The Department of Education (DepEd) has found an unlikely ally in the full implementation of its K-12 program. He’s no esteemed academic with a string of doctorate degrees, but a self-made businessman, leading hairdresser and gay icon with a big heart.
Ricky Reyes, philanthropist and owner of a chain of beauty salons and technical-vocational schools (tech-voc in DepEd parlance) carrying his name, is offering potential investors the know-how to put up their own tech-voc schools as the country’s first batch of high school students reach the 11th grade next school year.
DepEd’s K-12 program covers kindergarten and the first 12 years of basic education. As mandated by law, both private and public schools are required to teach 11th and 12th graders vocational skills that will help them land jobs after graduation.
“And once these high school students reach the last two years of school, emphasis will be less on academics and more on practical vocational courses,” Reyes said.
Surge in demand
Facilities and courses offered by the government-run Technical Education and Skills Development Authority won’t be enough to meet the surge in demand so the private sector should step in, he said.
Apart from latest trends in hair and makeup, Reyes, or “Mother” to close friends and employees, has become adept at running tech-voc schools since he opened the first Ricky Reyes Learning Institute in 1995. It has so far produced nearly 90,000 graduates.
He now runs three branches located in Quiapo, Manila, and Cubao and Anonas in Quezon City.
The tech-voc chain specializes in beauty care, which includes hairdressing and cosmetology, and hotel and restaurant services (HRS). It plans to add building wiring, electricity and welding.
HRS—housekeeping, bartending and basic hotel, kitchen and restaurant operations—has been attracting a lot of young men these days, Reyes said.
Traditional courses like automotive and refrigeration, which most of the country’s other tech-voc schools focus on, are no longer as popular as before, he said.
Ricky Reyes Learning Institute is the only reputable tech-voc school in Metro Manila offering “soft” courses since the likes of Realistic and Madame Kollerman have closed.
“K-12 is a beautiful law that would give both parents and children a choice,” said Reyes, who didn’t finish college, as he became the family’s breadwinner at a young age.
“Let’s face it, not all families have the money to send their kids to college. And not all kids are cut out for it. Some are either not that bright or are distracted and unable to focus because of family problems,” he said.
K-12 would give children a fighting chance in life even without finishing a four-year college course, he added.
But Reyes, a voracious reader of current events, saw early on a major problem in the implementation of the program: The country’s public schools are poorly equipped to handle it.
“Imagine, some public schools have begun soliciting old blowers, scissors and towels from me,” he said. “If you were studying, how would you be inspired to learn if you’re using hand-me-downs?”
Even private schools are scampering for loans from private and public sources to put up tech-voc facilities.
The problem goes deeper than that. As the last two years of high school is uncharted territory for most teachers, many are ill-equipped to impart vocational skills to their students. That’s where Reyes comes in.
He is meeting with local government leaders and businessmen, offering his institute’s modular studies and “ladderized” form of vocational schooling, an approach that he has perfected in the last two decades.
In cosmetology, for instance, his school offers six to seven modules. For beauty care, which includes haircutting, it offers six. Each course also has lessons in English to further boost the students’ confidence and employability.
“In the world we live in, it’s not enough that you have skills,” he said. “If you can’t express yourself, then how can you be employed?”
Reyes is franchising these modules and the training that goes with implementing them to interested businessmen for a fee. He has waived royalties for the use of his name.
“My ultimate goal is to have one tech-voc school per town all over the country,” he said.
Investors don’t have to build schoolbuildings. Reyes is encouraging them to lease existing buildings in their localities to house the schools.
“We will also help them with the training,” he said. “There are plenty of trainable out-of-job teachers out there who are interested and capable of teaching vocational courses.”
To give them a stake in their community’s development, Reyes wants teachers to be residents of the towns and cities where they will teach.
Hiring locals will also facilitate faster transfer of information because teachers and students share the same culture and language.
Reyes assures potential investors of the business’ viability. DepEd, he said, is allotting P79,000 per public school student in the form of collectible vouchers. Students would need to use the vouchers for getting tech-voc education if they are to graduate.
“I’m not discouraging kids from going to college,” he said. “If they have the means and the brains, they should aim for a degree. But if they don’t, that’s OK. We now have this.”
Reyes is one of the country’s first celebrity businessmen to pioneer education and livelihood programs for the poor.
In 1984, he started “Hanap Buhay, Bagong Buhay, Isang Gunting, Isang Suklay” to teach unemployed Filipinos haircutting skills. The program benefited 130,000 people across the country, he said.
During the time of former first lady Amelita Ramos, Reyes assisted her in implementing a number of programs for the poor, including Operation Headstart, which, in the absence of kindergarten, encouraged prepared preschoolers to attend elementary school.
Even after Ramos left, Reyes continued with his sociocivic work, spearheading Munting Paraiso and Child Haus.
Both programs assist young cancer patients, especially those from poor families in the provinces, in getting temporary shelter and optimum medical care while undergoing treatment in Metro Manila.
Reyes assured the public and his employees that he’s not about to close shop.
But he needs to further venture into tech-voc education because there’s an impending need for it, he said.
Rather than complain about the problem, “I want to be part of the solution,” he said.