Coalitions for Reform? What needs to be done

In education, I would argue for a national industry-academe-government council

On June 20, 2016, incoming Finance secretary Sonny Dominguez called for "coalitions for reform" as the Duterte administration prepares its economic agenda. In sum, he challenged the business community to transform the way it engages with government for good governance in the country.

I could not agree more, but this would need to be concretely manifested and institutionalized through mechanisms that would in fact allow business to constructively engage government in specific reform areas. In education, I would argue for a national industry-academe-government (IAG) council.


National industry-academe government council for education

It is important that all relevant stakeholders be represented in reform conversations. Borrowing from the field of development psychology, Malcolm Gladwell in his book "Outliers", emphasized the need for outside help in achieving greatness in any pursuit. Applying this principle to education, any reform initiative would thus have greater success with the help of relevant decision makers, particularly from the business sector.

Philippine education however has historically remained within the realms of educators and government ministries. This has been often cited as one of the reasons why despite high literacy rates and rosy economic growth in recent years, youth unemployment is double the national unemployment rate and is above average in the ASEAN region. Experts agree that bridging the skills gap would require active participation of business, schools, and government.

We do not need to look far to see how business could positively impact education reform. In fact, Philippine Business for Education (PBEd), an industry-backed non-profit has set up the National Industry Academe Council (NIAC) in 2013 precisely to address the country’s youth unemployment problem and human capital development needs. Through the NIAC, business as employers has been given a role in setting quality standards, providing relevant and timely labor market intelligence, and shaping policies in order to get the right people with the right skills into the right jobs and careers.

This initiative would thus need to be continued and institutionalized in order to support the Philippines’ growth trajectory. Formally bringing in industry would add the demand side into the human capital development equation.


Concrete action

Now moving from ideas to concrete action, what would this national industry-academe-government council do? Such Council would help ensure dialogue between key players to bridge human capital development needs in three ways:

First is the development of a robust and relevant Labor Market Intelligence infrastructure. A functioning national council would ensure that with industry taking the lead, human capital needs are assessed in real time and better-informed projections are made for informed human capital development plans.

Second, an IAG council would contribute to the development of improved curricula. With insights from industry that are enabled by supportive government regulations, curricular offerings would be more responsive to needs of the 21st century economy. Education would be better geared towards the development of skills and competencies needed for career readiness and citizenship.

Third, dialogue between all three sectors would support efforts to reimagine the education system for a healthy talent pipeline. We see this in innovation economies like Silicon Valley. Increasingly, companies like Google, IBM, and Facebook are working directly with governments and schools to build promising talent pipelines in support of their businesses and further fueling their growth.

I am confident that the business sector would welcome the challenge of the Duterte administration in its call for ‘coalitions for reform’, as business has historically been engaged in various reform initiatives, not just in education but also in other sectors. (An excellent op-ed by Peter Perfecto of the Makati Business Club outlines these engagements.)

Moreover, the rosy projections of growth and prosperity for the years to come could only be realized with an educated, healthy, and mobile human capital. Specific to education, having all three stakeholders at the table would ensure that conversations on human capital development in the country takes into account the supply and demand sides of the equation. The business sector has made moves.

It is now time for the incoming Duterte administration to up the ante. Your move, sir

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