Part of my new job as assistant dean of the Computer Studies Cluster of Ateneo de Davao University is to represent the school in official gatherings, in particular, those related to IT education. Last Wednesday, I went to one such meeting, organized by ICT Davao and the Davao Association of Catholic Schools.
I've come to view these industry-academe tete-a-tetes with a mixture of suspicion and dread. I've sat on both sides of the table -- I have over ten years combined with multinational IT corporations, and now I'm running seven years in a university -- so I've seen my fair share of these discussions. More often than not, industry adopts a condescending tone when addressing their academic counterparts. The outcome of this particular get-together met that expectation.
In essence, the flow of the discussion goes like this. The industry representatives talk in glowing terms about the opportunities afforded by BPOs (or BPMS, as they like to call them now) and software development companies. They point out the high salaries, stable incomes, and prestige associated with international clients. But! -- and a big but it is -- invariably, the discussion devolves into how there aren't enough graduates to fill their seats and how the graduates that apply do not meet their standards, especially in language, and by that, they mean English. They're simply not ready to work, the industry people say, hence, companies must invest more time and money to training. Academe, what are you going to do about it?
There were some fifty of us from academe in that meeting. I don't know if anyone else felt the way I did, but I was fidgeting in my seat. What was I feeling? Anger? Annoyance? Everyone else stayed quiet, opting for inscrutability.
When the open forum came, I pointed out three things, to wit:
- BPMs complain about poor English proficiency, but how do they resolve the tension in K-12 with the introduction of Filipino and mother tongue instruction?
- In institutes of higher learning, there's greater focus on entrepreneurship. These people are not going to work for call centers.
- Finally: our responsibility in higher learning is the formation of students as persons, not the production of workers for the BPM industry.
The answer to the first was this: CHED is aware of the problem and is listening to different views on language implemenation from stakeholders. Next week they will put it to a vote which stance to adopt. Therefore there is no tension. (But doesn't the fact that there are differing views point to tension?)
The answer to the second was this: some people are born entrepreneurs. For those who are not, then the BPM industry is the way to go. (If the traits are innate, why bother teaching and promoting it?)
The answer to the third was the kicker. It went something like this: "Agreed, formation of students is the goal of universities, but for colleges like ourselves, we aim to prepare our students to hold jobs."
And that ultimately led to: "That's why CHED is implementing CMO 46. By introducing typology, we can classify what schools are going to be -- whether universities, colleges, or trade schools. Then they'll know what they'll focus on."
I felt the bile go up in my throat. So this is what it all comes down to: industry dictating to academe what kind of graduates they need, and schools judged on the basis of whether they produce the desired outcomes. Outcomes for whom? Why, the machinery of industry, of course. So never mind the development of the person, so long as they function like good little cogs that they are, eh?
No wonder our university president is dead set against typology and outcomes-based education.
There's a lot of chutzpah in the claim that academe should cater to the needs of industry. In the first place, it's not industry paying for the education of the students; it's the students themselves. Therefore our obligation is to the students. Come the day when companies bears the burden of schooling is when we hold ourselves accountable to them; until then, we owe them nothing.
Even as industry is so focused on what they need, they don't take into account what the students need. And by that, I don't mean students as one heteregoneous mass, but as individuals. Each student comes with different strengths and weaknesses. Some excel in languages, some in kinesthetics, some in music, some in art. Each develops in their own time. Really, more than these abilities is the maturity of each, and this is likely the greatest determinant of the readiness to work.
And finally, what makes the BPO/BPM industry so sure that our students want to work there in the first place? While some of my students have gone on to work in that sector and other mainstream corporate occupations, a significant number have gone on to more interesting and more colorful lives. They've become teachers, musicians, t-shirt artists, game developers, web designers, animators, toy makers, social workers, researchers, medical doctors, entrepreneurs, journalists, and writers. None of these fits the mold of what "industry" wants them to be. And I say, good for them, because they've gone to do what they ought to have done -- become their own persons.