Preventing a human capital crisis

Dindo Manhit, President, Stratbase ADR Institute

Challenges to the Philippine educational system, brought about by the pandemic and the government’s less than desirable response to the public health emergency, are threatening to result in a human capital crisis.

This was underscored by a recent study undertaken by the World Bank and Australian Aid (Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade) titled “The Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Low Income Households in the Philippines: Impending Human Capital Crisis” (2021). In its “Philippines COVID-19 Monitoring Survey Policy Notes” that focused on the country’s education system (“Philippine Basic Education System: Strengthening Effective Learning During the COVID-19 Pandemic and beyond,” May 2021), the study emphasized the negative impact of the school closures resulting from the lockdowns imposed on the country, and the learning loss on the “current cohort of school children” and on the “children’s economic potential and productivity in adulthood, thus undermining the country’s competitiveness.”

The education dilemma was also recently touched upon by Dr. Edilberto C. de Jesus, professor emeritus at the Asian Institute of Management, and Unicef, which warned that Filipino children continue missing education opportunities in another year of school closures. The following issues were seen as afflicting the country’s schoolchildren during the pandemic: stable internet access, availability of gadgets, errors in resources, the stress felt by students and teachers, absence of classroom experience, lack of learning materials, lack of support in technology, poor learning environment, and continued distance learning.

According to Department of Education (DepEd) data from July 10, total learners for SY 2019-2020 were at 27,790,114, while SY 2020-2021 registered 26,588,428, showing a decrease of 1,201,686 learners or 4 percent of the total. The decline was mainly caused by a significant drop in the number of private school learners, representing 77 percent or 928,928 pupils. Total private enrollment in the said school years were 4,304,676 and 3,375,748 respectively, showing a 21.57 percent decline. As of Sept. 3, 2021, ten days before the new school year opens, enrollment was only at 11,481,115, which is half of last year’s total. Private school enrollment is at a low 671,660.

With the continuing damage to the economy and people’s livelihoods as the country sees no sign of the pandemic about to be contained soon, an even greater decline in school enrollment is anticipated.

The problem has been exacerbated by the confusion brought about by BIR Revenue Regulation No. 5-2021, which aimed to impose a 150-percent corporate income tax increase on private schools. The regulation has been suspended, but urgent legislative action is needed to permanently rectify the onerous tax issue and assure private educational institutions that the constitutionally mandated tax rate of 10 percent and temporary tax break in the CREATE law will be given them.

Educational institutions also need to address other challenges such as the digital readiness of schools, the training of their teachers and learners, and the acquisition of digital solutions to bridge online learning gaps.

To effectively harness digital technologies, strong collaboration between the government and the private sector is needed. Innovative interventions such as the DepEd’s adoption of the GoLearning platform to boost e-learning capacity should be encouraged with incentives to ensure their wide accessibility to all learners.

But online platforms still cannot replace the holistic experience of the live classroom. As the World Bank and Australian Aid study recommended, “the Government of the Philippines should develop a strategy for continued primary health care and strengthened education delivery including the resumption of face-to-face schools.” Unicef has noted that Philippine schools have been closed for more than a year compared to the global average of only 79 teaching days.

To revive the economy and regain momentum, Filipinos must be ready to thrive and compete in a highly digital global economy. This can only happen with proper education. The pandemic cannot be another excuse to neglect the urgent education crisis staring us in the face.

This article was originally published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer.

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