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The education quality challenge

/ 12:08 AM January 30, 2016

It’s that time of year again when those who seek to lead us vie for our attention and ultimately for our mandate. Based on their public pronouncements, presidential aspirants Vice President Jejomar Binay, Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, Sen. Grace Poe and former interior secretary Mar Roxas are all anchoring their campaign and platform of government on poverty alleviation and the eradication of crime and corruption.

History tells us that there is a strong correlation between electoral victory and the candidate’s ability to impress upon the electorate that he or she understands and will do something about the interrelated issues of education and job opportunities. If you think about it, access to education and the promise of employment are headline messages in many political “media placements” on radio and television today. (The ads don’t explicitly tell the viewer to go out and vote for the candidate, because the official campaign period commences in February yet.)

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As the esteemed Inquirer columnist Conrad de Quiros would say, there’s the rub.

The 2013 summary report of the Learning Metrics Task Force (LMTF) points to a global learning crisis where “many children and youth complete primary and secondary education without acquiring the basic knowledge, skills and competencies they need to lead productive, healthy lives.”

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“Worse still,” the LMTF says, “the full scale of the crisis may not be fully known: this figure is likely to be an underestimate because measurement of learning outcomes among children and youth is limited and more difficult to assess at the global level.”

The LMTF was convened by the Unesco Institute for Statistics and the Center for Universal Education at the Brookings Institution beginning in July 2012. It is a global collaborative effort among 30 member organizations, working groups with 186 technical experts, and more than 1,700 consultation participants from 118 countries.

The LMTF is calling for a global paradigm shift in focus and investment from universal access to access plus learning. It explains: “This paradigm shift is urgently needed to ensure that all children and youth have the opportunity to attain a high- quality education that will enable them to develop the skills and competencies required for success in their future lives and livelihoods.”

It adds: “Education systems around the world should focus on these competencies starting from early childhood through lower secondary school. Given the many and varied areas of specialization students take on in upper secondary education and beyond, the task force decided to limit its recommendations to the lower secondary level and focus on the knowledge and skills all youth need, regardless of the future occupations and learning opportunities they pursue.”

Based on what we’ve been hearing from them so far, how do the presidential aspirants intend to meet the learning crisis that the Philippines now faces along with the rest of the world?

So far, Poe has yet to outline a definitive stand on education access, let alone quality. Her declared platform of government states: “My father [the late Fernando Poe Jr.] called for a ‘social covenant’ to rebuild Philippine society and lead our nation towards unity and sustainable development. His goal was addressing the poverty problem. Ang inumpisahan ng tatay ko, tatapusin ko (What my father started, I will finish).”

Binay, as stated in the official webpage of the Office of the Vice President, recognizes education as “a potent instrument for human development and nation-building. We have a catchword for our educational program: Sa magandang paaralan, may magandang kinabukasan(In a good school, there is a good future). Its ultimate aim is a better future for every Filipino through quality and relevant education.”

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To address the “job-versus-skills mismatch” and spur employment especially among the youth, Binay is calling for the creation of a National Education Council with the Commission on Higher Education (CHEd), the Department of Labor and Employment, and the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (Tesda) as members, together with the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the IT & Business Process Association of the Philippines (Ibpap), the Federation of Filipino Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industries, and several others.

Meanwhile, Roxas will aggressively pursue the package of social and economic policies that the incumbent administration made under the “daang matuwid” banner and bring it to greater heights. Presumably, he will do all he can to make sure that the K-to-12 program’s intended effects will offset whatever near-term disruption the transition will bring about in 2016, especially with higher education.

Roxas also intends to leverage the BPO (business process outsourcing) industry’s capacity to generate more jobs for the entire population. On that score, his work will be cut out for him because the IT BPO industry has been feeling the adverse effects of the knowledge and competency gaps plaguing our education system today. In fact, Ibpap has been working closely with the CHEd, Department of Education and Tesda precisely to find ways to address the dilemma of large numbers of graduates versus high youth unemployment.

Quality education is a complex goal that even the most advanced countries have been struggling to attain. If any of the “presidentiables” wish to respond, I’ll do my best to accommodate them.

Butch Hernandez ([email protected]) is the executive director of the Eggie Apostol Foundation and education lead for talent development at Ibpap.

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TAGS: campaign, education, Elections 2016
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