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Salute to a partner in PH education reform

US Ambassador to the Philippines Sung Kim was one of the last people with whom I interacted before the pandemic forced us all into community quarantines. It was during an event for YouthWorks PH, a project that we at PBEd (Philippine Business for Education) are undertaking in partnership with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). Ambassador Kim has been extremely supportive of this initiative that provides training for youth not in education, employment, or training. Even after the program, he stayed to huddle with us, to talk about plans moving forward. That feels like a lifetime ago…

Under Ambassador Kim’s leadership, the United States has proven its commitment to supporting the Philippines in a very important way — education. It is not an easy task to work in this sphere. It is by no means glamorous. Unless to unveil a new building, for example, there are no photo opportunities. It also demands significant resources, especially in terms of time and effort. From the nitty-gritty details, the highest quality learning and training outcomes take root.

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The value to nation-building of education for all has never been doubted. Young people (aged 10 to 24 years old) comprise 28 percent of the Philippine population, according to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). They are the country’s future leaders, changemakers, and laborers. Basic education that addresses the needs for numeracy, literacy, and socioemotional learning forms the basis for a competent workforce, which is in turn the bedrock of our economy. So investments in education redound to all of Philippine society.

This period of the pandemic is a tipping point: We have long been aware of the cracks that exist in the Philippine education system. Now, the chasm of social inequality is threatening to widen even more. According to the Philippine Statistics Authority, the youth unemployment rate was 22.4 percent in July 2020.

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We tout our abundant human resources as one of our strengths. But without proper and relevant training, we will be left with a weak foundation. This is a crucial time for us to improve and reimagine education and training in the Philippines. If we build upon their knowledge and capability, if we train them to realize their fullest potential, if we equip them with the right skills — this includes socioemotional skills — to face the world of work with all its uncertainties, then our Filipino youth can trace a path to a better future for the Philippines.

Today, USAID has several active projects supporting education: EdGE for local level policy reforms, Gabay for education inclusivity, ABC+ and ACR that work with the Department of Education in improving learning outcomes in basic education, STRIDE for support to industry partners and academic institutions for training in high-growth sectors, and YouthWorks PH and Opportunity 2.0: Second-chance Opportunities for Out-of-School Youth for bridging the skills mismatch for youth not in education, employment, or training. The last two, PBEd is involved in implementing.

I am certain that among many of Ambassador Kim’s memories of the Philippines will be these truly meaningful USAID projects and programs that addressed gaps in the Philippine education system and gave thousands of young Filipinos a better fighting chance, no longer just added statistics of those left behind. Ambassador Kim shares PBEd’s view that the education problem in the country is so huge that no one individual or group—even the entire government—can go at it alone. Partnerships and collaboration are key, and an all-of-country approach is needed. COVID-19 has just made this synergy even more essential.

As Ambassador Kim leaves us and travels to his next post, which fortunately is a very friendly Asean neighbor—I wish him well. On behalf of my fellow education advocates: We thank you, Mr. Ambassador, for your compassion and strong resolve to improve the lives of Filipinos, supporting and collaborating with us to effect lasting positive change. And if you ever decide to visit us, you can rest assured that you will have friends to welcome you here. From the depths of our hearts: Maraming salamat and mabuhay!

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Ramon R. del Rosario Jr. is a trustee of Makati Business Club and chair of Philippine Business for Education.

Business Matters is a project of Makati Business Club ([email protected]).

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TAGS: Business Matters, coronavirus pandemic, coronavirus philippines, COVID-19, Education reform, nation-building, Ramon R. del Rosario Jr., Sung Kim, USAID
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