A New Challenge to Academe:
Educating Filipinos for the Knowledge Economy
(and Why “Back to Basics”
Education Won’t Be Enough)
In the last decade,
a confluence of technological, economic, and social developments has
dramatically changed the way people live and work. The central element in this
sea change is knowledge.
Centuries ago, the
main basis of wealth was land. The more land you could use for growing crops or
raising livestock, the richer you became. When the Industrial Revolution came
about, the prosperity of individuals and countries no longer depended on how
much land they owned or tilled, but on how much physical resources (raw
materials from the mountains and the seas, water, electrical power, brawny human
bodies, etc) they could harness to support the factories that had begun to
flourish. The more industrial goods you could make and sell, the more affluent
you got. And that was the case until way into the latter half of the 20th
Since the 1990s, however, large sectors of the globe have been shifting, perhaps
irreversibly, from an economy based on physical resources to one based on
knowledge. The world is seeing the rise of what is called the knowledge-based
economy or simply the knowledge economy.
Distinctive Features of the Knowledge Economy
The emergence of the knowledge economy shows itself in many ways, especially
in the developed countries. Among its signs is a marked shift from the
production of physical goods to growth based on services employing high skills
and innovative technology, along with the rapid dwindling of low-skill,
blue-collar jobs. Another equally distinctive feature of the knowledge economy
is the increasing rate at which information is being turned into digital form
and knowledge being “codified”—i.e., captured or “downloaded” from people’s
heads and stored in books, manuals, videotapes, compact discs, and other modern
media. Hence, vast amounts of information and knowledge are being turned into
virtual commodities that can be easily accessed and even instantaneously moved
through electronic networks.
New Growth Leaders: Knowledge-Based Businesses
The emergence of the knowledge economy has brought with it the rise of
knowledge-based businesses. These are businesses whose operations are
characterized by the intensive and extensive application of knowledge. Central
to success in these businesses is knowledge work in the form of complex
problem solving, technological innovation, the creative exploitation of new
markets, and the development of new products and services.
In many of the developed economies, knowledge-based businesses (KBBs) have
become the main engine of economic growth and change. In the US, KBBs are the
fastest-growing segment of the economy. In Canada, they are growing at a rate of
at least eight percent a year and are expected to account for 20 percent of the
gross domestic product in the next decade. Employment in these businesses is
expanding by 25 percent a year. Moreover, a study has shown that for every
person employed in the knowledge-based sector, four to five other jobs are
created elsewhere in the economy. This pattern has been noted in other developed
economies, where knowledge-intensive and high-technology businesses tend to be
the most dynamic in terms of output and employment growth.
In the Philippines, the following KBBs are expected to lead economic growth in
the next decade or two:
2. IT and
services in media
services in entertainment
services in health care
services in tourism
The expected rapid
growth of these KBBs does not mean the Philippines will leapfrog into the ranks
of the developed countries in the next two decades. Millions of Filipinos will
continue to depend on agriculture, manufacturing, and other traditional
industries for their livelihood for many years to come. The country will also
continue to struggle to catch up with its neighbors. But the emerging KBBs will
give the Philippine economy much-needed dynamism, as well as new sources of jobs
The Knowledge Economy’s Impact on the Workplace
The rise of the knowledge economy is transforming the workplace all over the
world. The impact of the knowledge economy on the workplace is being felt in
three main areas: the way business firms organize themselves and operate, the
way they use and manage knowledge, and the way they define and structure jobs
within the organization.
economy has inspired new organizational concepts and models—e.g., the
“high-performance workplace,” the “learning” or “knowledge organization,” the
“boundaryless organization,” and the “flexible organization.” The names and
descriptors of the new organizational paradigms vary, but there is a common core
of operative norms: speed, adaptability, flexibility, networking, teamwork,
participation, innovation, and continuous learning.
The emergence of the
knowledge economy has also pushed knowledge management to center stage in
business organizations. This is understandable because today competitive
advantage is generally acknowledged to depend on what a firm knows, how it uses
what it knows, and how fast it can know something new. In many business firms,
the strategy-making process focuses on enhancing the knowledge and expertise of
people in the organization and harnessing these intellectual assets for
economy is also changing the nature, content, scope, and requirements of jobs.
Because KBBs have knowledge-intensive operations, most of their employees are
highly educated and highly skilled. Thus, these employees are being given more
responsibility and authority. This means they need to have a broader base of
functional, technical, and administrative skills. Likewise, there is increased
requirement for cognitive abstract qualifications. These include
decision-making, judgment, accuracy, an understanding of the organization, and
the ability to analyze and solve problems in new or unexpected situations.
High-performance work systems also involve greater and more immediate reliance
of employees on one another’s work. Hence, there is increased interdependence
and collaboration of people in these workplaces. Moreover, business firms are
giving much greater importance to service and responsiveness to customers. Roles
and activities involving interface or direct contact with external or internal
customers now form a higher proportion of job content. There is likewise a
greater need for social competencies (e.g., customer orientation,
responsibility, and cooperation) that enable people to integrate the various
tasks they are given to do both on their own and in conjunction with others.
Employees of knowledge-intensive businesses thus feel the need to learn and
develop new competencies, rather than rely on a static knowledge and skill base.
Moreover, the types of knowledge and skills that employees need to be successful
are changing. Aside from “knowing how”, employees need to “know why” and “know
Can Academe Stand and Deliver?
Clearly, success in the knowledge economy requires a change in social and
organizational culture, as well as the development of a new breed of
knowledge workers. Surveys of recent graduates in many countries indicate
that a university or college degree has become the standard entry qualification
for almost all high-level occupations. And since knowledge begets more
knowledge, the need for knowledge workers grows as the tasks in the workplace
become more complex. The rapid expansion of the knowledge economy will thus
require higher education on a mass scale.
however, fear that higher education institutions may not be preparing the number
and kind of people who can measure up to the demands of knowledge-intensive
jobs. Even in the developed countries, there is a perceived gap between what
business employers look for in graduates and the kind of preparation that
college students get. In the case of the Philippines, where the higher education
sector is widely perceived to be deficient on several counts, the following
questions become even more crucial.
* How responsive is
academe to the needs of business and industry, especially for educated manpower?
* How aware are
Philippine higher education institutions of the new realities in the global
economy and the educational implications of the rapid pace of change in the
* Are our
universities and colleges preparing their students for the workplace of the
future, not that of the past?
In many Asian countries, there is a sense of urgency to invest in higher
education as a strategic response to major changes in domestic needs, as well as
in the dynamics of global competition. There is a real danger, therefore, that
the Philippines may lag even further behind its neighbors if its tertiary
education sector continues to underachieve. If Filipino university and college
graduates are poorly educated and inadequately prepared for the workplace,
Philippine business firms and the country as a whole cannot compete in the
global knowledge-based economy.
Can Academe Rise to the Challenge?
The emergence of the
knowledge economy and the rise of KBBs have many strategic implications for
Philippine higher education. I have identified at least eight such major
implications and issues:
The challenge of meeting the expected surge in demand for higher
education and of managing the expansion of the tertiary education sector in the
The entry of new and nontraditional providers and the competitive
threat they pose to established universities and colleges
Various questions related to curriculum and pedagogy
The need to strengthen graduate education programs and improve
The issue of “internationalization” of Philippine higher education
institutions (HEIs), i.e., the integration of an international or global
dimension into their outlook and operations, especially if they want to produce
graduates who can be competitive in a global knowledge-based economy
The need to distinguish university education from technical training
The need for clearer role differentiation among Philippine HEIs and
the challenge of strategic positioning
The need for better articulation between higher and basic education
The need for
closer collaboration among academe, business, and government policy makers
universities and colleges can effectively deal with these strategic implications
and issues in the next decade or so remains to be seen. Ultimately, however, it
becomes a question of whether Philippine HEIs are willing to change and to adapt
to the changing local, regional, and global environment in which they operate.
Why “Back to Basics” Won’t Be Enough
For some time now, there have been calls from various quarters for “going
back to the basics” as a way out of the educational quagmire that the country
seems to be in. It is a sound first step. However, this response falls way short
of what Filipinos will need to thrive in the knowledge economy.
The reasons are clear: The demands of the workplace have significantly changed
and will continue to change in many ways. It used to be that if you worked hard
and played by the rules, a high school diploma would be enough for you to land a
good job and maybe even rise to the top. Today, even a bachelor’s degree may not
get you anywhere. It is still possible to get low-paying entry-level jobs, but
for the really good jobs, a solid academic foundation beyond high school, along
with a base of occupational knowledge or expertise, has become indispensable.
Moreover, practically everyone in knowledge-intensive firms and positions is
expected to have a set of “soft skills” that were formerly required only of
senior managers and professionals. Indeed, the knowledge economy has “upped the
ante” in terms of the individual competencies and qualities needed for
performing well in today’s and tomorrow’s workplace.
The author obtained
his doctorate in higher education from Teachers College, Columbia University,
New York City. He is currently Dean of the School of Education, University of
Asia and the Pacific.
Educating Filipinos for the Knowledge Economy by Celerino C. Tiongco