Having worked in schools in the Philippines for 13 years and having dealt with groups of students from four other countries including Japan, I would basically describe Filipino students as one of the best learners in the world, with abilities and skills comparable even to those in advanced countries. The fact that our skilled workers and professionals are hired in various parts of the world tells much of what our people can do and can further achieve if given enough funds, facilities, and materials to excel in science and other intellectual researches. It is just sad that our nation is still impoverished despite the potentials of our people, and that our national programs continue to focus on other issues instead of pouring more attention to education. In most cases, quality education is unaffordable in the Philippines. When would we realize that having a well-educated citizenry equates to a speedy economic recovery and a stable society?
Majority of the Filipino workers who arrived in Japan in the eighties had difficulties entering or finishing school in the Philippines either owing to poverty or truancy. Over the ten years of my stay in Japan, more than half of the 20 women I met here in my town alone did not have a college education and many had not even finished high school. Yet, despite their limited education, their abilities and skills at hard work (such as handling machinery, doing factory jobs and construction work, running laundry shops, and preparing lunch boxes) are usually better and so are preferred by their employers. Until recently, their status was quite an assurance for a continuing job. Although odd jobs like these difficult and not stable, not covered by health and security insurances, and unprotected by the government, many of our people prefer to endure the difficulties and lack in services because after all, the conditions here for these jobs are still much better than what they would have if they were working in the Philippines.
Entertainers and factory workers get stuck to where they are now because continuing education is usually not provided to non-Japanese; also, with the meager income they get, vocational and college education here is far from affordable to them. If only our high school graduates possessed other vocational skills, near-native English abilities, and business entrepreneurship qualities, it would be easier for them to shift to more rewarding jobs. On the other hand, because a college degree here is considered a big credential, Filipinos in Japan who possess a degree have more choices in acquiring office or white-collar jobs.
But there is some hope for our marginalized people here, particularly in finding temporary or permanent jobs in areas that the local citizens here find difficult to fill, such as English teaching and care-giving. Professional nurses from the Philippines have just arrived here, but if they fail their board exams in Japan, some of them may just end up teaching English in a few years time. Filipino degree-holders here are now attracted to join English teaching now that the native English speakers like the Americans, British, and Canadians are finding the big cuts in salaries caused by the difficult economic conditions here as a signal to shift to a high-paying position.
Indeed, the recent economic downturn here prompted many of our Filipino workers who had been laid off from their technical jobs to shift to new lines of service. In particular, five Filipino women in my neighborhood have just started their three-month care-giving courses, engineers whose contracts have just ended are now considering getting themselves trained to become English teachers, and other working and nonworking women here have embarked on a series of English-teaching trainings. There is a need for a complete overhaul of skills among them. Since English is not a native tongue to many, it has to be relearned and mastered by the Filipinos here if they we wish to be retained as language teachers in Japan. It must be kept in mind that the obsession here to learn English from native English speakers is prevalent.
The conditions that Filipinos are currently experiencing in Japan could be an eye-opener to our educators, government and local schools back in the Philippines. How do we mold the citizens to acquire skills in various fields in order to survive economic recessions, competition at work, and changes in job locations? How do we provide the Filipino OFWs in Japan who have no mastery of Nihongo, particularly kanji, with opportunities to take studies that are available only to the Nihongo-proficient?
My own little effort as seminar lecturer and simple teacher here may not achieve much considering the huge need of Filipinos for further education and training. For instance, the Filipino nurses who have just arrived here are beginners in Japanese, which is the language used in the board exams that they need to take in the future. How many years should they spend to master the language so they can become successful fulltime workers?
If Japan is to be another main destination for our workers, teachers, nurses, caregivers, and other workers in the Philippines, then at least our public high schools to begin with should teach them to acquire enough mastery of Nihongo and Japanese culture before coming to Japan. So many other thing need to be considered to make more Filipinos truly viable for employment in Japan, but these few suggestions should suffice for now.