Interview: Fortunato de la Peña

How are the Department of Science and Technology (DoST), academia and private business working together to upskill the workforce?

DE LA PEÑA: The private sector informs the government of the competencies that are needed by the labour market. The government, in turn, advises academia to provide the courses and training needed by the labour market and grants scholarships to encourage students to pursue the new courses. For instance, the DoST-Philippine Council for Industry, Energy and Emerging Technology Research and Development ( DoSTPCIEERD) has offered 750 openings for individuals that are interested in online courses for a range of principles, such as data science.

The DoST-PCIEERD also has the capacity to execute large-scale national programmes through the mobilisation of research and development (R&D) consortia across the Philippines. From 2018 to mid-2019 the council managed more than P1.6bn ($29.8m) worth of R&D investments, which was used to implement 557 projects involving 194 institutions, with a total of 116 projects completed. In the same period 55 scientific and technical papers were published, and 50 technologies were launched. The council’s successes in terms of capacity building include offering non-degree courses and other assistance plans, as well as upgrading facilities for the training and re-training of scientists and engineers in the fields of microelectronics, remote sensing and space technology.

What plans can be put in place to ensure economic inclusion and high-value job creation in the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR)?

DE LA PEÑA: The 4IR brings new technologies that fuse the physical, digital and biological worlds, thus impacting businesses, economies and industries. The DoST-Philippine Council for Agriculture, Aquatic and Natural Resources Research and Development and the DoST-PCIEERD formulate programmes to ensure economic inclusion and high-value job creation during the 4IR by combining human resource development and R&D with the establishment of facilities for R&D and science and technology (S&T). This includes financing scholarship grants and projects that develop new products, processes and services.

To bring together the government, academia and the private sector, we promote partnerships and projects relevant to social and economic development, such as the creation of the Advanced Manufacturing Centre. Our R&D roadmap outlines activities that lay the foundations for inclusive growth and prepare for the 4IR. For example, the Smarter Approaches to Reinvigorate Agriculture as an Industry in the Philippines programme facilitated the design and implementation of several smart tools and technologies to address the challenges brought about by climate change. The programme involves the ongoing refinement of these technologies and improving strategies to better serve the needs of the country.

Where do you see scope for improvements to curricula to provide students with expertise in emerging high-demand fields?

DE LA PEÑA: Computer literacy must be included in the national curriculum from grade school through college and university, since artificial intelligence will be relevant across a multitude of disciplines, including social sciences and humanities. The overall coverage and approach in teaching science, technology, engineering and mathematics, even at the basic education level, has to be improved. The institution of new courses in emerging fields should be encouraged and facilitated by the Commission on Higher Education to ensure that our talent pool meets the needs of industry. It may also be necessary for some emerging fields – such as data science, data engineering, space S&T and satellite development – to have degree programmes or curricula that are distinct from the mainstream national curriculum.