Maria Cynthia Rose B. Bautista of the University of the Philippines defines the PQF as “a quality-assured national system for the development and recognition and awarding of qualifications acquired through different ways and methods.”
Bautista, vice president for academic affairs of UP, said in a news briefing the Philippines is banking on the PQF, which relies on a certification system, to boost the employability of graduates and trainees.
Bautista, former commissioner at the Commission on Higher Education (CHEd), further explained the PQF was created as an attempt by the Philippine government to comply with global standards, particularly of its Southeast Asian neighbors through the Asean (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) Qualification Referencing Framework, or AQRF.
The AQRF aims to standardize the educational system of countries in the region to ease the mobility of workers in Asean.
PRIOR to PQF, the number of years of basic education and teaching system in the Philippines were “falling behind” Asean.
While the local education system remained “knowledge-based”—students were tested based on what they know—most countries had already transitioned to a “learning-outcomes system,” wherein students are required to demonstrate competencies instead.
Currently, Thailand, the Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia are aligning their respective educational standards with the AQRF for the construction, tourism and dental industry.
Bautista said Malaysia is now leading in terms of quality of education in Southeast Asia, having adopted the learnings-based education as early as 2007.
Realizing that the learning-based outcome needs to be institutionalized due to its potential of improving local education, Congress passed last year Republic Act 10968, or the PQF Act.
Modeled after the AQRF, Bautista said the PQF Act aims to become the “catalyst to make teachers and institutions” focus on providing competencies to students.
THE PQF currently has eight levels.
The first five levels are equivalent to basic education.
Students will be given National Certificates (NC) for completing the first four levels. A student is conferred a diploma after completing the fifth level.
The sixth level of the PQF is equivalent to a baccalaureate degree; and the seventh, to a master’s or postbaccalaureate degree. The eighth level is the most complex and is equivalent to a doctoral degree.
Bautista said the system is similar to the training assessment-certification system used by the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (Tesda). Such system, she noted, reveals Tesda leads the Department of Education (DepEd) and the CHEd in enforcing the PQF.
Under the Tesda system, each skill or qualification has a “ladderized” level.
For example, a trainee who would like to become a cook on a cruise ship could first take a course called Ship’s Catering Services NC (National Certification) 1. Later, the trainee could take NC 2 (cookery course) before finally getting an NC 3 in ships’ catering.
Each course could be taken separately, making it more affordable for trainees since they could already work after getting NC 1 to earn the income to take for further training.
THE effect of the PQF Act, once fully implemented, is expected to be twofold.
For one, the government believes the PQF would allow more employment opportunities for students and trainees by giving equal importance to competency as with knowledge.
Students and trainees are expected to demonstrate and apply knowledge in real-life situations, making it faster to learn.
The reform aims to address the perennial mismatch in the local employment market strangled by so many graduates deemed still unfit for in-demand jobs. This is apparent in the 2013 to 2020 “Jobsfit Report” of the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE). The report said there are still 43 in-demand but hard-to-fill occupations.
These unfilled occupations belong to a broad spectrum: from white-collar jobs like accountants and civil engineers to blue-collars like welders and plumbers.
Aside from technical knowledge, many graduates also lack the needed “soft skills” or interpersonal skills and attitudes of students like communication skills, team work and critical learning to land them a job, the report added.
DOLE’S Dominique R. Tutay said in most cases soft skills are actually valued by employers over technical skills in most cases.
“Employers are very particular about this because they could always train a worker on technical matters,” said Tutay, director of the Bureau of Local Employment (BLE). “But if applicants lack the necessary soft skills, it will be difficult for them [to perform] in a workplace.”
She added many applicants tend to flunk job interviews after failing to demonstrate soft skills.
With this in mind, the Tesda is now piloting its new nine modules of basic competencies integrated with 21st-century skills to ensure its trainees are more job-ready.
The modules include collaboration, communication, critical thinking, entrepreneurship, environmental literacy, information technology, learning and innovation, lifelong learning and occupational health.
THE second benefit of the PQF is that it allows people to move in and out of formal education promoting the culture of lifelong learning. People will no longer be constrained to do work that is related to the course or training they took, since the PQF provides elbow room for other fields of profession.
The PQF system also seeks to eliminate discrimination against those who did not go through formal schooling, by promoting entrepreneurship and technical vocational education and training (TVET) as viable options for making a living.
“You can even ‘privilege’ non-formal and informal learning so there will be pathways and equivalency in place,” Bautista said. “Qualifications will not come only from schools; even going to work will give credits.”
No less than the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the International Labor Organization (ILO) acknowledged the benefits of education reform toward reinvention and skills improvement.
Both international organizations emphasized these are crucial factors that would allow workers to keep up with current labor market trends such as the introduction of robotics, artificial intelligence and three-dimensional printing.
This flexibility is already apparent in Tesda, wherein certifications could be obtained in tranches.
For example, a cruise ship’s cook, who failed to go through formal training, could still get an NC 3 using work experience as stock knowledge.
GOVERNMENT educators are using Tesda’s experience in the application of PQF to basic and tertiary education.
DepEd Undersecretary Nepomuceno Malaluan said they have done so on the K-12 program, which expanded local basic education by two years to include junior and senior high school.
Malaluan, who also acts as DepEd spokesman, said one of the innovations of the K-12 program is the inclusion of a tracking system. Here, a student has the following options: prepare for college education, look for work, or start a business after graduation.
K-12, which took effect in 2016, has four tracks: academic, technical-vocational-livelihood (TVL), arts and design and sports.
“Before, when you drop out of high school, you are really a dropout; as you are expected to proceed to college or higher education. That is no longer the case,” Malaluan said. “Senior high school is no longer foundational because it has many endpoints.”
He explained that those on the TVL track are trained to be job-ready after graduation. However, Malaluan said they could still move to formal education later on.
BAUTISTA said it was during her time in the CHEd that the agency began to “ladderize” some courses by “unpacking” needed competencies.
Courses will be divided in levels, which offer specific jobs to those who will be able to complete it, to make it more accessible to the public, she explained.
Bautista cited the case of engineers who are now composed of professional engineers, engineering technologists and engineering technicians.
Licensed professional engineers will be hired for jobs requiring complex engineering problems. Typically, it can be completed in four to five years since it has the most competency requirements among the three.
Meanwhile, engineering technologists will be hired for broadly defined engineering problems. This course could be completed in three to four years.
Becoming an engineering technician could take only three years. They could get hired in jobs with well-defined engineering problems.
“Before specifying or employing engineering expertise, it is important to gauge the level of engineering expertise needed,” Bautista said.
To note, an engineering technician could become a professional engineer if he or she earns enough credits and passes the needed licensure exam.
Bautista said the CHEd has undertaken similar “ladderization” initiatives for other professions.
TUTAY said the “ladderized” approach will have an enormous impact in the labor market. She explained the system could help companies fill manpower needs faster with workers with the appropriate skills sets.
The system will allow younger people to join the workforce to gain not only income for their families but also to earn valuable experience to qualify them for higher learning.
If, for example, a company has a vacancy for an administrative clerk, but requires its applicant to have a degree, then the degree is already “too high” for the position, according to Tutay.
So the PQF “is really about matching the qualifications standards over the job requirement,” she added.
Tutay added the PQF will encourage companies to hire based on standardized skills and competencies and not just credentials. She said they expect this will help in standardizing pay for workers, especially those only having basic skills.
The BLE said it will be conducting a study to determine the implications of PQF on the workers’ pay.
LOCAL businessmen have been advocating for the PQF system, expecting lesser cost and efficient hiring process.
The Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI) and the Employers Confederation of the Philippines (Ecop) said they are willing to hire K-12 graduates, particularly those undertaking the TVL track.
“It is skills that we are after…It is not [those who took the] education [track] in general,” Ecop President Donald G. Dee said.
Likewise, PCCI Chairman George T. Barcelon aired the same sentiment, saying the PQF is a good approach for them to “pre-qualify” applicants.
Both business leaders, however, noted they cannot prioritize hiring K-12 graduates over those with college degrees since most of the applicants still belong to the latter group.
“What we could do is to encourage our members not to distinguish [between a] K-12 graduate or if you’re a college graduate,” Barcelon said. “Our advocacy is to provide jobs, jobs, jobs. We have no bias for [a graduate of] K-12 or a college graduate.”
To further show its support for K-12, the PCCI partnered with the German government for pilot studies on how private-sector intervention could improve the quality of TVET nationwide.
THE success of the PQF system is relative to the level of success in the promotion of TVET as a feasible alternative to formal education. The latter is crucial in gaining the trust of the private sector and educational institutions on the PQF since TVET is already the most developed among other nonformal forms of education.
Other nonformal sources of qualifications like equivalencies for work experience, training from the Church or civic organization are still in the process of being developed.
“If the formal education system fails to recognize that there are other sources of competencies and learning activities outside of the formal system, then the status quo will continue,” Malaluan said.
Likewise, Bautista said the PQF will also become irrelevant if companies will not hire based on the qualifications from nonformal education.
Currently, Barcelon said mainstreaming TVET remains a challenge for both the government and the private sector since there are still a few training institutions that offer TVET courses and sparse number of firms encouraging TVET-based hiring.
IN his presentation in a colloquium in June, Barcelon said there were only 4,609 institutions offering 20,329 accredited TVET programs in 2015. Likewise, there were only 421 firms offering 1,208 enterprise-based programs that year.
The PCCI is calling on the government to provide tax incentives to encourage more companies to engage in TVET.
“The incentive could be given to companies, which [could] donate machines to training centers,” Barcelon said.
Catholic priest Jose Dindo S. Vitug, Salesians of Don Bosco, is also pushing for greater government support for the promotion of TVET.
“Techvoc [technical-vocational] training is very, very expensive. If you go to our school you will be surprised by the cost of our machines,” Vitug, the executive director of Don Bosco ONE TVET Philippines, said.
He said each of their welding machines cost P160,000, while their training tools for their electronics courses could cost almost P1 million per machine.
Don Bosco is one of the well-known institutions offering TVET. The Catholic religious institution has been doing it in the last 47 years. The SDB-run schools are known for having 80 percent to 90 percent of its TVET graduates being employed by its partner companies.
ASIDE from the lack of TVET providers, Vitug also raised concerns over the current curriculum for the K-12’s TVL, which he said is still too “academically laden,” with subjects like statistics and qualitative research.
“The government still wants them to be ‘college-ready.’ But in our case, we are training our students to be employed immediately after their training,” Vitug said. “The poor have no luxury of time.”
He also raised concern about the 80-hour on-the-job training period for TVL students, which he said is insufficient especially if they are taking highly technical courses like computerized systems, welding and automotive industry.
“In Don Bosco our OJT period is 960 hours because their training is highly technical,” Vitug said. “The more you [spend time doing] it the more you become an expert in a particular field.”
Despite these problems, Vitug believes the K-12 and the PQF will improve the national education system once its implementation problems are resolved.
MALALUAN said issues in the implementation of the PQF will be addressed in the nationwide sectoral consultations for the implementing rules and regulations (IRR) for the PQF Act.
Malaluan said they are now in the process of finalizing the draft guidelines for the PQF Act.
“Once that consultation draft is vetted by the agencies, then we will [hold] consultations,” said the official leading the committee crafting the IRR.
Malaluan emphasized the importance of the consultation since its inputs will be used to set the rules on how to certify competencies, which will effectively overhaul the current education system.
However, former Labor Undersecretary Rene E. Ofreneo said the operationalization of the PQF would take a long time since the government and stakeholders will practically start from scratch in establishing the qualifications for certain nonformal sources of education.
“How do you recognize competency of those [working in] NGOs [nongovernmental organizations]? What about overseas workers; those who did not finish schooling but learned [from] their information-technology based job?,” Ofreneo said. “There are so many things that need to be clarified.”
Still, the former dean of the UP School of Labor and Industrial Relations is optimistic the initial consultations for the IRR will be fruitful, especially if these consider the country’s priorities in terms of manpower needs.
“I think it will be appropriate to connect the operationalization of the PQF in relation to our industrial vision and our vision for our agricultural modernization,” Ofreneo said.
He pointed out this aspect of the PQF will ultimately determine the country’s economic development in the coming years.