Philippine Education: Points for further reform

Louie C. Montemar, Education Fellow of the Stratbase ADR Institute and Professor of Sociology and Political Science

Under a so-called “trifocalization” approach, the Department of Education (DepEd), the Commission on Higher Education (CHEd), and, the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) comprise the government’s education bureaucracy.

DepEd and CHEd are particularly responsible for at least 47,000 basic education schools, over 2,300 higher education institutions, over a million teachers and workers, 31.3 million students (2017), and a budget of over P553 billion for 2018.

REFORM PROGRAMS IN QUICK SUCCESSION

In under a decade, this massive education sector has undergone a series of relatively rapid changes.

First, there was the implementation of Universal Kindergarten law signed on Jan. 20, 2012. This required children five years old and above to undergo and pass kindergarten before moving on to Grade 1.

Then, there was an “enhanced curriculum” for Grade 1 to Grade 7 (or what used to be 1st year high school) rolled out in 2012. DepEd also began preparations for two additional years of high school with the signing of the Enhanced Basic Education Act in May 15, 2013.

Two Senior High School (SHS) levels were eventually added to the basic education scheme — Grade 11 was introduced in 2016 and Grade 12 in 2017. The first full batch of high school students to go through K-to-12 education just graduated this March.

With all these and the continuing support of the Duterte administration for education, the sector has seen significant budget increases for the implementation of new curricula, classroom constructions, training and recruitment of teachers, and improved teachers’ salaries. Central to all these, education leaders now expect high school graduates to have the basic skills needed in the workforce.

Ultimately, one has to note that the Philippines has a high literacy rate of about 98% (ages 15-25). Still, not all Filipinos are able to finish high school.

Moreover, in 2015, the Philippine Statistics Authority reported that 1 in every 10 Filipino aged 6 to 24 was out of school. This means about 24 million Filipinos are out of school youth.

As for those enrolled, the average elementary education achievement rate of only 69.1 (SY 2014-15) for all the academic subjects could be suggestive of just how much room for improvement there is. These do not even go into the question of the quality of the content of such learnings.

PREPARING COMPETENT CITIZENS

It should not be surprising that significant concerns remain in terms of educational outcomes — how ready are Philippine senior high school graduates to work, go into entrepreneurship, or go on to further studies (e.g., at university level)?

When SHS was first implemented in School Year (SY) 2016-2017, the Department expected 700 thousand enrollees in Grade 11. However, around 1.5 million learners actually enrolled. For DepEd, this has meant supplementing the free public school system with financial subsidies totaling over P21.5 billion for SY 2017-2018 alone.

The rate of transition from Grade 10 to Grade 11 surprised education officials themselves. Reportedly, the proportion of Grade 10 completers who proceeded to Grade 11 registered an impressive 93% compared to the rate of transition from 4th year high school to college in the past system, which consistently went below 50%.

A total of 1,252,357 graduates comprised the first SHS batch to graduate. All SHS learners, especially the 38% who finished the TVL Track, gained workplace exposure through the Work Immersion. Thus, DepEd believes that these graduates have better chances at securing jobs compared to non-SHS graduates.

DepEd points out that it has put in place initiatives to enhance employment prospects, such as job fairs for SHS graduates; introduction of new and unique tracks; campaigns for the public sector to re-evaluate hiring guidelines; and, its thrust to use the Philippine Qualifications Framework (PQF) Act (Republic Act No. 10968) as a platform to institutionalize government, industry, and education sector (GIE) coordination and partnerships.

In its continuous effort to boost opportunities for SHS graduates, the Department is now calling on the public, GIE, and stakeholders to sustain the support and strengthen coordination to address challenges in the economic structure, job creation and matching, and market recognition.

PARTNERSHIP POINTS FOR INTERVENTION?

Public-private partnerships, at various levels of the education sector, do make a difference. Some points for consideration in pursuing further meaningful reforms in the sector are sketched in broad strokes below.

First, there is an urgent need to revisit the country’s teacher education program. The teacher remains to be the single most important factor in the learning process and investments need to be better targeted in this regard.

Related to this, the Magna Carta of Teachers, enacted in 1969, needs to be updated to allow non-LET (licensure examinations for teachers) passers to teach for the SHS levels where outcomes-based results are key.

An inclusive K-to-12 scheme requires programs like the Alternative Learning System (ALS) and IP Education initiatives of DepEd. The education bureaucracy needs to be continuously reformed and its attendant structures revised along functional lines so the desired outcomes are achieved. This raises the need to review CoA rules and regulations to facilitate education service delivery especially in far flung areas.

More industry and community stakeholders need to be involved in education planning and development, even in curriculum design matters, so that a truly outcomes-based system is sustained and undue credentialism is addressed. Needless to say, the private sector remains a valuable partner for service delivery in the basic and tertiary education levels.

We can expect increasing investments in the sector especially for subsidies. There is even the possibility of developing a “teacher’s subsidy” to address education workers’ plight in the private sector. Investments in education will continue to grow and this can best be directed by proactive partnerships.

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