Technical and vocational education and training

Boosting core work skills of GEN Z learners

The ILO-UK Skills for Prosperity Programme has helped Filipino teachers to adopt learner-centred approaches, aiming to reduce the country’s skills mismatch.

News | 19 September 2023
Kristine Dorothy Rodriguez. © Bernard Testa /ILO
Seven years ago, when she first began teaching, Kristine Dorothy Rodriguez noticed that 14 of her students have not been coming to class.

For three days straight, ten young boys and four teenage girls failed to show up at the Cabacungan National High School in Dulag, Leyte, a town roughly one hour southeast of Tacloban City, Philippines.

Located in the middle of a rice field, the school was where Rodriguez taught cookery and other related subjects as part of a technical vocational and livelihood (TVL) course that was specially designed for senior high school students.

Upon completion of this course, graduates are, among others, expected to be skilled enough to pass and obtain the national certifications in their chosen fields: electrical installation and maintenance, computer systems and servicing, organic agriculture, cookery, among others.

The TVET track also allowed students to choose four options upon graduation. They could either go to college, open up a small business, pursue another course offered by a technical and vocational education and training (TVET) training institution , or apply for a job.

However, seven years ago, completing the TVL track in senior high school seemed to be the farthest thing from the minds of the missing 14 students in Cabacungan National High School.

Their teacher soon found out why.

The students skipped classes to help plant and harvest crops in exchange for meagre pay to help support their families.

"They weren't even paid that much because they were still kids," Rodriguez said, adding that most of her students came from low-income families.

Understanding their plight, Rodriguez promptly adjusted her teaching methods and schedules for the erstwhile missing 14 students. She prepared modules, activity sheets, and assignments so that her students could still do farm work without neglecting school work. She also met them face to face to discuss lessons whenever possible.

"I told them that they had to make their own sacrifices," Rodriguez said.

Whether she knew about it or not at the time, what Rodriguez did for the missing 14 students may already be considered part of the "learner-centred approach" in TVET .

With learner-centredness, the teacher was no longer seen as the sole source of knowledge but a guide — a fellow traveler even — on their journey to secure a good education.

Unfortunately, that journey is far from smooth.

Only 10 per cent of senior high school students were able to get jobs, according to a study by the Philippines' Department of Education. The same study said that 83 per cent chose to go to college.

Most students failed to secure employment because they lacked core work skills needed in the 21st century workforce. These skills include the abilities to think creatively, communicate ideas clearly, and collaborate with others.

To bring out and sharpen these skills, TVL courses should be taught with the students’ welfare and interests in mind. And to do that, the teaching capacities of senior high school TVL teachers should be enhanced to make them more learner-centred.

With this in mind, the UK government-funded Skills for Prosperity Programme in the Philippines (SfP-Philippines) came in to help.

Implemented by the International Labour Organization (ILO) in the Philippines, SfP-Philippines seeks to “make technical-vocational education not just attractive to more young students but also to contribute to the preparedness of these students to the challenges in the world of work,” said Khalid Hassan, Director of the ILO Country Office for the Philippines.

By becoming more effective teachers, they can instill skills such as creativity, innovation, critical thinking, and complex problem-solving in their students and as a result, make them more employable, Hassan added.

As one of its goals, SfP-Philippines aims to enhance industry relevance in skills development systems and consequently contribute to reducing the country's jobs-skills mismatch, specially among the youth aged 15-24 which is estimated to have reached 7.1 million of the country’s total labour force as of June 2023.

teachers from the Visayas regions attend a workshop on learner-centred approaches at at the University of the Philippines-National Institute for Science and Mathematics Education Development. © Bernard Testa /ILO
Since 2021, the programme has run pilot activities to train teachers and trainers on learned-centred approaches. Recently, in August 2023, SfP-Philippines partnered with the Center for Integrated STEM Education (CISTEM) to organize a workshop for TVL teachers from the Central and Eastern Visayas regions.

Held at the University of the Philippines-National Institute for Science and Mathematics Education Development, the two-day workshop briefed the participants about learner-centred approaches that may respond to the unique learning needs of senior high school students — all members of Gen Z.

Rodriguez was among those in attendance and so were 30 of her fellow TVL teachers.

For two days, she was able to soak in the learner-centred concepts and practices considered fit for Gen Z students, who, among others, are self-learners and digital natives, owing to their natural tendency to search for knowledge on the Internet.

While her course — cookery — mostly teaches practical skills, Rodriguez recognised that teachers like her should minimize "spoon-feeding," a method that goes against learner-centredness.

"In cookery, learners should be given the chance to develop their independence," she said.

Instead of merely following food preparation instructions, students should be encouraged to go beyond the recipe to further spur and deepen learning.

Students taking up a cookery course should be asked what kind of adjustments should be made if they were assigned to work in a bigger kitchen that served meals to hundreds of people, she said.

"It's not just about teaching cooking skills alone but helping them develop a higher order of thinking," she said.

With this in mind, she drafted a lesson plan — a workshop requirement — using SCAMPER, an idea-generation tool introduced during the event.

The tool helped her to either substitute, combine, adapt, modify, put to another use, eliminate, reverse or re-arrange any of the lesson ideas she had in mind.

She chose to substitute and adapt.

As a result, the lesson plan she drafted intended to teach students how to make cookies from sweet potatoes, instead of traditional ingredients.

Using the root crop also allowed her to adapt her lessons to local conditions since sweet potatoes are found in abundant supply in the town.

"These cookies are easy to make," Rodriguez said. "Students will no longer need to buy the main ingredient and even enjoy bigger earnings should they decide to sell them."

Rodriguez also plans to incorporate project-based learning — another learner-centred principle — for her next bread and pastry class.

"I want my students to conduct research and hold interviews about other possible local ingredients for cookies and other food products," she said, adding that the tasks will build their analytical and communication skills — just two of several needed by industries in the 21st century. "I want them to think of something new."

Without a doubt, the workshop also further fueled her dedication to teaching TVL.

"This workshop has been an eye-opener for all of us," she said. "When I go back to school, I will apply and share these lessons because I really have learned a lot."