PH education: shortage of solutions?

Reducing state support for education and increasing private sector participation remain the administration’s solutions to the country’s education woes

IBON Features— Nine-year old Hilary is an incoming grade four pupil. Every day, she does regular rounds among houses near their community in Quezon City to gather “kalakal”, or pieces of scrap, plastic, and metal to sell. This adds little to her parents’ income, which is just enough for their daily meals. When school opens this June, her family does not know where to get the money for her school needs. “Wala po kasi kaming pambili ng gamit,” she said.

Hilary is one of the many Filipino children who have a hard time going to school because the family’s income is not enough. They eventually drop out, not finishing their education because of the growing cost of going to school. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that education should be free; elementary education shall be compulsory, and “higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.” But as shown by data and trends, this is not the case in the country.

Data from the Department of Education (DepEd) shows that out of 100 Grade 1 students, only 66 are able to continue through elementary and finish Grade 6. Of that number, 58 get to enroll in high school, but only 43 finish it. Of the 43 only 23 are able to enroll in college while 10 enroll in a vocational course. Only 14 out of the 23 higher education enrollees and 7 out of the 10 vocational course enrollees get to finish their degree.

Shortages are also glaring. The classroom shortage is pegged at 152,569 classrooms for school year 2011-2012. There is a shortage of more than 150,000 water and sanitation facilities and some 13.23 million school chairs. There is also a need for around 95,600,000 textbooks. On top of these shortages is the lack of teachers, short by 104,000.

The severe lack of education facilities inevitably reflects on Filipino students’ poor performance. The results of the National Achievement Test (NAT) for elementary supposedly showed improved students’ performance from previous years but with a low achievement rate of 68% in school year 2009-2010. NAT results in the secondary level show even poorer performance with a 45.6% achievement rate.

State neglect

The inaccessibility and poor quality of Philippine education shows that it remains to be a neglected state responsibility. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) recommends that 6% of gross national product (GNP) must be spent on education. The Philippine government, however, is spending only 2% of GNP on this social service, lagging behind Malaysia, Indonesia and developed countries for primary education.

The much-hyped increase in the 2012 national government budget allocation for the DepEd only targets to finance the building of 27% of the backlog in classrooms, fill up 20% of the shortage in desks and about 12% of the shortage in teachers. It also sets P1 million to subsidize the Government Assistance to Students and Teachers in Private Education (GASTPE), which finances poor students to enroll in private institutions.

Despite this increase, the maximum amount that state universities and colleges (SUCs) may request from the Bureau of Treasury got a net decrease of Php142.44 million. Fifty SUCs get a combined budget cut of Php569.8 million in 2012. The 10.1% supposed increase in the budget of SUCs is still a stand-by fund, the disbursement of which would still be subject to the approval of the President.

While allocating insufficient funds to cover backlogs and services in public education and while directing funds in favor of private education, government would allocate more than double this amount to non-productive debt servicing through interest payments at Php333.11 billion and the off-budget Php405.5 billion for principal payments. There is also an 11.5% increase in the defense budget. IBON computations reveal that if 10% of the debt and defense budgets were redirected to education, the amount would be more than enough to cover remaining education shortages.

On top of state neglect, another issue that burdens students is the rising tuition and other matriculation fees. Last school year, around 324 higher education institutions raised their tuition fees by an average of 10.6%, with tuition increases ranging from Php21 to Php73 per unit.

Reducing state support

Amid these woes, the Aquino administration’s solution is to reduce state support to education further. Its K+12 program institutes Universal Kindergarten and adds two years to high school, thus likewise extending the burden of education expenses on families especially the poor.

K+12 will supposedly put the country’s education at par with the supposed quality of schooling abroad and arm high school graduates with technical and vocational skills that would land them jobs even without going to college. However, just as it is unable to fully address current shortages in education, government has allocated inadequate funds for this program. For instance, the Universal Kindergarten program entails the hiring of volunteer teachers with an education degree, but due to shortages, the DepEd eventually allowed parents with any background in education to volunteer for the position for a measly monthly salary of Php3,000-Php6,000.

The direction of integrating vocational and technical trainings in the high school curriculum is in accordance with the World Bank’s Education for All (EFA) Agenda. As students are expected to work after finishing high school, this also fits government’s inclination to further reduce state support for college education.

Another solution by the administration is to hand the task of addressing school building backlogs to the private sector through the public-private partnerships (PPPs). The assumption is that private firms that win the bidding will take over government’s duty to construct school buildings and facilities. Outside the Philippines, experiences with PPPs in classroom construction show that the public has shouldered more expenses. In the United Kingdom, for instance, the cost of capital of private finance initiatives was 100% higher than what it would have cost the government. There were also poorly designed buildings that had to be maintained at high cost 15 years after their construction.

“Gusto ko pong maging teacher,” Hilary replied when asked what she wishes to become when she grows up. The Universal Declaration on Human Rights recognizes that education should be directed to the full development of the human personality. But under current circumstances, from insufficient allocation to the outright abandonment of the full delivery of education as a social right, the aspirations of the future generation as well as the country’s thrust for development are compromised. IBON Features

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