatives from the academe and industry. Part of our work was to visit HEIs for assessments. One glaring thing that I have observed all these years was the lack of interest among some HEIs to put in place faculty development programs designed to ensure that their teachers are updated not just with new pedagogies but, more importantly, in emerging technologies that they can impart to their students. 

I also believe that requiring teachers to immerse themselves in actual workplaces will provide them with better perspectives of what the real world looks like. This is, of course, easier said than done especially for schools in the provinces. The usual question asked by school administrators is “who will take care of their salaries while they are not in school teaching.”

For years, our country’s policymakers, educators, and employers have been wrestling with the persistent job-skills mismatch. Companies large and small routinely complain that they have good jobs available, but cannot find enough qualified workers. We need to find better solutions to address the situation else we will be positioning ourselves as laggards in the coming digitally-driven industrial landscape. Providing our future workforce with first-rate education must be one of the top priorities of the incoming leadership team of the country. 

(The author is the lead convenor of the Alliance for Technology Innovators for the Nation (ATIN), vice president of the Analytics Association of the Philippines, and vice president, of the UP System Information Technology Foundation.)