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Confronting Education Woes: Less Politics, More Resource Management Favoring the Poor

Confronting Education Woes: Less Politics, More Resource Management Favoring the Poor

Jan 14, 2012

Confronting Education Woes: Less Politics, More Resource Management Favoring the Poor

by Clarissa V. Militante

Like a popular telenovela, the first State of the Nation Address (SONA) of President Noynoy Aquino on July 26 is very much anticipated and has created a lot of expectation.  But these expectations could also be the result of the inaugural speech which, though it underscored important challenges that the new government promised to prioritize, had been found wanting in specific policy articulations. Education is one area where the much needed policy reform is awaited—is, in fact, long overdue.

In Central Mindanao, it is common for elementary schools to have only two to three classrooms. The norm is for two classes to share one classroom at a time to accommodate all students and class schedules.  Two teachers simultaneously conduct a class for two different grade levels, with a hundred students cramped together in a 20 square meter-room.

In most towns, many of the teachers still have not passed the licensure examination for teachers are still ineligible, while others do not have items in the local government due to budgetary constraint. The latter are considered volunteers, entitled only to a meager allowance (P50 a month in many cases).  Thus when a teacher vacates his or her position, it is immediately felt by the students themselves.  In an interview, a staff member of Oxfam-Great Britain based in Cotabato City shared a story about 90 grade one pupils who in 2009 trooped to the house of their teacher to beg her to return to school, as there was no-one to replace her.  The teacher stopped coming to school because she had not received her allowance equivalent to a year; she couldn’t turn down the request of the innocents so she came back.

These incidents comprise just a small picture of what have been ailing the Philippine education system for decades. One is therefore befuddled by the attention being given to the debate on whether or not there should be sex education; this was the question that haunted De La Salle brother, Armin Luistro, on his first day as education secretary.  This is the news that has been hogging the headlines.

There have been statistics upon statistics about increasing drop-out rates, lack of school and other learning facilities, lack of resources for teacher training and instructional materials development; about poverty that constrains parents and communities from sending their children to school and other more basic problems that could have been considered more worrisome than the issue of sex education.

And if it is sex education that concerns parents, schools, the education department and the Catholic Church, there is more to whether children should learn about their reproductive organs and the functions of these, or about sexuality at a young age.  Consider this picture: in 2009 this writer visited schools in parts of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao and Sultan Kudarat which didn’t have toilet facilities so that the students and teachers had to relieve themselves behind trees, sometimes in full view of a young audience amused by the situation. Stories abound on how those in the higher grade levels, who were on the throes of teen-hood, had thought it normal to be ridiculed when they lowered down their short pants (the boys) or had to rely alone on the security provided by their skirts (the girls).  Imagine what teachers must have gone through.

When the toilet facilities in a number of schools were constructed through international non-government funding, the pupils were so excited finding out that girls and boys should have separate cubicles.  It was reported that many pupils often left their classrooms to ‘try out’ the new facilities.

Basic Education Woes
Accessibility and sustainability remain the crux of the problem of the education system, in the basic education sector in particular.  Before one can even deal with the woes of higher education, one has to hurdle getting access to and enrolled in elementary school and staying in it to complete elementary and secondary education—whether it is quality education that will equip one for higher education is another predicament.

When one talks about the Philippine education system and its problems, one generally refers to the public education system as it is not only where majority of the enrollees are found but it is also influenced, shaped and affected by government policies and political decision-making. According to the Department of Education (DepEd) September 2009 Fact Sheet, out of the average annual enrollment rate of 13.2 million students in elementary schools in the school years 2004 – 2009, enrollment in public schools averaged 12.2 million; only an average of one million enrolled in private schools per school year. In the secondary level, the average enrollment rate from 2004 to 2009 was 6.5 million students per school year; of this total, an average of 5.15 million enrolled in public high schools while private high schools had a meager share of 1.35 million. Majority of Filipino families still send their children to public schools for basic education.

Affecting accessibility and sustainability are the capability of families to send their children to school on one hand, and on the other, the capacity of government to provide schools that will absorb these children and enough adequately trained teachers to prepare these young Filipinos for higher education.

According to the 2003 Family Income and Expenditure Survey (FIES) conducted by the National Statistics and Census Board (NSCB), spending on education was only 4.2 percent of total family income.  Education’s share in the family’s budget in 2003 was 4.0. Education ranked fourth out of 18 items in terms of share according to major expenditure group within a Filipino family; house rental and expenditure for utilities such as water, electricity, transportation and communication had to come first. The highest spending was still on food, claiming 43.1 percent of total family expenditure in 2003. Poverty and the costs associated with education are the main reasons why children and the youth are out of school.

The NSCB survey “Percentage of students aged six to 24 who were not attending schools” showed that 11.64 million Filipinos in this age group were not in school.  Cited as third major reason for not attending school was the high cost of education; the first reason was “searching for employment”. The top four reasons were: searching for employment (30.5 percent); lack of interest in schooling (22); high cost of education (19.9), and; involved in housekeeping (11.8).

Meanwhile according to the United Nations’ 2009 Philippine Human Development Report (PHDR), Philippine government spending per public school student increased a measly 1.38 percent per year in real terms from 2003 to 2008. Government investment in education still has not met the global standard of 5 to 6 percent of GDP.

Salaries and wages for the bureaucracy comprised 80 percent of the budget of the department of education, once considered the biggest government bureaucracy. A measly 8 percent was left for operating expense, which also covered purchase of supplies, even as almost nothing went to teacher training, instructional material development, curricular reform and other pedagogy-related components, said the report.

Department of Budget and Management (DBM) data support these claims.  According to DBM, capital outlay for “Construction of Elementary and High Schools in Areas Experiencing Acute Shortage” in 2005 was P1 billion (about 1.6 percent) of the total P102.58 billion education budget; in 2007 P1.6 billion out of the total education budget of P126.8 billion was spent for said school constructions.  Its share in the total budget even decreased to 1.26 percent.

For “Support to Operations”, which are considered mandatory obligations, P14.78 million went to Maintenance and Other Operating Expenses (MOOE) for the elementary education sector and P21.37 million for the secondary education sector, both in 2005. In 2007, the allocation for these mandatory obligations increased: P30 million for the elementary school sector and P25.96 million for the secondary education sector.  The P167.94-billion budget for 2009 assigned P2 billion for the department’s school building program, or 1.2 percent of the total budget.  The figures would show that the nominal amount for the much needed schools construction may be increasing, but in relation to the total education budget, it is actually declining.

The UN report also highlighted that the department had survived, during the period mentioned, by too much dependence on official development assistance (ODA) for programs aimed at reforming education content and improving infrastructure.  This, the PHDR said, had resulted in the failure to mainstream education reform projects.

In his inaugural speech, President Noynoy Aquino said his government will continue with the cash transfer program, one objective of which is to encourage parents, discouraged by poverty, to send their children to school. However, it might take more than cash incentives to ensure that students enroll and stay in school; students, especially in poor rural areas, need proper school buildings, learning facilities and good, qualified teachers first.

The other major problem is ensuring that students complete elementary and high school education. Former education secretary Florencio Abad, now Aquino’s budget secretary, can give the new administration a heads up on the situation of basic public education.

Abad, in his 2007 paper “The State of Philippine Basic Public Education: Problems and Approaches,” pointed to sustainability as another problematic area that had to be addressed.  He cited these 2007 figures in his paper presented during a conference in Dumaguete city: out of an average of 1,000 children who enter Grade 1, more than 300 drop out before reaching Grade 6; drop-out rate between Grades 1 and 3 is two out of five and between Grades 4 and 6, three out of five.  Out of more than 600 elementary school graduates, a little over 400 complete elementary in six years while about 250 finish it in 9.6 years due to repetition.  Poverty is still the underlying cause of the inaccessibility of education and the lack of sustainability, as one out of five poor families have children aged seven to 14 years who never attended school or had been drop-outs at the lower grade levels.

Low Quality of Education Debacle
Statistics characterizing the skills and competencies of graduating elementary and high school students have not been very encouraging either.  The average scores in the DepEd-administered national achievement tests have not gone beyond 60 percent in recent school years.  Data from DepEd September 2007 Fact Sheet  would reveal that the average score in Mathematics of Grade 6 students in the school years 2004 to 2008 was 60 percent; in Science, 59 percent; in English, 59 percent.  In high school, the scores in the national achievement test were more dismal: 45 percent for Mathematics; 42 percent for Science and 51 percent for English from 2004 to 2008. In 2005, a study made by the non-government group Kaakbay Citizens’ Development Initiatives (KAAKBAY CDI) reported that only six out of 100 students at that time were ready for high school, while the Philippines ranked 41 in Science and 42 in Mathematics in a study that involved 45 countries.

Government had not been lacking in solutions and approaches, but the more critical question is which would really work?

Various initiatives aimed at curriculum reform had been undertaken.  One, which even became controversial, was the integration of the subjects Arts, Music, Physical Education, Home Technology and Araling Panlipunan (Social Studies), with Social Studies as the core subject and the teaching of citizenship and patriotism as the main values to be promoted.  This program, initiated under former secretary Raul Roco, reaped both criticism and praise.  If one closely studies the set of competencies and knowledge that the integrated basic education curriculum want to develop and teach, here is a program that is excellent on paper but has not been thoroughly implemented because teachers have not been equipped enough to do integrated teaching.

Another proposition awaiting policy support or disapproval is the addition of two more years of basic education; the Philippines is one of only two countries that don’t have 12-year basic education. Other countries have 11 to 14. This proposition was previously met with resistance, mostly coming from parents who already found it difficult to put their students through all six years of elementary schooling. Other education reform advocates were concerned about having more changes in the basic education curriculum when the previous ones still need to be fully implemented and their effectiveness evaluated.

Increased use of technology to enhance the global competitiveness of Filipino students as an approach to improving the quality of education has won followers and critics alike.  Abad himself had raised concerns in 2007 over the education department’s Cyber Education project. In his paper, he cited its inappropriateness, the department’s lack of expertise to manage the project and the high costs required to implement it as reasons. Saying it was donor driven, he also saw a disconnect between education problems (high drop-out rate, poor quality of education, inadequate basic education, malnutrition and poor health conditions of students and poverty) and multi-media technology as solution.

The new government is in a tight spot, with meager public resources to contend with. It is clear from data coming from government itself that there is a need to make decisions on how to use the resources, in particular that which is intended for the education sector—decisions on whether to sustain a huge bureaucracy or sustain the education of poor Filipino children, and in general on how to spend money wisely.

The new government’s pronouncements will need more back up in terms of political will and require that less attention is given to political consideration and payback.  As Michael Berger said in his book “The Public School System,” this system is most affected by forces external to it, such as a country’s people, government agencies interacting with the education department, as well as other social and economic forces that influence decisions made on behalf of the education sector. There is no scarcity of expert and well-intentioned education reform advocates from academe and non-government organizations who could be tapped to help in the reform initiatives; less technocratic perspective limited by considerations for return on investment on “human capital” and more orientation towards holistic human development in favor of the marginalized might be needed. – FOP

2009 Philippine Human Development Report
September 2009 Department of Education Fact Sheet
2003 Family and Income Expenditure Survey Report by NSCB
Republic Act 9336 or General Appropriations Act for FY 2005 by DBM
Republic Act 9401or General Appropriations Act for FY 2007

 (Published in Focus on the Philippines July 2010: http://focusweb.org/oldphilippines/content/view/439/52/)

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