Generational trends and change

by Jose Ma. Montelibano

Jose M. Montelibano

I have been very concerned about the educational system that is in place for our young today. The continuing emergence of new technology, especially artificial intelligence or AI, is so impactful because it will determine what jobs will go and what new jobs will be needed. While I continue to hear lingering resistance to the present K-12 program and whether we should go back to having two fewer years before graduation in high school, technology is driving the world forward and leaving us even further behind. Educationally, I mean, at the very least.

K-12 means 13 years. Our present educational system is meant to develop our youth through 13 years towards a life where they can be productive and contribute to the nation-building. Their productivity is relative to what they, the Philippine society, and the world will need after they leave high school and throughout their adulthood. What will we need to live, to prosper, and sustain life even in retirement? We have to look to 2031 and beyond because that is the period when our Filipino children will engage our society and the world as adults. If they are not equipped to be competitive and reasonably self-sufficient, which our present educational system should prepare them for, our present young will already be left behind the more progressives.

It is impossible for ordinary citizens, even if we are interested, to understand what the vision is of our educators. It is not that their vision is complicated, just that it is not articulated enough, if at all. What is the domestic and global terrain in 2030 and beyond when our young will be first time workers and professionals? What will be the new developments like AI that was not anticipated before but for which our new high school graduates will be ill-prepared for? I keep looking for notices of a grand summit between business groups who will be the future employers of our future public school graduates and education leaders so together they can formulate a common vision and design the proper curriculum.

A vision for education should not be a secret. More than a program of any administration, a vision for education tells Filipinos where we are going from today to when our present political leaders may be retired, or dead. It is crucial that Filipino families, parents, and children alike, have a good sense of what the future parameters are so that the proper guidance can be given. I am afraid that, when all is quiet about any vision for education, the leaders in the education department have little or no vision that comprehends how the trends today will translate to mainstream tomorrow. If those who decide what our educational system will have little or no vision of a rapidly unfolding world, then I am afraid for our young.

It will not mean that we will be hopeless ten to fifty years from today. It just means that our youth will have to basically take care of themselves by responding quickly and intelligently to what comes along. That means we go as we have always gone before – relying on our native talents rather than intelligent preparation. Actually, we are still moving from what the Spaniards and Americans set up for the Filipinos when they were in control. Professions are better off because professionals usually try to stay abreast of developments in their fields.

Mainstream employees, though, will not be as fortunate. They may be stuck in the service industries, domestics serving abroad, seafarers, low-rank laborers in production facilities, and global entertainers. Even if Filipinos will find their niche in service industries, they can still be prepared for that from grade to high school. This should not be very difficult but will be impossible if we do not have a vision that millions of Filipinos have a good future there. Ironic that work or enterprises that may not have a great social attraction but truly has a high demand here and abroad are what we call vocational in nature.

It is also about time that we address the youth in the agricultural sector. More than the youth of other sectors, the ones from the rural and coastal areas will disappear the fastest from their original location. Children of farmers are not following in the footsteps of their parents. They want the urban areas, look for work in malls or call centers, or even as domestics in homes of the rich or upper middle class. I cannot blame them. Small farmers have a bleak history; they also have a bleak future – except for the most progressive of them. What kind of education should children from the agricultural sector have in order to prepare them for a productive future in urbanized areas?

It seems illogical to have a universal educational program when we do not have a universal class in the Philippines. The elite or progressives will always be far ahead of their public school counterparts. We do not have to look at what is happening abroad. We can look at the sharp contrasts here at home, the wide gaps between elite schools and public schools. This gap is not something that a K to 12 program can fix. This is an issue of haves and have-nots, of opportunities and resources or not having them. The greatest inequality is domestic, not global. The Philippines is somewhere in the middle in the global spectrum. The Filipino poor, even the emerging Filipino middle class, is simply nowhere near the middle in the domestic spectrum.

It is not the fault of the education sector or the Department of Education that poverty exists, that serious class gaps are present. But it is the responsibility of the leadership of the education in the Philippines to prepare our young for a future better than what they have today – especially the future of the poorer majority. I wish they can tell us how they are preparing for it.

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