MANILA, Philippines – Serious reforms are needed in Philippine education if Filipinos are to compete globally.”People are ignoring the gravity of the crisis because it is not that obvious. But the educational crisis that the country is facing is very insidious,” Philippine Business for Education (PBEd) Executive Director Chito B. Salazar told a press conference Wednesday.
The PBEd, organized by the business community as a response to the country’s educational problem, aims to provide directions in the reform drive.
The government, it said, is not spending enough compared to neighboring countries despite a stated aim of making education one of its top priorities.
“In the case of Thailand, for instance, the government’s budget for every citizen is around $852,” PBed Chairman Ramon R. del Rosario, Jr. told BusinessWorld.
In comparison, the Philippines has a per capita budget of $138 per student.
Local survival and retention rates remain low: Out of 100 students that enter Grade 1, only 58 go on to high school and only 14 become college graduates.
Because education is expensive, students are shifting to public from private schools, most notably in the secondary level. From a 62% enrollment rate previously enjoyed by private schools, the figure significantly dropped to 21% in 2005. Public schools, which in 1965 only had 38% enrollment rate, had this figure rise to 79%.
“This problem can be traced to government’s mismanagement of funds where instead of just strengthening existing state schools such as the University of the Philippines, the government chose to establish new state and local universities,” Former Education Secretary Edilberto de Jesus said.
Mr. de Jesus said the proliferation of state and local universities was a problem because it dilutes the pool of available funds.
One of the reforms being pushed by the PBEd is the adoption of a 12-year plus preschool education cycle that would expand basic education from the usual 10 years.
While the United Nation Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization has already set this as the global standard, the Philippines has remained adamant, keeping it in the company of Mongolia and Laos. Laos will leave the list next year, the PBEd said, in adopting the global standard.
“The problem with the 10-year educational cycle is that Filipinos will be less competitive compared with neighboring nations who have already adopted the 12-year education cycle,” Mr. del Rosario said, citing a case where the doctorate degrees of two Filipinas were not recognized by Thailand’s Ministry of Education.
“Since the Philippine degree is not equal to the Thai’s education degree, Filipinos working abroad are usually downgraded and not being paid the same as their Thai counterpart,” he added.
Former Undersecretary for Education Juan Miguel Luz said the 12-year proposal can be implemented gradually, by first adopting a bridge program that would add an extra year between Grade 6 and first year high school.
The PBEd also proposed the abolition of the government’s Education Voucher System (EVS) which it said is prone to political patronage. EVS supports poor but deserving elementary school graduates, out-of-school youth, and those who qualify for the Alternative Learning Accreditation and Equivalence scheme.
The PBEd also proposed that memberships of local school boards be expanded by adding representatives from the business community, which would improve transparency and the effective use of resources.
The government, it stressed, should increase investments in education because the country continues to lag far behind the proposed annual 8-10% increase in the education budget that experts say is crucial to achieving the “education for all” goal.
Kristine Jane R. Liu