Learning to Leave: Emigration, Employability and Higher Education in the Philippines

Learning to Leave: Emigration, Employability and Higher Education in the Philippines

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The question of how schools can prepare students for future work has long dominated public discourse. How does this issue play out in the Philippines, one of the largest source countries of migrant labour in the world?

On 1 August 2018, Dr Yasmin Y. Ortiga, Assistant Professor of Sociology at SMU, discussed how higher education institutions in the Philippines are expected to not only produce graduates for the domestic labour market, but also for potential overseas employers, and what this means in preparing students for future work.

Dr Ortiga, who wrote on this topic in her book “Emigration, Employability, and Higher Education in the Philippines” began by playing a video of the Filipino national anthem which featured glimpses of Filipinos working overseas depicted as heroes. This illustrates how institutions within the country use such images to justify the system that exports their labour to overseas employers.

She stated that even before Filipinos are deployed overseas to work, higher education institutions in the country deliberately educate students for export. This is evident in the courses taught, rapid changes in programmes’ designs, and how teaching spaces are allocated — all meant to address changing trends of overseas demand for foreign labour. However, Dr Ortiga argued that people are not simply products to be churned out, and schools are not factories with assembly lines producing labourers.

The export-oriented system, coupled with the lack of government regulation, has led to an overexpansion of programmes, and an oversupply of graduates in particular fields. This was apparent in the case of nursing graduates who were unable to work overseas when opportunities outside the country declined after 2008.

Given the pervasiveness of such a model, Dr Ortiga raised the question of the purpose higher education is meant to serve. Furthermore, while she focused on the Philippines as a case study, export-oriented education is likely to spread to more countries who are looking into using it as a development strategy. This then raise new questions about the role of schools in a globalised world.

Dr Ortiga then invited Prof Ho Kong Chong, Associate Professor at the Department of Sociology and Research Leader of Asian Urbanisms, NUS, and Dr Yang Peidong, Lecturer at the Humanities and Social Studies Education Academic Group, NIE (Singapore), to join her on the panel to share their thoughts on the issue and how the issues she raised compares to other Asian countries, particularly Singapore.

The event ended with the panel addressing questions from the audience, which included the history of the Philippines’ export-oriented education model, and how (and why) Singaporeans, in comparison, largely have different goals after graduation.

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Mr Ho Swee Huat

Mr Ho Swee Huat is the Founder and Managing Director of Abacus Assets Advisors Pte Ltd. Before starting the company, he had an established career in the banking industry, with 20 years of experience in Singapore, Hong Kong and New York.

He was an Independent Director and Chairman of the Audit Committee of CapitaCommercial Trust Management LTD from 2004 to 2013.

He is the current Chairman of Autism Association (Singapore) which he co-founded with a group of parents in 1992. He is also Vice-Chairman of Eden School, a special school for children with autism.

Mr Ho holds a Master’s degree from the London School of Economics and Political Science, and a Liberal Arts degree in Economics from Hamilton College, USA.

He has been a member of the Board of the Foundation since its incorporation.