Sunday, July 21, 2019

Abellanosa: The promise of senior high

GIVEN that most schools have not changed their school calendar, March is still a perfect time to reflect on some essential things about movements and transitions in the academic world. In a word, we call this “graduation.”

It is true that graduation brings joy, however, it also opens up the graduate to the life’s galaxy of exigencies. This is very much true in the face of society’s hard facts: culture of competition, commodification, and alienation. “Readiness” is a key word which our graduates would hopefully reflect with utmost seriousness as they enter a world that’s basically different from their erstwhile comfort zone.

Of particular interest that many have kept an eye on are the graduates of senior high school (SHS). The Philippines once again produces the second batch of graduates of the SHS program. Apparently, it is too early to insist on dogmatic conclusions given that the revamp of our educational system is relatively new. Nonetheless, we cannot dismiss as irrelevant some pertinent questions: how has the SHS program prepared the graduates of a 12-year basic education curriculum, and what is the significant effect, if any, of the additional two years in high school?

An interesting material that I would recommend for reading is a recent discussion paper from the Philippine Institute of Development Studies, which was released in December 2018. The study “assessed the likelihood of achieving the employment and entrepreneurship objectives” of the SHS program. It looked into the experiences of grade 12 graduating students vis-à-vis the views of firms about “labor market prospects of the SHS graduates.”

Notably, the researchers looked into the SHS curriculum and the competencies developed. It also identified the types of jobs that fit the Grade 12 graduates. Moreover it looked into the private sectors’ perspective on the jobs available and appropriate for the Grade 12 graduates.

In its entirety, the study interrogates some promises that were made with the SHS program or, at least, as it was dreamed by its main proponents.

I remember what one speaker, a priest and a university president, said in a gathering in 2012: “once SHS would go full swing, students would be ready for employment and need not go to college.” This kind of perspective, or prophecy if we may call it, is basically one among many propositions that is questionable.

To be concrete for example, the PIDS study reveals that SHS is not much appreciated by the people in the industry. If we may quote from the study itself: “[i]n general, employers know bits and pieces of information about the SHS program. However, the knowledge employers have about the SHS curriculum/specialization as well as the quality of its first batch of graduates, are not adequate enough. Some said they need to study and research to be familiar with the SHS curriculum and program requirements.”

The foregoing basically tells us that the industry has not yet positioned itself to totally embrace SHS graduates into their workforce. Thus, while the dream of the people in the academe is readiness in employability of SHS graduates right after graduation, truth to tell – the industry partners are largely clueless as to what to do with SHS graduates. At the end of the day, and as the study tells us, college graduates are still preferable.

Why is this so? Employers believe that generally SHS graduates are not yet work ready. Working after all isn’t just a matter of legal age. To be hirable, i.e. to be employed, requires one to possess not just the technical requirements but also a level of maturity in order to deal with people, bend, and adjust to the so many stressors and challenges in the workplace.

Again, the study’s findings are worth quoting in length:

“In spite of the work immersion completion, students still lack work skills. With regard to behavior, students were playful at work and were often caught using their cellphones. There is still a need to work on the values of the students. Because of their young age (mostly 17-18 years old), they lack maturity and perseverance in performing work. Most of them are not yet assertive. Since they are still young, they might not be able to withstand the working conditions, i.e., in manufacturing companies.”

The SHS program is the Philippine government’s promise and response to the so many ills and woes of our educational system. Hopefully, it won’t end as what has been said of most promises: meant to be broken.

In the meantime, congratulations to all the graduates!


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