Overhauling the Philippine Education System

IF I WERE THE NEXT PRESIDENT(Part 6 of a series)

By BEN R. PUNONGBAYAN

Founder, Buklod National Political Party

There is a common acknowledgement that the quality of our education system is quite low. This observation, without doubt, has been validated by the poor results of the performance of our students in periodic international assessments of achieved learning.

The most telling of these assessments is the very poor performance of our students in PISA (Programme for International Assessment) in 2018 for 15 year-olds where our students ranked lowest in reading and second lowest in mathematics and science, out of 79 countries. A humiliating results, indeed; but which brought a loud and clear confirmation that may drive us to action. Similarly, we did poorly in the ASEAN assessment in 2019 of Grade 5 students among six ASEAN countries.

In addition to the academic issue, the term I use to describe the situation portrayed above, we also have a serious school attendance problem. According to the latest information obtained from the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) based on 2015 and 2016 data, the enrollment rate in secondary schools of students of the same age cohort is 74.2% (2016). Of the same age cohort of secondary school enrollees, 74% completed high school (2015).

As these rates relate to similar age cohorts, multiplying them together will provide a measure of the proportion of our children who entered Grade 1 and completed high school. On this basis, only 55% of those who enrolled in Grade 1 finished high school.

Conversely, 45% of our children who started at Grade 1 did not finish high school, a very high proportion of our would-be adult population who attained just a low level of education. This rate does not even consider those six year-olds who do not enroll in Grade 1 at all, which the same PSA source estimates at 3.9% of their age cohort in 2016. When these non-schoolers are considered, the proportion of our adult population with low education attainment is even higher than 45%.

The 2010 Census (the 2020 Census has not yet been completed) provides a similar picture. When the relevant data are extrapolated, 41% of the age group 17 years old and older did not finish high school. Comparing this with the 45% rate derived from more current data as explained above, it seems that this condition of low education attainment among our population has even deteriorated.

The school drop-outs start early as can be gleaned from additional information from the same PSA source. The primary school completion rate is 84%, which means that 16% did not finish primary school. Of those who finished, only 74.2% enrolled in first year high school, which means 9.8% of those who completed primary school did not enter high school at all. All together then, 25.8% of children who enrolled at Grade 1 did not enter high school. This represents a large proportion of eventually becoming adult Filipinos who have a very low education attainment.

The low education attainment of nearly half of our population has, by itself, serious implications. When combined with the poor quality of the education received by the other half, we carry a very heavy handicap that prevents us from realizing our potential as a nation.

With such handicap, our economic productivity would certainly be lower than that of our peers, making us less competitive. Much more than that, we would not have enough talent and potential talent to enable us to move up to higher value production of economic goods, both physical and service goods, which is what we need because of our comparatively higher cost of doing business.There is a political implication as well.

We cannot expect the almost 50% of our adult population who have attained only low levels of education to be judiciously discerning when choosing our elected leaders. More so when one considers that this large sector of our adult population would likely not be predisposed to be keen observers of the country’s day-to-day political events which, if otherwise, may have compensated for their education handicap. This observation is quite evident when one tries to characterize the present-day free television daily programming.

Not unless we are able to substantially improve our education system, it is unlikely that our nation can achieve mature political development that will enable us to acquire having an effective and progress-looking political leadership.

If I were the next President, I will endeavor to overhaul our education system to make it a strong force in developing our national well-being.

While many knowledgeable and concerned persons have their own ideas in improving the academic issue in our education system, which essentially relates to contents, teaching methods and qualifying and subsequent training of teachers, I prefer and will commission a thorough study and evaluation of the existing education system by an independent private international group with adequate Filipino component.

This does not mean that we have to follow all of this study group’s recommendations. Studies like this provide many useful insights that we can use in developing and implementing an overall improvement program suitable to our own conditions and objectives. I will give this activity the top priority that it deserves and implement what is best.

Undoubtedly, the effects of the widespread incidence of child stunting has a bearing on the poor results of the learning assessments of our children. This environmental issue will be dealt with by the program on combating child stunting discussed in Part 5 of this series.

With regard to the low school completion rates, it can clearly be deduced that this is due to economic factors, despite our public primary and secondary education being given free of the costs of tuition and books. Poor families may not be able to afford the meal and transportation costs attendant to going to school. Other poor families may rather want their children to earn money by doing some work to help the family meet its basic living needs.

The Siguradong Sahod program will definitely help solve this problem (See Part 3: https://buklod.org/siguradong-sahod-if-i-were-the-next-president/). But this program alone may not be adequate. We may need to supplement it with another program to provide free meals, at least lunch, and free transportation to the children of the very poor.

Accordingly, we will implement an additional program of free lunch to those who need it at the primary school level. We will develop a qualifying system to try to capture those children who are likely to drop out.

To get an approximation of the cost of this program, I used the non-completion rate of primary schooling of 16% mentioned earlier and the total enrolment in public primary schools in school year 2019-2020 of 11.9 million children as obtained from the Department of Education.

While this enrolment number is understated for our purpose because it is already net of those who did not enroll for Grade 1 and those who had already dropped out of primary school, it is useful for approximation purposes. The calculation results to 1.9 million children who drop out of primary school. Combining this information with the estimated cost of P30 per lunch meal and 205 school days in a year, the indicative total cost of this free lunch program is about P12 billion for the entire country per year.

This expenditure rightly belongs to the local government units and, as such, the total cost is spread out. We will discuss this matter, as well as the related transportation cost issue, with the LGUs as part of our program to engage them in nation building (as mentioned in Part 5:https://buklod.org/substantially-reducing-poverty-reducing-child-stunting/).

As the economy grows, we will study and work out a similar assistance program for those who are likely not to enroll in secondary school, as well as those who drop out of high school.

The problems in our education system are very serious. These problems greatly hinder our progress towards the desirable levels of our economic and political developments. I will engage the Filipino people vigorously and persistently to get rid of these unwelcome inhibitors to progress.

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Benjamin R. Punongbayan, Founder of the Buklod National Political Party, is an experienced public accounting practitioner who started the Punongbayan & Araullo accounting firm 33 years ago.


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