Education for a competitive workforce

At the second Cabinet meeting of the new national administration last 12 July, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. gave his approval for a review of the country’s education curriculum to address the mismatch between what competencies and skills are being acquired from our schools, and what the demands of business and industries really are.

During his State of the Nation Address last 25 July, the President also laid out his plans for improving the education system, which would reconsider the use of English as the medium of instruction in schools and would strengthen our students’ knowledge in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM).

The policy directions of the President in education, which are linked to the demands of the job market in a highly competitive global economy, are truly welcome.

The link between education and employment has long been established.

In 2015, a one-day conference in Cebu was organized by the Philippine Business for Education precisely to address this mismatch between education and jobs. This gathering was attended by top business leaders, heads of several private academic institutions and top government education officials.

Though the intent to address the mismatch was clearly there, we have not really addressed the problem to date. The damage caused by the pandemic to both business and education has even worsened the situation.

Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) figures, just released this week, show a 6 percent unemployment rate and a 12.6 percent underemployment rate as of June. With a 49.58 million labor force, this translates into 2.98 million unemployed and 6.25 million underemployed Filipinos.

Though the unemployment and underemployment figures are to a great extent influenced by the pandemic and not merely by the education-jobs mismatch, the figures are alarming.

What has also to be seriously considered is that the pandemic has resulted in the creation of a new normal about how things are carried out in both business and education. These changes have now to be factored into the entire educational system in terms of curricula, methods of instruction, training of both faculty and non-teaching personnel, educational facilities, among others.

Another critical and urgent reason for the country to address the education-jobs mismatch is population growth.

The PSA has projected that we will have a population of 142 million by 2045. By this time, the working age population (15-64 years) would comprise 67.5 percent of the total population.

This increase in population can be a boon or a bane for the country. On the positive side, it will mean that we will have a large labor force that can provide the products and services for both domestic and international markets. However, this can only happen if our labor force has the education, skills and competencies that the job market needs. If not, it will be a negative for the country since we will simply have a larger population to take care of without the corresponding productive labor capabilities required to do so.

Thus, business, the academe and government must work together to ensure that the educational system provides to our youth the competencies and skills that the highly competitive job market requires.
It is truly a welcome development that the new administration has this in its priority list.

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