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Doing right by the learner

EDUCATION STAKEHOLDERS and the education reform community are keenly interested in the nominations to the Cabinet of Leonor Briones and Jose David Lapuz.

Briones is to take over as secretary of the Department of Education from Br. Armin Luistro FSC, whose term ends, like President Aquino, on June 30. Lapuz has been named chair of the Commission on Higher Education, a post now ably held by Patricia Licuanan, and one which, by law, she’s supposed to hold until 2018.

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As of this writing, there’s no word yet on Tesda (or the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority), the third pillar of Philippine education. Tesda is currently under the very capable leadership of Director General Irene Isaac, after Joel Villanueva vacated the post preparatory to seeking, and winning, a seat in the Senate.

Briones was national treasurer in 1998-2001. She is well-known in both the academe and the government and is a prominent figure in civil society, especially among education reform advocates. As lead convenor of Social Watch Philippines, she championed the interrelated causes of health and education to spur inclusive national growth and development.

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When she accepted her nomination to the Duterte Cabinet as education secretary, Briones made it immediately clear that she would like to broaden the scope and capacity of alternative learning systems to enable underserved sectors to also enjoy the benefits that a good education brings.

Being an educator at heart and given her extensive experience in the government and civil society, Briones seems like she can be both conservative and progressive in leading the country’s biggest bureaucracy using funds coming from the largest appropriation in the national budget.

Like Briones, Lapuz’s credentials as an educator and civil servant are impressive.

His work titled “Perspectives in Politics: Public and Foreign Affairs” (2005) can be found in most university libraries here and abroad, and it continues to be an informative resource for researchers and students alike. He is reputedly an engaging international lecturer and has visited or joined various symposiums in major higher education institutions worldwide.

Lapuz served as presidential consultant on foreign policy and geopolitics and was one of the commissioners of the National Historical Institute during the Arroyo administration. He was part of the Preparatory Committee of the Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference held in Makati City in 2010, and was a member of the Philippine delegation to the special Non-Aligned Movement meeting on interfaith dialogue and cooperation for peace and development, along with 118 foreign ministers. He was also among some 300 representatives of international human rights organizations who attended the 44th Annual Session of the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in Geneva in May 2010.

Aside from being President-elect Rodrigo Duterte’s personal choice, Lapuz has a lot going for him. Unlike Briones, however, transitioning into the CHEd might not be so smooth for Lapuz, but it won’t be because of the online brickbats coming from his former students about his eccentricities in the classroom.

Lapuz has yet to articulate his vision for Philippine higher education aside from simply echoing the higher education reform agenda that has guided the CHEd since 2010. He will need a firm grip on the issues that will affect private higher education institutions once the enrollment in 2016 drops due to the K-to-12. He will also need to quickly internalize that higher education is now the key provider of the higher order competencies so necessary for success in the tech-driven, borderless and constantly evolving job market.

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Under Licuanan, the CHEd already has a comprehensive K-to-12 transition program in motion. This innovative strategy provides faculty members who would suffer loss of income or would otherwise be displaced with grants and faculty development opportunities for postgraduate studies.

Furthermore, Commissioner Cynthia Rose Bautista in particular has been indefatigable in engaging with various private-sector industries to enable college faculty to have a “once-in-a-generation” opportunity for up-close-and-personal immersion in the 21st-century workplace.

In providing teachers with a nuanced perspective of what it takes to succeed in today’s world of work, faculty immersion clearly addresses the job-skills mismatch that has severely hampered new graduates’ job prospects. This is critical, because the fact is that employers all over the world are finding it increasingly difficult to find the “right fit” for so many vacancies, despite the huge numbers of higher education graduates every year.

This is especially true in the high-value IT and business process management industry. According to Penny Bongato, executive director for talent development and research at the Information Technology & Business Process Association of the Philippines, significant growth is anticipated in animation, health information management, shared services, software development, game development, and, of course, contact centers in the next six years.

The public character of the DepEd and Tesda enables them to put the young learner first, organizational changes notwithstanding. On the other hand, how will it help college students in private and public universities if the CHEd changes horses in midstream?

Butch Hernandez ([email protected]) is the executive director of the Eggie Apostol Foundation.

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TAGS: Armin Luistro, Commentary, Department of Education, DepEd, education, Leonor briones, opinion, Tesda
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