If there is anything which a good majority of the maritime stakeholders would agree on, it would be that maritime education is primarily focused on developing competent seafarers according to international and national standards. Undoubtedly, the seafaring industry offers substantial benefits not only to seafarers and their families but also to this archipelago struggling to provide the basic needs of its citizens. The seafarers’ foreign exchange remittances translate into improved balance-of-payment and contribute to socio-economic gains for the government and the population. These benefits unfortunately tend to limit the concept of Philippine maritime education to just seafarer’s education.

There is every reason why stakeholders, both in government and industry, aim to nurture a pool of Filipino merchant mariners who are on top of the list of choices by shipowners in the global maritime community. Such endeavor has for decades been in this archipelago’s blueprint for a sustainable maritime industry, although pursued in various shapes and colors the variance of which depends on the leadership, from the executive to the legislative branches of government.

It is not my intention to take up the issue of the International Convention on the Standards of Training, Certification, and Watchkeeping for Seafarers (STCW) as there are too many who are already into that pitch; the debates have become too crowded with the many experts trying to unravel the STCW enigma. Rather, taking a detour appears to be more appealing as to reiterate the advocacy for enhancing education, knowledge, and skills to develop the Philippine human capital that caters to the requirements of a blue economy.

The seafaring sector figures prominently in the country’s blue economy agenda; for the Philippine archipelago, the blue economy stretches through numerous fields of interests but is possibly considered inconsequential and therefore shoved into the sidelines. Economic activities of the ocean and for which the application of specific expertise is crucial include marine science, marine biotechnology, oceanography, naval architecture, offshore resource extraction operations, coastal management, marine resource conservation and including but not limited to maritime administration and port operations and management. The list is not exhaustive nor it is exclusive.

Expanding the concept of maritime education beyond seafaring and the STCW convention, therefore, is the logical way forward for an archipelago desiring to optimize the benefits generated by the blue economy.

Maritime education that embraces the blue economy initiative widens the options in developing the country’s human capital. Students who may not have the aptitude for a shipboard career or those who for reason beyond their control fail to complete the merchant marine programs, i.e. lack of berths for a cadetship, may instead seize the opportunity offered by maritime-related professions This means that any attempt to develop and promote maritime education, either by legislative or executive act, must not limit the fields of discipline to BS Marine Transportation or BS Marine Engineering or any other associated shipboard programs.

Going to sea is an attractive career for many Filipino students, yet not many can fulfill the requisite conditions for onboard deployment. On the other hand, only a few express interest to join the much-needed manpower complement to drive the country’s blue economy agenda. It is probably not entirely due to the very attractive financial package that goes with a seafaring career. Conversely, the reticence of incoming higher education students in taking non-seafaring programs is the dearth of information relating to the opportunities available in those programs. Employment and professional circles are replete with anecdotal accounts of how rewarding it is to be a seafarer; hardly can one hear of interesting and success stories about being a naval architect or a marine biologist.

Shifting the mindset

Seafaring programs will remain the priority option for many students entering higher education; therefore, stakeholders who are advocating for the adoption of a maritime education policy or the enactment of legislation on the subject must be able to bring to the discussions the state of affairs of the maritime education and present a coherent proposal on resolving persistent issues. In any such advocacy, government and industry (those in job deployment and education industries) must bear in mind the broader view as to include the development and promotion of other maritime education programs which just as much attract the interest of students to go into non-shipboard careers.

The reforms a maritime education agenda wish to achieve must feed into the national objective of sustainable development marked by social inclusion and equitable enjoyment of the benefits offered by an integrated blue economy.

Let’s aim for that!!