The frantic race to save the jobs of our seafarers

The globalization of educational standards has finally caught up with us in painful and shocking ways. Filipino seafarers, particularly at the officer level, may soon be barred from working on European ships because their training does not meet the global standards set by the International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping ( STCW).

Contrary to the opinion that there is no danger of this happening soon, I feel that we are facing a very serious emergency. Diplomatic calls can buy us a little more time, at most a year. But unless we can drastically pull ourselves together in the coming months, there is no way we can avoid the dreaded cancellation of our status as a source of qualified maritime officers. At stake are the jobs of around 50,000 Filipinos who currently work in well-paid positions on European Union ships.

Since 2006, EU-mandated European Maritime Safety Agency (Emsa) inspectors have repeatedly and in great detail pointed out serious shortcomings in the way we train and certify maritime officers . In response, we have committed to implementing corrective measures, such as revisions to curricula and teaching methods.

Successive audits carried out by Emsa in 2010, 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2017 however found that these shortcomings were recurrent and the corrective measures ineffective. The persistence of these shortcomings indicates a fundamental weakness not only in the maritime education system as a whole, but also in the government’s ability to monitor, evaluate and modernize the nation’s maritime education institutions. The two main government bodies that have assumed this responsibility are the Maritime Industry Authority (Marina) and the Commission for Higher Education (CHEd).

While the impending withdrawal of EU recognition (given in 2002) of Filipino seafarers’ qualifications mainly concerns those who work as officers and officers in charge on EU-flagged vessels, a negative judgment on the quality Our overall maritime education is certain to shape the perceptions of competence of all our seafarers who work as deckhands and support staff on European and overseas vessels. Worse, it could jeopardize our position in the International Maritime Organization, which maintains a “white list” of countries allowed to deploy certified maritime workers.

For too long we have rested on the belief that our people are capable of dominating the maritime occupations of the world because of their fluency in English, their inherent sympathy and their willingness to work long hours for less pay. . Indeed, these characteristics largely explain the preferential treatment enjoyed by Filipino seafarers everywhere.

But no country that sends tens of thousands of new sailors each year, on top of the more than half a million already there, can avoid being asked whether it has the capacity to train these sailors so adequately. let him deploy them quickly.

In the marine industry, safety is of the utmost importance. It is hard to think of comparable areas in education where the knowledge, skills and abilities expected of each graduate are as explicitly defined as in maritime education.

The STCW is the gospel of maritime education. It comes with a code book containing skill, knowledge and skill tables, as well as detailed assessment and assessment criteria.

It is this codebook that serves as the main reference for Emsa when evaluating the country’s maritime education and training system. For two to three weeks, its inspection teams visit maritime higher education institutions, observe classes, inspect equipment, examine curricula and various academic records. They review the procedures followed by government regulatory agencies, including Marina and CHEd.

The inspection report they draw up after each visit contains detailed observations on the country’s compliance with the relevant provisions of the STCW. The Philippine authorities have the opportunity to review the project, challenge the findings and propose amendments. Reading these audit reports, a layman working in our cultural milieu could easily think that the whole exercise is a matter of pettiness. But no one working in this field can argue with the disciplined professional effort that goes into these reports.

The European Commission, acting on behalf of the EU, has carefully reviewed the findings of Emsa’s 2020 audit. Reiterating the main shortcomings identified by the audit team, she concluded that the current level of training of our seafarers does not guarantee safe navigation at sea. He called on the Philippine government to submit a detailed plan for corrective measures and a precise timetable for their adoption and effective application. In a recent House hearing, a Marina official confirmed that he submitted the Philippines’ final compliance report in March 2022.

Serious as it is, the situation we face is complex. In many ways, the issues plaguing maritime education are the same ones plaguing the entire education system of the country. My fellow sociologist, Dr Cynthia Banzon-Bautista, who served as CHEd’s Oversight Commissioner for Maritime Education from 2012-2016, suspects that deep down the problem stems from our failure to embrace the paradigm shift of the 1990s. from a learning based on lectures. system to competence and results-based education, which is the hallmark of the European codebook for maritime training.

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