Shocking result from Manila licensure exams


At 75, Mary Lou Arcelo has learned to take things in stride. But the outcome of the July 2014 state licensure examinations for officer-in-charge of a navigational watch has hit the chairwoman of the Philippines’ John B Lacson Foundation Maritime University like a thunderbolt. Eleven JBLFMU cadets, all scholars of the Norwegian Shipowners Association (NSA), failed the written tests. Ironically, more than 40 regular cadets of the university passed. One of them even landed on 7th spot.

How could this happen? The scholars who flunked – said to be sponsored by Norwegian tanker operator Odjfell – had received more rigid training and, presumably, better classroom instruction than the regular students. Not less significantly, NSA auditors had been breathing down the necks of the JBLFMU administrators. Their constant tune: “Your school should meet our (that is to say European) standards”.

Dr Arcelo won’t dance to the music

Mary Lou is thinking the worst. “There’s a plot to put JBLFMU down,” says she. In any case, she’s exasperated with the system. Back in 1973, she tells us, she was approached by a visitor who requested a list of her students who were scheduled to take the examinations. The man assured her that they would pass and that she would receive her “share” under a certain arrangement. The offer was promptly turned down. Then as now, the woman will have nothing to do with that sort of chicanery.

What can anyone do? “The system,” she says, “will not change in 300 years”.

A friend of ours who’s familiar with the wheeling and dealing in Manila has some unsolicited advice for maritime educators such as Mary Lou Arcelo: “Dance to the music”. That sounds practical indeed. But woe to the Filipinos if everyone decides to tango on the dance floor and leave all idealism behind. ~Barista Uno



FOOTNOTE: All in all, it’s wonderful news for JBLFMU. Seven of its alumni hurdled the July 2014 marine deck exams with flying colours. Andro Federick Amaran Telesforo topped the Master Mariner exams with Cristito Celeste Cesumision Jr, Jun Subigca Solas, Rez Ivan Gepilano Eumag and Gerald Fred Magsipoc Alojipan placing 2nd, 4th, 6th and 7th, respectively. Cliffrich Santander Duran took 3rd spot in the Chief Mate exams whilst Date Aljo Dalipe was 7th in the OIC for Navigational Watch tests.

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8 Replies to “Shocking result from Manila licensure exams”

  1. Capt Richard Teo

    Here-in lies the problem. Marks and grades have no meaning in Competency Based Education, Training & Assessments. All candidates must be assessed AND JUDGED against achieving the standards and competencies that must be identified, agreed and published by the industry and regulators, namely the laid down Performance Criteria.


    50% MARKS IS 50% of the Knowledge and Skills required and therefore CONNOTES INCOMPETENT or NOT YET COMPETENT.

  2. Capt Alex

    Maritime education is an escape goat. Behind all this hullabaloo is the fact that the shipping business has made it so unattractive for people choosing a career path. Educators then have to work with people who mostly chose to be seafarers for the wrong reasons: So many either have no choice or feel that they have nowhere else to go in their career path. Lamentable too that in knowledge acquisition there are only a few that are like ‘pigs’ (will gobble up anything); the majority it seems are ‘sheep’ (one can always try to force something else in its throat but the animal will always want grass).

    We are simply asking too much from our educators, the task is comparable to, ‘turning stone to bread’.

    And what about many unscrupulous crewing agencies, training centers, medical clinics, (spurious)seafarers unions, and ship managements? Surely they all are just driving a useless wedge between ship owners and seafarers, and contributing to the negative image of the shipping business.

    So, how do we make the profession more attractive to the right kind of people or the tutor-able ‘pigs’? How do we motivate people to wholeheartedly choose to be seafarers, so educators finally will become really productive?

  3. Leon somar

    Barista, I think it’s time to change the system of our examination which was mostly copied from the US Coast Guard manual. Most of the questions are not work-related and call for memorizing things which are not being done on board – questions like dimension of bed in inter-island vessel, the dates of all conventions. We are not lawyers and even the type of welding on vessel bottom section is being asked and also the height of the lights of different sizes of vessels.

    Those questions are all nonsense. Doctors are being examined by the work they are doing, but seafarers are examined by various jobs like fireman,doctor, bomb expert,security guard guard,lawyer, oceanographer, weather forcaster, fire extiguisher maker, MARPOL lawyer, boat handler expert, naval architect, life ring maker and pyrotechnics maker.

    How could you memorize all these things? Those people in the administration are likely out of their mind. They only think of their share from seafarers’ enrolment in the review centers.

  4. Barista Uno

    Many thanks for sharing your views, gentlemen.

    @Captain Teo – Under the Philippine set-up, those who pass the written exams go on to the practical phase. I’m not sure, though, if the examiners go about assessing the competency of seafarers the proper way in either stage.

    @Captain Alex – Most Filipinos become seafarers for love of the money, not for love of the sea and the nautical life. That mindset is complemented by a system that’s overwhelmingly driven by money. It’s a symbiotic relationship of sorts.

    @Leon – I agree with both of you and Captain Teo on the need to change the system of examination and licensing. But how do you deal with the corruption?

    • Capt Richard Teo

      Barista et al,

      This issue of pure academics before practical sea time is the cause of the lack of competencies. The world has woken up to this problem.

      It has been all about rote and memorising chunks and chunks of data and information that do not spell out actual determined competences. Well and good for the build up of knowledge but is this knowledge aligned with the desired competences? You will find that it is not usually the case and too much misdirected academics fail to make the OOW-wannabe competent so how is he/she (cadet) going to learn at sea if the knowledge does not fall in with the activities and competences per the performance criteria.

      To my horror I found out that Performance criteria in Phillipines had no place in the assessment process. Masters have no formal idea about how to train mostly. Only a few seasoned teachers/trainers know this. Least of all CHED? MARINA may now be more aware and ready for change? Why the adherence to academics privileging examinations by regurgitation? When it is wrong!

      The system is in dire need of overhaul and though late but still viable to change quickly to competency based education add training (learner centred andragogy, not teacher centred pedagogy) as required by STCW and international convention. Teachers and trainers will hate this as it makes their work harder and more transparent because they have to be current and not “sages” with only academic knowledge. Assessments must be fair, transparent and no secrets between assessor and candidate. No Pass or Fail but assessed until found competent. If it takes 10 times so be it. If the candidate is still unable then back to sea/work place/training estab etc and pick up the rudiments and praxis again.

      If the Phillipines remain with the pedagogical academic mind set without pursuing CBETA, then the derecognition of your CoCs will happen as only scholars will be produced without competences per the rule. You will as the saying goes, produce paper engineers and desk top Masters.

      It is really painful and frustrating to see and read so much ignorance about competence and how it must be delivered to each candidate.The resistance to change is really very strong. Why? Remember Charles Darwin who said that its not about the strongest, cleverest or the fittest who survive, it’s the ones who are able to change.


  5. guiding light

    If we need to change the system, we need to go inside the system in order to put it on a proper course. Opinions and thoughts cannot simply guarantee objective changes in our industry. Our maritime administration should be manned mostly by seafarers who have the technical competency in our profession.

  6. Capt Alex

    Indeed, Barista, money makes the world go round. It is not just seafaring and Filipinos, even priests have to get some, too – the ox that pulls the plow needs to be fed…

    Although pay is a good come-on, one finds that more gives premium to RESPECT.

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