Educator pushes for fuller industry-school integration

In the midst of the increasing clamour for better-equipped IT graduates, Systems Technology Institute president Chito Salazar is proposing the full integration of the industry into the classroom as a way of closing the widening gap between the IT industry’s requirements and the IT schools’ output.

This integration means bringing in the corporations to the classroom so that industry practitioners themselves would have a say on what the students should learn while in school.

One way of doing this, according to Salazar, is through the Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Makati (technical high school) example, where the potential employers (of their graduates) are invited to the classrooms to teach.

“Thus, there is an exact match between what is being taught in class and what the employers are looking for since the employers themselves are giving the instructions. Also, since these students have undergone training with them, they can hire them right away,” he said.

This integration approach departs from the supply chain model of the traditional education system where students are considered raw materials that need to go through processing in the schools, and, eventually, to be “sold to and distributed among the country’s corporations.” “We can actually merge the supply chain by bringing the industry to the classroom, and merging the work with the academic environments,” Salazar said. “Once integrated, we can now look at both the school and the corporations as the processing centres; because in reality there may be industry-specific skills that the schools cannot provide. In this case, specific skills become the responsibility of the corporations.”

To further encourage the companies which are really investing in IT training, Salazar proposed giving tax exemptions to them as they help boost the standard of IT education in the country. “If we accept that corporate training is part of life-long training, then we should encourage corporations to invest in training by giving them some sort of tax incentive,” he pointed out. On the side of the students, meanwhile, integration means allowing them to be exposed to the industry as employees so they can learn the IT basics while learning the practical side of their work at the same time. This approach can also be very helpful in addressing the lack of OJT (on-the-job-training) and practical experience among IT students.

“Whenever employers look for a programmer, they normally require two years of work experience – something that new graduates do not have. It becomes a chicken-and-egg issue: A new graduate can’t get a job because he does not have two years of work experience; and he can’t get a job where he can get the experience because he is a new graduate,” he said.

Apart from integrating the industry with the academe, Salazar stressed that another equally important concern is to strengthen basic education skills – particularly that of learning how to learn.

“Learning how to learn is very important in IT, because by the time the students step out of college, what they have learned are most likely obsolete. So they have to learn a new language altogether,” he explained.

Salazar also observed that most of the time, the problem is not on the technical skills, but on the soft skills – particularly the ability to communicate. “Oftentimes, we find that students have difficulty communicating – they cannot understand the questions or they cannot answer them well. Thus, it becomes extremely difficult for companies to even gauge their technical capabilities because they can not express their thoughts,” he added.