Carlo's Think Pieces

Reflections of a Filipino in the Netherlands

Archive for July, 2009

Require nursing students to have high NCEE scores

Posted by butalidnl on 31 July 2009

The June 2009 Nursing Board Exam results came out last 27 July, and I was dismayed to note that less than 45% of the examinees had passed it.  Just think about it – almost 40,000 people who had wasted 4 years of study,  with all the expenses and effort this entailed. Of course, there will be many who will try again, but by the next time there will be tens of thousands more hopefuls who will get their dreams dashed.

I believe that something needs to be done to avoid all this waste.  Pushing nursing schools to improve their quality can only go so far, after all, the schools can only work with the “raw material” that they get, and it is not really in their interest to limit the number of nursing students.

Perhaps it would be a better idea to limit the number of students taking up a nursing course.  A quota system will not work, because it will most probably be unfair, prone to corruption, and inefficient.
I would rather suggest limiting the number according to exam results – no, not another exam; but simply by using the NCEE.  Nursing students could be required to have a relatively high NCEE score (something like 70 percentile or so). This way, nursing schools will be training better quality students to start with. And, since this system would lessen the pool of students, there would be a natural reduction in the number of nursing schools.

See also: Philippine Nursing

Posted in Philippine education | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

BPO sector wages still low

Posted by butalidnl on 22 July 2009

The Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) sector in the Philippines is growing fast despite, and perhaps even because of, the current economic crisis. A big portion of this is in the form of call centers doing customer service. It now employs 400,000 people, and is projected to earn $11 billion a year by 2010. Wages in this sector have increased 10% yearly for the past few years, and some people are calling for a slowing down of wage increases because they fear that the Philippines would be priced out of the BPO market.

I do not share this view.  The BPO sector is not like the textile sector, which kept transferring to countries with cheaper labor. The BPO sector requires workers with English and IT proficiency, which the Philippines has in large numbers. For the call center subsector, the Philippines has the added advantage in that Filipinos’ accent is relatively easy to neutralize (this is in contrast to the Indian accent, for example).  Countries with better English proficiency have higher labor costs than the Philippines.  In addition, Filipinos are more service-oriented, which is quite an advantage when it comes to customer-service work.

While wages may have increased rather rapidly, they are doing so from a low base. Call center agents earn about 10% of what US-based call center agents earn. Wages in India (which is the number one in BPO) are higher than in the Philippines. We can say that wages are still low (PhP 13,000 for entry-level agents) in that they are not yet attractive enough for many potential workers.  The BPO also indirectly competes with OFW labor, in that they are an alternative for overseas contract work; and compared to what workers could earn overseas, BPO compensation is still low.

The Philippine BPO sector is far from saturated or overpriced.  The 2010 target earnings of $11 billion is a small part of the world total BPO services which will be $180 billion in 2010. The bigger problem that the sector faces in the Philippines is the potential lack of workers.  BPO companies need to go to the provinces in the hope of tapping the labor pool there. Also, there needs to be stepped-up training of “near-hires”(those who barely failed to qualify for call-center work) to improve their English proficiency and other skills.

In order for the BPO sector to keep growing, it is important to improve the quality of our college graduates, and also to provide the necessary infrastructure e.g. broad-band internet, reliable electricity supply,  office space etc.  And more efforts need to be made to broaden the range of BPO services, beyond the present reliance on mainly call centers.

Higher wages for BPO workers will more likely help its long-term development than hinder it. It would give its workers an incentive to make BPO work into a career rather than a short-term job, resulting in less turnover of workers. It would give an incentive to develop other kinds of BPO services.  And more, higher paid, workers would strengthen the local economies of regional centers, which in turn would make it possible to improve the quality of infrastructure and education.

Posted in Philippine economics | Tagged: , , | 5 Comments »

Safeguards needed for government’s linked databases

Posted by butalidnl on 16 July 2009

The government recently announced  that vehicle owners with outstanding fines will not be able to renew their vehicle registration, due to linking of the computer systems of the LTO and MMDA.  My first reaction to this news item was: do they mean to say that people were merrily renewing their vehicle registrations even if they ignored paying various LTO fines and penalties? For me, that was the news. In fact, it seems that people in the provinces will go on with doing just that – since the computer link-up is valid for Metro Manila only.

Here in the Netherlands, all kinds of government databases are linked. And, while we may marvel at the high-tech nature of this all, it often is quite annoying. For example, Dutch citizens who return to the country after having a vacation are regularly checked by the police to see if they owe the government anything – and they have to pay all these fines (plus interest) before they are allowed to go back into the country.

And if the immigration authorities are delayed in processing a foreign resident’s permit-to-stay, the poor foreigner will suddenly be treated as an illegal alien by all government agencies. These are just some of the harsh results from the linking of government databases.

Thus, while linked databases helps to catch sneaky citizens who don’t pay fines on time, it also brings all kinds of inconveniences for ordinary people. And in the Philippines, the linked databases may actually increase corruption by government officials who will then have a bigger stick to threaten ordinary people.  And there could also be a new field for “fixers” – in order to clean one’s record or get the necessary benefits despite being blacklisted.

There needs to be some safeguards to ensure that linked government databases become an instrument for more efficient government, while not being oppressive.  One measure is to allow citizens to see the details of their records, which should name the government office and the person who filed the “alarm listing”.   Another could be the prohibition of the police from accessing a person’s records without judicial approval.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

Solar’s future is not blue

Posted by butalidnl on 2 July 2009

Solar energy is approaching “grid parity”, which is the point where the cost of solar energy will be equal or less than the cost of electricity from the grid.  We could expect it to happen, at least for the sunnier areas, in about 3 to 5 years. But this does not mean that, all of a sudden, every house will have blue solar panels on their roofs.  It will most probably happen quite “invisibly”, in that it won’t be that obvious. What will solar electricity post “grid parity” look like?

Deserts first
The first places which will generate solar electricity will naturally be in open spaces with lots of sun. Deserts are ideal, since it has lots of sun, and is usually not used for much else.  Grid parity will arrive first for these areas, since it would produce much more electricity (and thus making it relative cheap) than in urban areas, for example.

While many areas that use electricity may be far away from deserts, there are enough places where the desert is near population centers.  In Egypt, for example, the desert is literally next to the cities. This is also the case in more places in the middle east.  Some countries are already starting to set up solar facilities: the UAE’s Masdar city project is one example (it is a city designed to run on solar and wind energy).

While Arabian countries export oil, which (theoretically) competes with solar energy; they are also conscious that the oil will not last forever – they will go solar to prepare for the post-oil future. Also, it is also a big waste of the desert if they don’t do this.

Industrial and Commercial Roofs Next
The cost for solar energy go down as the area covered gets bigger. Thus, bigger buildings will be cost-effective for solar energy earlier than for houses.  In the US, the price of electricity from the grid averages 9 cents per KwH, and solar PV averages about 21 cents/KwH for commercial and industrial roofs.  With the coming of the new generation of PV Laminates,which are less efficient than the present “blue” panels but much cheaper, the price of solar electricity will be about 10cents/KwH.  With constant improvement of technology, and lowering of costs,   the price of solar electricity will be equal or even less than grid electricity in a couple of years, for bigger buildings.
For houses, however, it will probably be 5 years or more before grid parity will be achieved, even using PV laminates. (Another thing about PV laminates, is that it will be marketed mainly to the large-scale market, at least in the first few years)

Not “blue”
Solar energy technological developments make it more likely that the face of solar energy will not be the familiar blue solar panels. As mentioned above, PV laminates will be used more often for buildings (these would be either brown or gray). Then there are other technologies that would likely be used for generating electricity in open spaces. Concentrating solar towers use a whole field of mirrors to concentrate sunlight which is used to heat a liquid which runs a turbine. The project in Sevilla, Spain uses this technology.
Another technique is the solar-thermal tower.  With this, a big area is covered with a transparent plastic, and there is a horizontal tube in the middle. The sun heats the ground under the plastic, causing the air to rise out the tower. The rising air, as well as the air rushing to replace it, could then be used to run fans which generate electricity. This technique is less efficient in terms of electricity per area of ground used. However, it is relatively cheap to build; and if the ground price is cheap, the area that will be used will not be an issue.

Building materials
Various techniques are also being developed to integrate solar cells with building materials. The PV laminates could be made integral in the roofing material. Thus, the PV capacity comes together with the roof; rather than the present practice of placing the “blue” solar panels on the roof. This would make the whole operation cheaper.

Then there are various “printed PV” technologies which could integrate PV capacity on glass and walls of buildings.

All in all, PV grid parity will mean that solar electricity will be generated in relatively “invisible” ways or out-of-the-way places. In comparison, the present system of blue panels on roofs will look like hobbyist’s projects.

See also: Solar energy links

Posted in environment, solar energy | Tagged: , | 2 Comments »