Bernardo M. Villegas
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How To Reach the Top

           One of the most important concerns of parents who have children of school-going age is help them to choose a post-secondary educational program that will enable them to reach the top of their respective professions or occupations in the next twenty or more years.  This task has become more complex as the Philippine basic educational system moves to the K + 12 curriculum in which the last two years of senior high school will incorporate many of the subjects in general education that used to be taught in the first two years of college in most university programs.  Let me share with these parents the views expressed by Annette Gordon-Reed, a professor of history at Harvard University who serves on the National Commission on the Humanities and Social Science created in 2011 at the request of the Senate and the House of Representatives of the U.S. during a time of great economic uncertainty and insecurity.  The conclusions of Dr. Gordon Reed should be seriously considered by parents and educators, considering the fact that the U.S. has had the K + 12 system for many decades.  American high school graduates have been entering college at the age of 18 or more years.

          The current thinking of parents and students in the U.S. has been captured by Dr. Gordon Reed in the following words:  "Parents and students who have invested heavily in higher education fret about graduates' job prospects as technological advances and changes in domestic and global markets transform professions in ways that reduce wages and cut jobs.  Under these circumstances, it is natural to look for what may appear to be the most 'practical' way out of the problem:  'Major in a subject designed to get you a job' seems the obvious answer to some, though this ignores the fact that many disciplines in the humanities characterized as 'soft' often, in fact, lead to employment and success in the long run."  From my contact with numerous parents who ask advice about their children's future career path, I get the impression that they have similar attitudes towards the post-secondary courses that their children should pursue:  take a course that will land you a job as quickly as possible after your university studies.

          Getting a job is without doubt an important goal of parents and students.  It should, however, not be the overriding consideration in choosing a university and a course.  As Dr. Gordon Reed pointed out employers everywhere have expressed a preference for students who have received a broadly based education that has taught them to write well, think critically, research creatively and communicate easily.  In fact, the Dean of the School of Education of the University of Asia and the Pacific, Dr. Celerino Tiongco, who obtained is Ph.D. in Education at the prestigious Teachers College of Columbia University in New York, interviewed top employers in the Philippines and arrived at the same conclusion:  employers prefer to hire graduates with a strong liberal arts foundation for positions that will eventually lead to top management positions.  Those who take up courses that are too narrow in scope and specialization may get a job easily but they tend to stagnate at low levels of employment for the rest of their career unless they take up more courses that will widen their perspectives and enhance their analytical and communication skills.

          The sunrise industries that will be in great need of qualified professionals as the Philippines leads Asia in economic growth in the next twenty years are not difficult to identify.  Several studies of think tanks and industry organizations or chambers have come out with almost identical lists:  agribusiness, tourism, Business Process and Knowledge Process Outsourcing, health care, logistics, manufacturing, education, real estate and housing, mining, automobile, infrastructure and construction, telecommunications and the creative industries.  It is highly tempting for parents and students to immediately focus on the skill sets required by these growth industries.  They must be reminded, however, of the following reality:  "Students should be prepared not just for their first job, but for their 4th and 5th jobs, as there is little reason to doubt that people entering the work force today will be called upon to play many different roles over the course of their careers.  The ones who will do the best in this new environment will be those whose educations have prepared them to be flexible.  The ability to draw upon every available tool and insight--gleaned from science, arts, and technology--to solve the problems of the future, and take advantage of the opportunities that present themselves, will stand them (and the country) in good stead.

          Parents who want to help prepare their children for their long-term career changes and to reach the top of any organization that they join should make sure that the university in which their children will enroll give a lot of importance to such subjects as history, literature, social sciences, philosophy, mathematics, the physical sciences or in other words, the humanities.   Aristotle, Plato, Homer, Dante, Shakespeare, Aquinas, Augustine, Adam Smith, Jose Rizal, and Confucius have a lot more to contribute to the long-term success of the future generation of professionals than the latest textbooks in accounting, information technology, civil engineering or electrical engineering.    For our future leaders in the various sectors and professions of the country, the general education component in the last two years of senior high school in the K + 12 program will not be sufficient for this liberal arts program required by anyone who aspires to reach the top of his career(s).  There must at least two additional years at the university level of liberal arts formation that will match the improved psychological maturity of post-adolescent youth.  I can speak with some authority because I was part of the general education program of one of the best universities in the world, Harvard University, and one of the pioneers of a Philippine university that assigns the highest importance to the humanities as a preparation for any professional career, the University of Asia and the Pacific.  For comments, my email address is