Over the years broad reform frameworks have been developed, from the trifocalized education system (basic, technical-vocational, tertiary) established by the Congressional Commission on Education (1991) to the Presidential Commission on Education Reforms (2000), the Besra (Basic Education Sector Reform Agenda), Education for All, Presidential Task force on Education (2008), and this administration’s landmark launch and implementation of the K to 12 system. These significant reform efforts focus on structure, basic education, teacher quality, and tertiary reform programs. Still, the issues and problems that resurface consistently highlight the need for reassessment and evaluation. Focus is now most appropriately given to tertiary education, especially industry-academe linkages, reforms in the governance structures, and ensuring that the education gained in the tertiary level will result in employment and lifelong skills necessary for productivity.
Many steps have been taken to align industry requirements with the availability of skilled graduates. For instance, through its Academe-Industry Linkage Program, the Magsaysay Institute of Shipping (MIS) has partnered with local universities for its cadetship program. This partnership features a four-year course in which the first two years of general education are handled by a partner university and the third and fourth years of specialization are done at the MIS. Scholars for the cadetship program are recruited from previously selected partner universities nationwide. This early mentorship and education program ensures that the students are equipped with the skills and knowledge needed by their chosen industry.
The MIS also works with its partner schools to improve the first two years of general education. The exposure and quality of experience that the students gain through the cadetship program are something their college cannot provide. They are also assured of immediate placement after the program. This example of a viable industry-academe linkage not only benefits the business and the competitiveness of the industry but also provides opportunities for students that are not readily available to them, allowing them to reach their full potential.
The Bato Balani Foundation Inc. (BBFI), through its five-day business management program developed in partnership with the Ernst Schmidheiny Foundation and the Institute of St. Gallen in Switzerland, provides third- and fourth-year students of state universities and colleges (SUCs) an opportunity to gain entrepreneurial and business skills through a business simulation game. The students are grouped into teams and compete in all areas of the business process.
This year, program partner Holcim Philippines went a step further from its usual support and added a small grants program for the winning student team. By incorporating the grant facility, the BBFI and Holcim Philippines aim to give the winning team the opportunity to experience first-hand the development of a business proposal and the implementation of a small business in their school or community. The first grantees were a group of students of Bulacan State University whose business plan included raising their own counterpart fund in addition to the seed fund provided by Holcim to support their small business.
The BBFI aims to train and develop 10,000 student entrepreneurs in 10 years. The program begins by matching corporations with SUCs and integrating the core business principles of the sponsoring corporation in the student’s five-day program. The early link to entrepreneurship and exposure to business through this program provides the discipline, knowledge, creativity and understanding and awareness of business principles that the students will otherwise not be able to experience with their current curriculums. It also better prepares them for employment after graduation.
These industry-led programs and interventions provide a productive output that should ideally be scaled up to allow students more access to educational programs that can lead to lifelong skills, employment and job opportunities. Incentivizing industries or companies that provide integrated training and employment programs with local universities can be an option. Government focus on science and technology partnerships through bilateral agreements can also expand the options available to graduates.
In the recent election campaign, many of the candidates’ platforms had an education component, from student loans to academe-industry linkages to raising the budget for SUCs. (This can actually be an effective way to determine if SUCs maximize the use of funds and available resources.) If the winning candidates vigorously pursue their campaign promises on education and transform these into realistic policy that can be immediately felt by the people—and align these policy formulations with existing education reform programs and national goals—we will be heading in the right direction.
One thing that should not be forgotten, however, is that it is essential to impart and embed the principles of good governance and citizenship—two major areas that should be given more importance in tertiary education. Not only should our graduates possess skills and competencies that meet or even surpass industry standards, they should also possess the heart and the passion to participate in productive efforts leading to nation-building and economic growth.
Ching Jorge is executive director of Bato Balani Foundation Inc., president of Young Public Servants, and a fellow of the Asia Society.