Practical solutions to the education crisis

BAIM HANIF-UNSPLASH

(Part 1)

Philippine education is facing a crisis. Without exaggerating the problem, as some people who unwarrantedly talk about “mass stupidity” of Philippine teenagers, let us examine the nature of the problem and identify both short-term and long-term practical solutions to the problem.

I am fortunate to belong to a group of leaders of both business and civil society who have organized the Philippine Business for Education (PBEd), an NGO that is committed to work with the government to do continuing research on the state of Philippine education and to propose ways and means of improving its quality at all levels, especially at the basic education level. PBEd not only proposes solutions but actually implements programs to improve the quality of Philippine education, in partnership with both local and international agencies.

For 2024, the priority areas of PBEd’s programs are in education governance, teacher quality, data assessment, per student spending, government-industry-academe collaboration, early childhood care and development, public-private collaboration, mass promotion, and mental health.

In its most recent report, PBEd describes the State of Philippine Education as follows: nine out of 10 learners aged 10 years old cannot read simple text. One root cause of this situation is that one out of three Filipino children under five years of age are undernourished or malnourished. Undernourishment or malnourishment of children during the first 1,000 days of their existence (from the wombs of their mothers to two years of age) results in some brain damage so that, no matter how good the quality of education they receive during their childhood years, it will have limited effectiveness. That is why food security for the poor is an important pre-condition to the improvement of mass literacy. There are some LGUs, such as those in Quezon and Bataan provinces, that have been implementing what is known as the 1,000 days feeding program, i.e., providing free food supplements to children from the time they are conceived in their mothers’ wombs to their turning two years old. It is highly recommended that all LGUs adopt this feeding program, preferable using whatever extra budget they get from the implementation of the so-called Mandanas ruling in order to solve the problem of undernourishment or malnourishment of the children of the poor (who now constitute some 22% of our population).

Other current developments affecting or reflecting, for better or worse, the state of Philippine education are the following:

Teachers are not well capacitated to facilitate learning.
Youth unemployment is at 9.7%. The underemployment rate is 12.2%.
There is persistent job-skills mismatch. Many graduates of the formal schooling system do not have the skills demanded by industry.
The Second Congressional Commission on Education (EDCOM 2) convened.
The Department of Education reviewed the K to 12 curriculum.
The Vice-President of the Philippines, Sara Duterte, was appointed Secretary of Education. She delivered her Basic Education Report 2024 on Jan. 25 in which, among others, she presented the revised Matatag curriculum which will focus on foundation skills and the inculcation of values and virtues that will lead to graduates of the K to 12 curriculum who are competent and job-ready.
Both the Department of Education and the private schooling system implemented remediation programs to address the learning crisis. Among the concrete measures, as reported by VP Duterte in her Basic Education Report, were the National Learning Recovery camps and the Catch-up Friday reading sessions to address the reading inability of teenagers.

To quantify the magnitude of the education sector, the following are the vital statistics: At the basic education level, there are 59,890 schools, of which 47,678 are public schools and 12,212 are private schools. The total number of students at the basic education level is 28,304,205 million of whom 24,676,699 (87.2%) are in public schools and 3,627,506 (12.8%) are in private schools. At the higher education level, there are 2,423 higher education institutions (HEIs) of which 1,729 are private and 695 are public. There are 2,095,160 million students in State Universities and Colleges (SUCs) and 2,069,649 in private HEIs, a 50-50 sharing.

At this juncture, let me already express my opinion that the government has gone overboard establishing SUCs, many of which impart very poor-quality education, whose graduates are usually unemployable. Since there is always a shortage of funds at the basic education level (e.g., not enough school buildings), the government should shift the funds being spent on SUCs to the schools at the basic education level and depend more on the private HEIs to deliver quality higher education. The voucher system should be used to enable deserving children of poor families to enroll in high-quality private colleges or universities. Also, part of the funds that can be shifted away from SUCs should be invested in establishing more quality Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA)-type schools that are more likely to train skilled workers in great demand in the booming sectors of construction, tourism, healthcare, and agribusiness.

To mobilize mass support for the priority programs identified by PBEd for the calendar year of 2024, let me list the plans for policy advocacy of the Foundation:

As regards improving teacher quality, there will be programs and policy advocacies to improve and expand teacher development pathways and to unlock teacher progression. To promote more tripartite collaboration between the government, industry, and the academe, private sector participation should be enhanced and there should be established an effective national enterprise-based training program. Many more private businesses, whether large-, medium-scale and small, should take in students in various fields and professions as on-the-job trainees or apprentices, emulating the famous dualvoc system made popular in German-speaking nations in Europe. The role models here should be Dualtech Training Institute and the Meralco Training Institute in Metro Manila and the Center for Industrial Technology and Enterprise (CITE) in Metro Cebu.

As regards education governance, serious efforts should be made to decentralize it. There is a clear constitutional mandate of the Philippine Constitution of 1987 for government functions to be decentralized to the regions. Education should be among the first to be decentralized because of the significant differences in economic conditions, culture, linguistic traditions, and other circumstances affecting the educational experiences of the youth from one region to another. To guarantee the attainment of minimum standards in education, a National Coordinating Council should be established. A concrete model for the establishment of an independent assessment agency should also be recommended. Since these measures would require legislation, it is incumbent upon the Second Congressional Commission on Education (EDCOM 2) — made up of members of both the Senate and the House of Representatives — to have the corresponding laws passed. I am glad to note that the EDCOM has some legislators whom I personally know as among the intellectual elite in their respective chambers, such as Senators Sherwin Gatchalian, Sonny Angara. Francis Escudero, Joel Villanueva, and Pia Cayetano, as well as Mark Go and Roman Romulo from the House of Representatives.

EDCOM 2 has identified the following priority areas for possible legislative measures: Early Childhood Care and Development and Basic Education; Higher Education and Teacher Education and Development; Technical-Vocational Education and Training (TVET) and Lifelong Learning; Governance and Finance. The bills that have already been filed are HB 8559 on Teacher Quality (Amendment of the Teacher Professionalization Act) and SB 2354 (Apprentice Training System Act).

I fully support these priority areas and will devote a good part of my research and communions work to identifying concrete programs of actions in these strategic areas, especially in teacher education (particularly in the fields of economics education and values education) and in apprentice training. In fact, I just have launched, with co-author Luis Molina, an updated version of my Guide to Economics for Filipinos (used as a textbook by at least three generations of high school students who were being introduced to the science of economics) and a third volume of my Book of Virtues and Values that can be used either at the senior high or college education levels in courses on values education.

(To be continued.)

Bernardo M. Villegas has a Ph.D. in Economics from Harvard, is professor emeritus at the University of Asia and the Pacific, and a visiting professor at the IESE Business School in Barcelona, Spain. He was a member of the 1986 Constitutional Commission.

bernardo.villegas@uap.asia