By Bernardo M. Villegas
At the macro level, there is evidence that Filipinos who have progressed to college earn more than those with only a high school diploma and those who have reached high school earn more than those who drop out after grade school. These are findings of the leading specialist on the economics of education, Dr. Edita Tan of the University of the Philippines. At the micro level, however, we still have to ask the question what type of post-secondary education will address the manpower needs of industry. As a life-time educator, I can say that industry should insist that the most important task of universities is to teach their students how to think, how to communicate effectively in English and other languages, and how to relate the different human disciplines to one another. This would require every quality university to give great importance to the Humanities which include History, Philosophy, the Fine Arts, Literature, Mathematics, the Physical Sciences and the Social Sciences. Whatever the specialization, these liberal arts subjects are crucial to preparing professionals who can rise to the top of their respective fields and can be the innovators that are direly needed by a middle-income economy aspiring to rise to First World status. Over and above the subjects that will be covered in Grade 11 and 12 (Senior High School or Junior College), universities must still expose their students to the Humanities at the college level (as all the world class educational institutions like Harvard, Yale, Stanford, Cambridge, Oxford, etc. do).
The private business sector must warn universities not to clutter their curricula with very specialized subjects which are better learned on the job, especially in a fast changing technological environment. In my personal experience, I regretted that the accounting specialization that I took in my undergraduate years forced me to devote hundreds of hours to learn bookkeeping techniques, accounting principles, provisions on commercial law, etc. which I could have learned faster in industry. I could have devoted all those hours to reading more books on the classics, learning about music and the arts, etc. To remedy the lack of liberal arts training of numerous people who work for the IT-BPO sector (as was the case in the last century with the thousands of accounting graduates), the leading enterprises in this industry would do well to offer in-company programs on the Humanities for the employees they expect to progress to higher levels of management.
In the 1960s, I joined a group of professors from different universities to offer an in-house Humanities program for the accountants and auditors of SGV, the leading accounting firm then. I must attest to the fact that those who were in the Program rose to CEO positions in many of the Philippine and multinational enterprises over the last forty years. Having been working closely with the IT-BPO sector over the last ten years at least, I can say that the greatest challenge to the industry today is to produce the middle-management staff needed to supervise tens of thousands of workers. Although a long-term solution is to make sure that all of our universities are giving great importance to a liberal arts foundation in any professional program, a more immediate solution is to offer in-house programs in the liberal arts to their existing employees.
As regards two of the qualities identified as part of the competitive advantage of Filipino workers, i.e. customer service orientation and high level of commitment and loyalty, I must point out that very few universities consciously include values or character formation in their educational efforts. They assume that character training should be limited to the basic education years of the youth. Considering some very bad examples in moral behavior that we get from some of our leaders and from cultures of other countries (especially through social networks), I would also recommend that IT-BPO enterprises turn to Values Education specialists to craft in-house programs that reinforce the human virtues and values that are the foundation of customer service orientation (unselfishness and generosity) and high level of commitment and loyalty. It is never too late to help human beings in the lifetime effort to nurture the cardinal virtues of fortitude, temperance, justice and prudence — long discovered as essential for harmonious living by the Greek philosophers Socrates, Plato and Aristotle. Since there are more than one million workers (and counting) in this industry, It would also be a great service to Philippine society if these Filipino citizens — most of them millennials — are helped to develop the human virtues and values that they can bring to other sectors of the economy and most importantly to their respective families. I consider this effort of values education among the more than one million workers in the IT-BPO industry as the Number One item in the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) agenda of IT-BPO enterprises.
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