Bernardo M. Villegas
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Practical Solutions to Education Crisis (Part 3)

             Instead of useless lamentations and wailings about the very poor performance of our fifteen-year youth in the PISA achievement tests in reading, arithmetic and science, private citizens (which include those in the business sector, civil society, academe and religious communities) should do whatever they can to look for practical solutions to the ongoing education crisis.  The worst they can do is to give up and call the Filipino youth “stupid”!  I repeat a thousand times:  Many Filipinos may not know how to read or write, but they are not stupid!  Our demographic dividend is still our richest asset in a world in which practically all the developed countries have committed demographic suicide and are subsequently ageing so fast that their respective economies are in danger of suffering from long-term stagnation.  However inadequate our public sector may be in turning around the present education crisis we are facing, we in the private sector can do much in arriving at practical solutions to this serious challenge facing our society today.

            We should begin with imparting useful skills that will enable the poorest of the poor to attain higher standards of living.  Another example I would like to cite here is an agribusiness venture in Palawan about which I have written several times in this publication.  I am referring to the Lionheart Farms in the town of Rizal in Southern Palawan.  Established by a Danish citizen married to a Filipina, Lionheart Farms is being cited as a role model for helping to improve the lives of some of the poorest Filipinos—the coconut farmers—by succeeding to consolidate more than 3,000 hectares of coconut farms in order to achieve higher farm productivity and to improve the  revenues  (and thereby the incomes of the farmers) through processing the coconut raw materials into higher-value  manufactured products.  But what I would like to commend here is its success in integrating into its operations the participation of workers from the indigenous people of Southern Palawan, the Palawenos.  This is another example of illiterate or semi-illiterate people becoming very economically productive members of a rural community.  It would be the height of bigotry for any reformer to call these IPs “stupid.”

            As we can read in the website of Lionheart Farms, the corporation initiated a dialogue with the tribal communities of Barangays Ransang, Candawaga, and Culasian in the Municipality of Rizal, Palawan almost ten years ago in 2015.  The dialogue culminated in an MOU that outlines a unique partnership that allows the community (which included some IP tribes) to contribute their lands for the cultivation of organic coconuts.  In return, Lionheart rents their land and prioritizes employment opportunities for the host families.  This cooperative effort is aimed at establishing a sustainable farming community that can uplift generations to come.  The community programs especially included skills enhancement.  I saw with my own eyes in a visit to the farm how IP youth and adults were acquiring sophisticated skills in soil conditioning, the preparation of seedlings, the care and maintenance of the growing coconut trees, the replanting of the seedings, the gathering of the sap, etc.  In addition to skills enhancement, these IPs who are half-illiterate are given continuing education (especially the youth), practical lessons in health and personal hygiene and a profound understanding of sustainable development and organic farming practices.

            The partnership of Lionheart with the IP communities is based on principles of mutual respect and dialogue, aligning with the rich traditions of the Palawan Indigenous Peoples.  Lionheart makes sure that all of its managers and other workers acquaint themselves with the customary law, known as the Adat, and the traditional commitment to dialogue, known as the Bizarra. The traditions of the Palaw’an tribe have profoundly influenced the approach to work within the Lionheart community.  To further recognize the special circumstances of the IP tribes, Lionheart Farms is thoughtfully divided into six smaller farms, strategically distributed across three barangays in the town of Rizal, Palawan.   Each farm operates in close partnership with its respective local community, offering localized employment opportunities.  This approach is especially beneficial to the Indigenous Peoples.  It enables them to work on their ancestral land while safeguarding the natural environment that has been an integral part of their culture for millennia, preserving it for future generations.

            President BBM, while he was the Secretary of Agriculture, took special interest in Lionheart Farms as a model for significantly increasing the productivity of the agricultural sector through the reconsolidation of the millions of coconut farms that were fragmented in the process of a failed agrarian reform program.  The target is to replicate what Lionheart Farms has done with some 3,000 hectares of coconut farms in Palawan in at least five other coconut regions (e.g. Quezon Province, Bicol region, Leyte-Samar, and at least two regions in Mindanao predominantly planted to coconut).  With the appropriate funding and interest of large corporations in corporate farming, each region could target 20,000 hectares of consolidated coconut farms.  What excites me is that in practically all these coconut regions, there are also indigenous tribes that can be benefited in terms of skills training and total human formation, as has happened in the case of Lionheart Farms.  In all of these regions, we can prove that poverty, both in economic and learning terms, is not an obstacle to harnessing the innate talents of illiterate or semi-illiterate Filipinos.

            Another example with which I am familiar that demonstrates that Filipino youth who may be suffering from learning poverty through no fault of their own, can be highly productive workers  is the Dualtech Training Center.   Dualtech , located in Canlubang, Laguna,  has produced more than 10,000 highly skilled electro-mechanical workers for manufacturing enterprises, both domestic and multinational, both for local industry and factories abroad.  Established more than forty years ago in 1982,  Dualtech pioneered what is known in Europe (especially in the German-speaking countries) as the dual training system or dualvoc.  This TESDA-type school combines classroom training with real-life work experience through a close partnership between the academe and industry.

            A good number of the applicants, usually coming from low-income households from the different Philippine regions (i.e. Mindanao, Palawan, Western Visayas), have difficulties in reading, arithmetic and science—representative of those teenagers who take the PISA exam.  Nevertheless they are admitted to the program of Dualtech.  Once they are enrolled, those who have difficulties with basic English and Math will be singled out and given special mentoring in reading and arithmetic.  The trainees are given constant feedback about their academic weaknesses.  There are remedial measures to help them pass the necessary subjects and qualify for the in-plant training.    In all the subjects, there are oral assessments that give the students the necessary confidence in speaking.  In the worst case scenario, those students who continue to be deficient in Math and English are given an extension of six months to be able to overcome their handicap.  At an absorption rate of close to 100% of those who are actually hired after their in-plant training, there is no doubt that near-illiterate youth coming from the poor Philippine households can overcome their so-called learning poverty with the right intervention from private sector initiatives that combine the forces of business and the academe.  It is notable that among the more than 10,000 graduates of Dualtech over the last 40 years, a significant number are working abroad in highly demanding technical jobs like repairing and maintaining airplanes.  To be continued.