Matching the educational system with an uneven and segmented economy

After getting their diplomas this April, where will the non-academic Senior High graduates go?  Most likely, majority will spend months, even two to three years or more, searching for jobs.

The 2017 labor force data show that unemployment, totaling roughly around 2.5 million, is highest among those with high school diplomas, followed by those who are able to finish college.  The first group constitutes almost one-third of the unemployed, 31.8 percent, while the college finishers account for one-fifth of the total, 19.6 percent.  In contrast, those who have completed elementary schooling represent 6.5 percent of the unemployed. And yet, the bulk of the work force and the employed are those with limited educational attainment (elementary drop-outs, elementary graduates, high school drop-outs, high school graduates and college drop-outs).

The above pattern is not likely to change with the graduation of the first batch of Senior High students. It is only natural for those with higher educational attainment to look for better quality jobs.  They are not easy to find in an uneven and segmented Philippine economy.

On the other hand, elementary graduates and drop-outs generally come from poor families.  Many cannot afford not to work for a month or even a week or a day.  They tend to occupy the low end of the labor market.  A big number work as “unpaid family workers” (six percent of the 40 million employed), in family farms or micro businesses.  These unpaid family workers are in the country’s largest labor catch basin – the informal economy, where there is “free entry” because most of the economic activities are rarely registered, recorded and regulated. The informals include the impoverished fisherfolks found all over the archipelago, the sacadas and landless farmers, forest settlers, displaced indigenous peoples, gold panners  and small-scale camote miners, home-based workers and producers, street-based peddlers and  vendors, and so on and so forth.

There is so much segmentation in the informal economy or “informal sector”.  What is clear is that this sector is huge.  Estimates on the size of the informal economy vary, from 45 percent given by the Department of Labor statisticians to 75 percent computation made by the Employers Confederation of the Philippines.

The formal sector, however, is also segmented.  Registered enterprises vary in sizes, technology and market.  There are more than a million registered enterprises.  Government estimates indicate that 99 percent of these enterprises are micro, small and medium, collectively called the MSME sector.  The micros, employing less than five workers per enterprise, account for 90 percent of the total number of establishments.

Majority of these MSME enterprises, being small, are not likely to welcome K-12 teachers and administrators trying to arrange the “work immersion” or “work exposure” for Senior High students. The students are likely to disrupt the rhythm of work and productivity in a small enterprise setting.

On the other hand, many in the medium and large enterprises are also not prepared to roll the red carpet for the “work immersion” for the Senior High students.  Again, aside from their disruptive impact on the work rhythm, the program has a cost in terms of organizational and work adjustment for the enterprise.  As it is, most of the work immersion appears to be in the hotel, restaurant, fast food and service-related businesses. Some employers even benefit from the work immersion because they get extra hands in delivering services at a cheaper rate.

In manufacturing, the likely enterprise cooperators for the Senior High students are those doing low-technology assembly work such as putting together parts of an electronic transistor.  In high-quality production work and ISO-certified processes, employers will not allow secondary students to join the assembly lines, unless these students are already being primed for longer-term skilled work.  If these students are accommodated, they are likely to be placed in low-tech areas such as the packaging section for finished products or in the delivery of non-sensitive and unbreakable materials.

Another problem for K-12 education planners is the uneven economic development across the archipelago.  Some regions such as the NCR, Region IV, Region III, Region VI and Region XI have a well-developed formal sector and a fairly good number of possible medium and large enterprise cooperators. Senior High education planners have a clear market for their work immersion program. This is not so in other regions such as Caraga, Western Mindanao, Region II, Bicol and Eastern Visayas.  It is, thus, not surprising, that the popular targets for work immersion are the local government units (LGUs), which welcome the students to do minor errands, including preparing coffee for the local bosses.

And yet, some industry people complain that Senior High students, to be employable, need to log in at least 300 or more hours of real on-the-job training (OJT), not one to two weeks of work immersion or work exposure.  Under the German-style “dualtech” system, high school students get both theory and practical learning and experience from work because cooperating German companies fully participate in the program. But how many enterprises in the Philippines are prepared to join such a program involving 300 OJT hours or more for the students?  And how many industrial enterprises the Philippines has compared to its secondary student population? In the 2017 labor force data, manufacturing accounts for eight percent of the employed, a shade lower than that of construction. In our neighboring Asian countries such as Thailand, Malaysia and Vietnam, manufacturing is the leading growth sector in terms of employment and national value addition.

The Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) has been promoting dualtech and other forms of industry-led vocational training.  But  success in industry-school cooperative training arrangement also appears limited.

Overall, it is abundantly clear that so much still needs to be done in strategizing or re-strategizing education planning, especially at the Senior High level, in order to make the K-12 graduates truly job-ready (aside from reaching the legal work age of 18).  It is also clear that such education planning is made difficult and complicated by the character of the economy, which is uneven and segmented.  Such unevenness and segmentation are reflected in the composition and distribution of the labor force as gathered by the Philippine Statistics Authority.

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Turning Points 2018