Instituting a system of recognizing competencies  

Last January, Congress enacted a law “Institutionalizing the Philippine Qualifications Framework” or PQF. Six months after, the country’s trifocal educational institutions – Department of Education (DepEd), Commission on Higher Education (CHED) and Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) – are still grappling with the needed implementing rules and regulations (IRR) for the said law.

Drafting the IRR has not been easy. The PQF law seeks to institutionalize a national system of setting standards and certifying/recognizing the qualifications of students and workers based on the competency (skills, knowledge and values) that they have acquired not only in the formal school system but also from the informal and/or experiential routes of learning.

Qualification standards are generally based on a mixture of the school curriculum and the learning outcomes for the students. The latter – learning outcomes – are increasingly given more importance in many countries, for, after all, what matters in the world of work is how the students and trainees perform at the shop floor or in the office, back or front. The HRM buzz term is “work readiness”. The training process can be designed in a flexible manner, but the outcome, which is given the qualification or certification, is fixed.

These standards are then subjected to rigorous assurance system, usually in the form of tests such as what the Professional Regulation Commission (PRC) is doing when administering the licensure examinations for various professions. At the same time, these standards must be updated from time to time because of changing technology and new knowledge. There are also new learning “pathways” or routes in the acquisition of learning.

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Qualification standards vary in complexity, from basic education to college education and technical-vocational education and training (TVET). They also tend to proliferate. In fact, the  PQF law talks of “lifelong learning”, which means people never stop acquiring new knowledge, new skills and new competencies. A number of millennials keep learning new knowledge and acquiring new competencies online, for example, cross-border online selling of various products. There is learning before and after graduation from the various schools accredited by DepEd, CHED and TESDA.

And even if one has not received any formal school diploma, school drop-outs and workers gain knowledge and expertise through actual work and education/training provided by non-formal institutions such as the Church, civic organizations, civil society organizations and local government units. DepEd is also giving special attention and devoting substantial resources to the “alternative learning system” (ALS) program, for the benefit of the poor and adults who have not finished elementary or secondary education.

Incidentally, adult education programs are formally institutionalized and funded in many countries, both developed and developing. In tiny Denmark (with a population of just over 5 million), there are around 2,800 adult vocational training programs, which enable Denmark to have a highly literate, productive and committed citizenry. For 2004, Denmark allotted $1 billion for these programs.

Overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) also have learnings and competencies acquired from the host countries. When they return home, they complain that these learnings and competencies are not recognized at home. For example, OFWs with practical factory exposures and experiences in Taiwan and South Korea have knowledge on how small shops can be transformed into world-class producers of watches, shoes and electronic products.

How does one develop standards for these “prior learning”? In the construction industry, it is estimated that majority of the skilled and semi-skilled workers, numbering over two million, have no formal education or training. Through the years and through the simple mode of learning by doing and observation, these workers have become skilled workers so much so that contractors keep maintaining them in the payrolls even if there are no projects available because skills are a scarce commodity in the industry. And yet, these workers do not get any qualification certification and, in the process, they get discriminated in terms of wages and benefits.

Based on the foregoing, establishing a national system of qualification standards involving the trifocal educational institutions and the numerous formal and non-formal training service providers is clearly a complicated task. The PQF law talks of the need to address the “harmonization” of standards developed by these institutions. This is the job assigned to the PQF Coordinating Council.

But it is obvious that the task is not simply one of coordinating. Developing competency standards in various fields requires not only know-how and expertise from the technical people assigned by the trifocal institutions and the PRC to this job. It also needs consultations, inputs and feedbacks from LGUs, industry, worker organizations, small businesses and other stakeholders.

The LGUs, industry, worker organizations, small businesses and other stakeholders at the local, regional and national levels should be on board. In the first place, human resource development or education/training programs are supposed to meet the development priorities and requirements in a given region. These regional development challenges vary from region to region. The situation in Regions III and IV, both of which have a large number of formal industrial and commercial establishments, is not the same in the Caraga and ARRM Regions of Mindanao or Regions I and II of Luzon, all of which are largely agrarian in character. The supply of well-honed workers armed with the necessary competency has to match the actual job demand in a given region, for examples: skilled industrial workers and IT programmers for the more developed region and modernizing (“agri-linneals”) farmers and young entrepreneurs for the less developed one. A one-size-fits-all formula in supply-demand matching is a dubious proposition.

The reality is that education and training programs perform a critical role in building the economy of a region. Hence, it is imperative that a system of consultation and coordination with the LGUs, industry, worker organizations, small businesses and other stakeholders in a given region such as the Church, civic organizations, cooperatives, civil society organizations and parent-teacher organizations be established and be reflected in the work of the PQF implementing body. A good labor supply-demand matching based on the development priorities of a region  will help the said region reduce the outflow or out-migration of the best and the brightest from the region. This is why the proposed government-industry-education consultative council under the PQF system should not only be institutionalized at the national level; the GIECC should also be regionalized.

The PQF should become visible in the country’s development discourse.

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Turning Points 2018