The deterioration in the quality of our education system continues to send red flags to our political leaders, educational planners and citizens of the Philippines. The list of “to do’s” in policies and programs grows with new knowledge about the reforms needed. And it appears that most of the weaknesses in our learning system are the consequences of inadequate government spending.
The latest published report from the Philippine Institute for Development Studies (PIDS) notes that while our political goal is to put education first on the budget priority list, the reality is, however, that the government has under -invested in the sector.
Thus, the recommendation based on the analysis of budget expenditures and the results of tests and assessments of student performance is to (1) increase our budget allocation for education four times what it is currently to make it competitive at globally, and (2) ensure that spending is spent on priorities such as (a) improving the quality of mother tongue-multilingual learning; (b) focus on the quality of teachers; (c) take advantage of innovative technologies such as High-Touch, High-Tech, which use AI or artificial intelligence to improve learning by assessing the strengths of individual learners; and (e) intensify good practices – peer mentoring, early reading, improving school libraries and making reading fun.
“Since 1990, public expenditure on education relative to gross domestic product (GDP) had been at most 3.8% (in 1998) and fell to 2.8% in 2019”, according to Jose Ramon Albert, Lovelaine Basillote and Mika Munoz who published recommendations in their report, “We need to invest more in learners, learners, learners! “
The 7.4 percent increase in DepEd’s budget to 605.75 billion pesos is a paltry sum compared to the 52.9 percent increase for public works and highways, 70.5 percent for transport and 16.4% for national defense, they said.
Noting that the government has invested heavily in infrastructure with its “Build, Build, Build” program, it should have an investment program for its learners, they said.
In their policy note, the authors streamlined their recommendations by citing our commitment to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals to “ensure inclusive and equitable learning opportunities for all”, in accordance with our constitution’s policy statement on compulsory and quality education and the maintenance of free public education at primary and secondary levels. He also noted how we implemented the goals to achieve Universal Primary Education (UPE) through the Balik Aral programs, the Kindergarten Education Law, the Improved Basic Education Law, the 4 Ps who “made the poor send their children to school, and how we were successful in reducing dropout. With “the changes in our socio-economic situation, we have had to focus on quality learning (SDG 4), its success depending on our ability to equip learners with the skills to navigate a world filled with volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity.
But although we expressed a strong commitment to the Sustainable Development Goals, we failed to inject the necessary budget support / Our spending on education never reached four percent of our GDP, which is low compared to what our Southeast Asian neighbors – Singapore spend (25/8 percent in 2018); Brunei Durusalam (4.4% in 2016); Malaysia (4.4% in 2019), Vietnam, (4.2% in 2018); and Indonesia (3.6% in 2015). Philippine spending per student is among the lowest in the world.
Thus, based on the analysis of the results of the 2018 test of the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), our country must quadruple its spending on education to reach the global average for reading skills. Doubling current spending could increase reading proficiency level by about 10 percent.
But it does matter where the budgets are spent. We need to ensure that spending is focused on priorities such as improving the policy focus on mother tongue-based multilingual learning, improving the quality of teachers, shifting to the use of innovative technological solutions such as High-Touch, High-Tech or the use of artificial intelligence to improve learning, intensify good practices such as peer mentoring, promote early reading and improve school libraries.
The PIDS study reinforces earlier findings by Rizal Buendia et al (Philippine Sector Assessment US AID, 2011) where the authors noted similar issues such as low investment in education, as well as the inability of government to respond resource requirements for UPE. The additional resources came mainly from loans rather than grants.
The authors however focused on other limitations such as piecemeal reforms that needed to be incorporated and trifocalization where each of the three agencies – Commission on Higher Education, TESDA and DepEd were to be transformed into autonomous bodies. But only for a short time. It never took off and for good reason. This is because he did not take into account an important cultural factor – the hierarchical structure of Filipino society.
Higher education has proven to be inefficient and not very responsive to the emergence of the knowledge economy. It was not generating enough research and continues to perform poorly on licensure exams. The latter can be attributed to the shortage of qualified and competent teachers.
A World Bank skills report in 2009 also identified serious gaps in foundational skills – problem solving, critical thinking, initiative and creativity.
We hope that these findings and recommendations will be further synthesized, analyzed and translated into legislation for the next Congressional Committee on Education. Needless to say, they require a certain sense of urgency!
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