The Philippines’ Efforts to Educate its Growing Young Population in STEM

As greater numbers of people around the world learn about the impact and use of artificial intelligence, countries’ governments are also evaluating their STEM resources in education to establish who should train the next wave of AI workers.

The Philippines, the 13th-most populous country in the world, has plenty of young people that need training in STEM fields, says Jose Manuel “Babe” del Gallego Romualdez, the country’s ambassador to the United States. Educators and officials in the Philippines, Romualdez says, are actively trying to learn about STEM training from the regional success of Singapore, the most competitive economy in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN, and also from China.

The Philippines has an untapped potential in STEM, Romualdez says, and the country’s officials need to work closely with educators and with the private sector to better understand the needed skills and to help students hone them for the future job market.

Romualdez recently spoke with U.S. News while attending the 2018 Meridian Global Leadership Summit. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

What is the Philippines doing to ensure progress in education right now?

We have several programs that address some of that. One of them is TESDA, which is a technical skill institution where we try to bring up to speed many of the students and (enable them) to find their niche and where they want to go in the digital world. They start off from high school.

You mentioned you need to work closely with corporations because the government funding is not enough. What did you mean by that?

It’s mostly because the private sector is more involved in this. Like I said , we have several large American companies in the Philippines such as Accenture. We’d like to work with them and try to find ways to be able to bring up to speed with the latest technologies the many young people who’d want to be in (their) field.

What are the particular challenges in your country right now?

I think our biggest challenge is that we have a very large young population so we obviously want to make sure that they find jobs. We try to bring them up to a level where they would be able to find their jobs easily, especially in the changing world. Every year we have about 1.3 (million) to 1.5 million students finishing either college or high school. We have a very big population. Our population grows by (1.5 percent) a year so you can imagine the multiple effects that has on our education system.

What industries do you see flourishing because of technology in the Philippines?

Right now our biggest industry is business processing management and this is where we have a lot of jobs that are being created. We have 8 percent growth every year. It’s a $23 billion business in the Philippines and it’s growing every year. In 10 years, since 1992 to 2002, the business processing management (sector) actually tripled — call centers, if you want to call them that.

What about industries that could be affected by automation?

The service industry is mostly being affected by that, affected in the sense that (automation) is actually helping. For instance, our national airline has their own call center that they have been able to develop so they can have a human touch. Instead of being automated completely, real people are actually talking to (clients).

Do you see the Philippines partnering with a specific bloc to make progress with automation and responding to its impact?

We have the ASEAN bloc or group. And (it has) 650 million people so we are working closely with them to bring up the Asian region.

Any particular challenges in regulating AI in the Philippines?

Regulating might not be the right word — (we want) to channel it, to try to work together so that it would be up to speed. I think Singapore is taking the lead in that right now and we were working with them. Of course we’d also like to work with other big countries like China.

Any ethical concerns for your country when it comes to automation?

I don’t think there’s much to worry in those areas except perhaps (having to meet) the patents of the technology that’s being brought in.

What would be one thing that people don’t know about the Philippines that is important from a technological standpoint?

We have a very young population. The average age is 30 to35 years and they are very tech(-oriented) people. Many of them don’t read newspapers; they just read their phones and tablets. They do read but it’s all technology-based. That’s where we are we would like to be able to develop, and the world should know that Filipinos have a very high capacity to learn quickly and innovate. Hopefully, we can open up (the country) and the international world will see how easily (we) adapt (and) maybe set up shops in the Philippines.

More from U.S. News

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