[Commentary] ASEAN integration and education

 

The views expressed herein are of the contributor and not of The Filipino Connection. Editing was done in this contributed article.

 

Regional integration in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), said to have started last year, has been viewed as a long-term ultimate goal of Asean countries several years back. Since it is already 2016, it is apt to gauge whether the Philippines is ready for regional integration.

The premise of these moves by Asean leaders to work as “one Asean” is to position the region as a hub for investments and trade, similar to how the European Union implemented regional integration in the 1990s. So one Asean member-country has to be ready for regional integration or be left out of the “gains of this regional initiative. A closer and more informed look at the Asean, however, will easily disprove this goal: regional economic integration remains an elusive goal.

A 2013 survey by The Economist Intelligence Unit, answered by 147 big companies operating in the ASEAN region, shows that only 6.3 percent expected that the AEC (Asean Economic Community, one of three pillars in regional integration) will be put in place in 2015.

What about the educational system? The readiness of Philippine education for Asean integration can be assessed in terms of the competitiveness of our higher education institutions (HEIs) as schools of choice for students from other Asean countries.

Supposedly last year, our HEIs must increase their competitiveness in attracting international students –at least 300,000 of them– from the region. The country need to be able to compete with Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam and Indonesia who capture more than 20, 000 international students within the region. Latest estimates show that we only have about 5,000 international students in 2014, of which less than 500 are from ASEAN countries.

One of the vital elements of competitiveness is the kind and quality of programs. To be attractive, programs need to be responsive and relevant to the current and emerging national, regional, and international development goals. Issues that need responses by HEIs include food security and safety, sustainable and green energy, biodiversity conversation and natural resources, technological innovations, climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction, the use of English as a medium of business transactions, and the increasing appreciation for the contribution of culture and arts to sustainable development.

Moreover, our Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (Tesda) and the basic education sector affirm the country’s readiness for integration. Yet lack of materials and infrastructures and other pressing issues speak otherwise. (Editor’s note: Tesda, the Commission on Higher Education and the Department of Education crafted the Philippine Qualifications Framework to suit the country’s educational system to Asean and its mutual recognition of skills framework.)

While the country’s tourism sector seemed ready for Asean integration, the education sector shares a different story. The educational system alone is  given that it will only be this June that the country will begin implementing the K+12 system, the graduates by 2016 may not be ready for the requirements of a regional or global labor market.

It is still a long way before the Philippines becomes fully ready for integration, at least in the educational sector. Preparation isn’t like a magic wand that makes everything perfect in just a single wave. It will take time, effort and budget for the Philippines to be a major player in Asean.

 

The contributor is Teacher 1 at the Lipa City National High School.

 

About GEORGE BERNALES (contributor)