The changes taking place across the education sector are designed to better equip Filipinos for jobs that require critical thinking skills and an understanding of technology. There is also a pressing need to address the country’s skills gap, with graduates often left either unemployed or underemployed, and industries unable to find the workers they need to operate effectively.
A Crucial Role
The government has taken its cue from the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, the fourth of which is to “ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all”. Technical and vocational education and training (TVET) programmes have been characterised as a vital part of the effort to improve the Philippines’ competitiveness, and to allow all of the country’s people to participate in its economic development, reducing poverty along the way. With 39% of students on the vocational stream as they enter 11th grade, vocational training is also a cornerstone of AmBisyon Natin 2040, the government’s long-term vision for development planning, which intends to create a prosperous and predominantly middle-class society. Some 23.7% of the Philippines’ workforce was high-skilled in 2014, 43.7% was medium-skilled and 32.5% was low-skilled – the second-highest rate in the region after Vietnam, according to the Asian Development Bank.
At the Education Summit in November 2016 Patricia Licuanan, chair of the Commission on Higher Education, urged a change in the perception of vocational training as being second class to a college degree. She told the 500 delegates in attendance that TVET programmes gave people the skills that were needed in acquiring quality jobs, and criticised employers for demanding degrees even when they were not necessary for the position.
To achieve its ambitions the Philippines will need to work hard to develop its existing TVET framework. Moreover, while government spending on education has been rising since 2010, the share of GDP devoted to TVET has stagnated since spiking in 2009. The allocation for 2017 was P6.9bn ($146m).
The Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) leads the development of vocational training in the Philippines. It is responsible for the accreditation and assessment of technical institutes, which are required to secure a certificate of programme registration, but also operates its own network of training centres.
As of 2015 there were a total of 122 TESDA training institutes, including regional training centres, agricultural and fisheries schools, and trade schools. Together with private providers these comprise institution-based TVET programmes. Enterprise-based training, which is generally a partnership with a company, includes the Apprenticeship Programme and the Dual Training System. There are also community-based schemes based on local skills requirements, and operated by local government units and NGOs.
In July 2015 there were 4609 TVET institutions, including branches, across the country offering 20,329 accredited programmes. Tourism, ICT, health and social development were the most widely offered. For enterprise training there were 421 companies offering a total of 1208 programmes, with courses in health and social development, tourism and construction the most common. Researchers have found that most of those joining TVET programmes come directly from high school (50%), but college undergraduates (19%) and even graduates (13%) also enrol, with a view to improving their employment prospects, learning new skills or upgrading existing ones. Most join the institutions-based courses, followed by community schemes. Enterprise programmes accounted for just 3% of total enrolment and graduation in 2014.
Issues remain with quality, however. Although there have been some improvements in the certification rate – to 88% in 2013 (the latest available data)– and the number of graduates assessed (60%), their employability remains low (65%). Courses and facilities are sometimes out-of-date, with students consequentially unfamiliar with the technologies now being used in the workplace. It is not clear whether the reviews of training centres that TESDA is mandated to complete each year are taking place, and whether the institutions are performing to a satisfactory standard.
In a paper on the TVET framework published in March 2016, Aniceto Orbeta Jr and Emmanuel Esguerra of the Philippine Institute for Development Studies noted that with less than 1% of its funding coming from the government budget, TVET provision, where not provided by industry or NGOs, has developed a “worrisome” dependency on local legislators. “This structure of financing may not help achieve equity and efficiency objectives as legislators are known to respond more to needs of constituents rather than a comprehensive assessment of TVET needs,” they wrote. There has also been criticism that TESDA’s role as both regulator and provider creates a conflict of interest. At the education summit Rosario Manasan, senior research fellow at the Philippine Institute for Development Studies, warned that the arrangement gives TESDA “undue advantages over private training and vocational institutes, resulting in the latter being crowded out”. TESDA’s director-general, Guiling Mamondiong, asked at the summit, “How can we be competitive globally when our own training centres are not competitive?”
The broader changes taking place in education mean that demand for vocational training is likely to increase. As well as the vocational track under K-12, President Rodrigo Duterte’s government has made the Alternative Learning System, a second-chance education scheme targeted at nearly 5m out-of-school young people and adults, a flagship programme. In 2014 then-President Benigno Aquino III’s administration introduced an integrated system of higher education, which allowed students to transfer, along with their credits, between university courses and vocational training, and to suspend and resume their studies in order to work. The Philippine Qualifications Framework (PQF) has also been established in an attempt to harmonise the different parts of the country’s education system – from K-12 to TVET and university and college courses – and benchmark it internationally. The PQF creates specific training programmes and levels that are aligned with industry and international standards. It is also designed to align with the ASEAN Qualifications Reference Framework, as the countries of the region move towards a single market and skilled workers become more mobile.
TESDA itself, which was established under the Technical Education and Skills Development Act, has a reform and development agenda for the next six years that includes scholarship programmes; schemes to help overseas Filipino workers reintegrate into the Philippines; and skills training for women, indigenous people, and former prisoners and drug users. TESDA is also aiming to strengthen ties with state universities and colleges, foreign training providers and industry.
Analysts feel that there is also a need to increase enterprise-based programmes and get more companies involved in training. Manasan said that a review of the Apprenticeship Law should be conducted, with a view to encouraging firms to offer training to their staff and increasing hiring of apprentices.
International organisations have also begun to show their support for TVET, with the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) providing grants and assistance to Philippine institutions offering vocational courses.
One technical-vocational high school in Mindanao has developed a community-based hands-on training programme in horticulture for senior high school students, as well as out-of-school students, community members and indigenous people. The scheme makes use of agricultural land and provides students with skills in crop production. “Technical-vocational training in secondary schools could help bridge the gap between academia and industry, particularly in developing skills for the job market,” Flerida Chan, the head of JICA’s poverty reduction section, told local media.