PH education should focus on students’ trainability, soft skills in 21st century

The Philippines faces many challenges in preparing students for future employment, which could be addressed by transforming the educational system to meet the labor requirements of the 21st century, according to a researcher from a government-run think tank.

Aniceto Orbeta Jr., senior research fellow at the Philippine Institute for Development Studies, in a recent presentation gave some recommendations on creating an educational system that effectively equips Filipino workers for the future.

Orbeta suggested that in the face of uncertainty amid rapid technological developments, the Philippines could focus on providing education that gives students not only a degree but, more so, trainability.

“You train not for a degree but actually for trainability because if you are facing an uncertain future, the only thing you can train a child for is that he would learn quickly,” he said.

He also called for strengthening core school subjects by building a strong foundation in basic science, math, and language, particularly the core courses of science, physics, math and statistics in senior high school.

This, he explained, is “because trainability for the future technologies requires a strong foundation in those basic sciences and skills.”

Orbeta is likewise suggesting developing future workers’ soft skills, noting that several of the required skills in the 21st century are soft, or non-cognitive, skills.

He said there is yet no program that arms people with soft skills, such as not being easily discouraged, which studies have shown are important for employment success.
Moreover, Orbeta believes there is a need to “shift skills training towards the shop floor” because schools by themselves would find it hard to keep up with the changing technologies.

“They will always be left behind, so most of the training would have to be done on the shop floor,” he said, noting that the issue of the thin market for firm-based training in the country still has to be resolved.

And on labor market policies, Orbeta recommends that they should be very flexible with few restrictions. He said banning contractualization, for example, may be seen as restrictive because contractual, part-time and other forms of non-traditional work arrangements serve particular needs and are already a recognized part of the labor market.

Further, he suggested taking a look at the country’s social security system and how it could be based not on jobs as it does currently, but on the worker. He said policies on social security have to address issues such as pension systems for those who work on their own so they could look forward to a pension in their old age and not be a burden to society.

Finally, a policy of lifelong learning is also essential. Orbeta said the new definition of illiteracy is no longer not being able to read and write but not being able to change your profession if you need to. He suggested setting up an organized system of lifelong learning in the country to prepare workers for the uncertain future, something that Singapore is already doing.

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