Like many mothers whose child will be joining the first batch of Senior High School students under the K-to-12 program this year, I have already embraced the new policy and placed my trust in our policymakers that these additional years will better prepare my son for his future.
Since I have obtained information on the curriculum for the additional two years, I am now anxious to find out how the K-to-12 program will affect the curriculum for the course program that he plans to take in college. With a number of the general subjects offered during the initial years in college now moved to high school, what will the new curriculum in college look like? Would the revised curriculum prepare him better for his chosen career? Will he now have a higher chance of landing his dream job abroad? After all, the enhanced education program is aimed at making our graduates globally competitive, right?
As an employer, on the other hand, I am eager to understand how this new program will produce better-skilled and -equipped graduates who will be the future talents in our firm.
The answer to this question, of course, depends on a number of factors with the academic preparedness of a graduate just being one of them. In the Integrated Survey on Labor and Employment conducted by the Philippine Statistics Authority, almost 30 percent of the reasons cited by employers on why they are having difficulty looking for the right candidates is the gap between the skills that they are looking for and that which new graduates actually have. This finding is consistent with the results of our commissioned study conducted by P&A Foundation in 2013 regarding the country’s accounting graduates.
Let me highlight two such skills gaps based on the commissioned study – one is the poor analytical and critical thinking skills and second, the insufficient knowledge and skills acquired from their undergraduate studies.
Most colleges prepare their graduates for entry-level positions and the focus is more on the computational or rudimentary aspects of the course. Thus, the analytical or deeper understanding of the discipline is left out like the judicious use of data and information for management decision-making, the analysis of trends and events and its impact on the business, and many others. This emphasis on theoretical mastery was mainly for them to pass the certification tests of the Professional Regulation Commission (such as the CPA Board exam) and not to prepare these graduates for actual and practical work application.
In several consultation meetings and conferences I attended with members of the academic community and leaders of business and industry, this gap in practical application has been prevalent and established. Both sides agreed that such gap may be addressed by incorporating in the curriculum an intensive internship program. In one forum that I participated in, the president of a major university shared with me that while they can offer training labs as the more relevant training is indeed the immersion of students in non-theoretical activities. I totally agree with this proposition. The current practice where students are being required to complete only a few hours of on-the-job training (OJT) is ineffective; a longer period of a year, for example, is more crucial.
Likewise, the present set-up where the accounting students, while on OJT, are required to attend other classes or participate in school activities does not bode well for the companies that accepted them. The work requirements assigned for their OJT demand focus, consistency and reliability to deliver.
There are several other issues that need to be addressed for an essential internship like the nature of work assigned to them, the rules that govern the relationship that exists between the company and the intern, the confidentiality of information that the intern will be handling and the benefit entitlements, among others. The challenges in encouraging organizations to accept and train interns should also be studied. In some countries, the government even provides incentives to such companies, fully realizing that training the interns requires time and use of their resources. In the Philippines, there are some best practices on this that need to be replicated and already incorporated in some of the school curricula. Why not consider adopting these for all the schools and companies?
This week I repeatedly heard the adage that learning is 10 percent training, 20 percent coaching and 70 percent actual experience. The K-to-12 program is an opportunity for our education policymakers to make a significant change in our education system. We (the parents, the students, the academic and business communities and the government) are heavily invested in the program. We would like to see graduates who can easily find jobs because they have the actual skills to make them truly globally competitive and, more importantly, prepared for the business of the future.
Maria Victoria Españo is the Chair and CEO of P&A Grant Thornton. P&A Grant Thornton is one of the leading Audit, Tax, Advisory, and Outsourcing firms in the Philippines, with 20 Partners and over 700 staff members.