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/ 04:21 AM March 17, 2016

I’d like to first wish former president Fidel V. Ramos a very happy 88th birthday. He’s the one who got the country moving with the wide range of reforms he implemented. We owe him much. HAPPY BIRTHDAY, MR. PRESIDENT.

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I promised to talk about education before the presidential debate scheduled on Sunday where it is a topic.

I read somewhere that schoolbooks do not provide much on the horrors of martial law. How on earth did that happen? It explains the youth’s disturbing acceptance of the Marcoses’ return to society. So here’s a first for the presidentiables: Produce accurate, quality textbooks—in hard and soft copies. For every child, all requisite books or a tablet with everything all loaded in. Let’s transition more rapidly into the modern world starting with every kid owning a computer.

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Computers are expensive but necessary today. What can help is for companies, like those in the BPO (business process outsourcing) industry, to donate theirs as they upgrade. Some have tried this, but they were taxed for being generous. I have written to the Department of Finance to scrap this tax, but there’s been no response. So the computers are trashed instead. What a terrible waste.

As I said last week, education is No. 2 in the list of family priorities. At my rural house, the two reasons I get requests for loans are sickness in the family or a child’s tuition.

President Aquino made the right decision in shifting to a 12-year curriculum, but his introduction of it has been quite unsuccessful. So an immediate action, in the first 100 days of the next administration, must be to fix the transition problems.

Education Secretary Armin Luistro has done much to put in place the needed facilities and hire the needed teachers and staff. The next president should keep him, but with a budget of only P412 billion, there’s a limit to what he can do. Thus we have the perennial problem of not enough of everything, such as teachers (whose salaries should be increased), books, classrooms, desks and chairs. And, not least, decent toilets. Nutritious, free food would be a good idea, too.

In addition, no one should be laid off—no college instructor or professor, no college staff, no one. The government needs to subsidize their continuance. This is a reasonable cost in introducing a necessary change. Wherever possible, college instructors and professors should assist by teaching Grades 11 and 12, but only if they have the knowledge and ability to do so.

The Department of Education has also given students the option of enrolling in private schools through a voucher program (Education Service Contracting Program). A total of P12 billion has been allocated for this.

I’d like to see a far greater emphasis given to the sciences, which is not saying that the arts should be ignored. With a mother as an artist, I’m more aware than most of the great value painters, musicians, actors, etc. bring to society. They are its cohesion; they give us the joy in life we need. But we need to produce products and deliver services, too. We need engineers, scientists and IT technicians. Far too few are being graduated. Promoting the sciences should be high on the next president’s list.

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As should English. Primary and early learning can be in a local language, but English must follow within a few years. The Commission on Higher Education has launched a basic English training program, as has the Department of Science and Technology. Why so late in the day? As I’ve long argued, English must be one of the essential languages to learn at the start of schooling, when the brain can best accept it. It’s the language of the globalized world, of which the Philippines must be part. Computers speak it, international trade operates with it, and it’s an advantage the Philippines mustn’t lose. I hope the next president will continue the program that does this.

In 2014, some 600,000 graduates entered the workforce, but studies show that only four out of 10 got hired. The reason was the mismatch between industry needs and the students’ learned skills. The answer is obvious: Reorient to business needs.

A necessary shift is away from a general education (mind you, while keeping a basic underlay—the proper and full history of the Marcoses, for example) into a job-specific one. Academe and business need to work together to develop educational training that will equip graduating students with the skills to move immediately into a job. I support the idea of an orphanage and school for the poor where there’s a kitchen to learn to be a cook, a small dining room to learn to be a waiter, a workshop for trade skills, and a computer room for IT expertise. Hands-on practical experience needs to go with the theoretical. This must be the wider goal.

The Philippine Business for Education, with its advocacy of education reform and curriculum enhancements, has taken the lead, and its role should be expanded. It has introduced an Industry Skills Council to form close ties between business and academe so that curricula are more closely aligned to business needs. Graduates will thus get a job; the current 2.36 million people without one will tell you how important that is.

Another role that business can play is in the building of schools under the public-private partnership program. Already, one PPP project for 9,296 classrooms has been completed, and another for 4,370 classrooms is ongoing. This can be accelerated and expanded. And let’s have enough schools, enough so there will be only 25 to 30 kids in a class, not the up to 50 at present, or even the 35 currently aimed at. Young people need personal attention. You can’t attend to 35. You can’t excite young minds into the joy of learning. And learning is a joy.

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E-mail: [email protected]; Read my previous columns: www.wallacebusinessforum.com.

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TAGS: Department of Education, education, fidel v. ramos, K to 12, Marcoses, presidential debate
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