When the agency that has the main responsibility for educating the youth is notorious for setting a bad example, what’s an incoming president to do?
President-elect Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III has promised to end the systemic corruption that has corroded many Philippine institutions, one of them the Department of Education (DepEd). For some quarters, improving the state of the basic education system would be a good start.
“The problem with the Arroyo administration is that it is rooted in perceptions of corruption and bad governance. Even the programs that are meant to help the poor were in fact utilized in the context of patronage,” says former Education Secretary Butch Abad.
There was the so-called noodle scam involving a contract awarded by DepEd in 2007 to a supplier that sold noodles at a staggering P18 per pack when the market price was only P4.50.
Before that, there was the textbook scam, with whistleblower Antonio Go alleging that the numerous errors in textbooks used in public schools resulted from an allegedly “secretive” evaluation process that “breeds graft and corruption.”
E-Net Philippines, a consortium of education advocates, had also opposed Arroyo projects like the Food-for-School program which “has become a strategy for patronage” as local government units, along with the DepEd, are the ones who select beneficiaries.
Abad, who served as the Liberal Party campaign manager in the May 10 elections, says Mrs. Arroyo was “driven by the fight for political survival” so she pandered to the corruption of some politicians instead of ensuring that they implement education programs honestly.
But Abad believes that once Noynoy—who had a clean slate in his nine years as congressman and three as senator—takes over, Filipinos can expect him to ensure that the education department will not be a breeding ground for corruption.
“In the case of Noynoy Aquino, it would be in the context of good governance and empowerment. I think that’s a dramatic departure from the Arroyo administration’s framework,” he says.
Abad was one of the Cabinet secretaries who resigned from President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s government in 2005 at the height of the Hello Garci scandal that put in doubt the legitimacy of her victory in the 2004 elections.
The legacy of his iconic parents, the martyred Benigno Aquino Jr. and former president Corazon Aquino, and a vigorous anti-corruption platform swept Noynoy to victory in the May 10 polls. Now that he’s president-elect, many are expecting Aquino to fulfill his campaign promises and ensure that none of the corruption scandals during the Arroyo administration will happen during his term.
12-year basic education
Noynoy and his education reform team won’t have it easy. Data from DepEd show that out of 100 children who enter Grade 1, only 43 finish high school, only 23 pursue college or vocational courses, and only 14 are able to finish tertiary education.
With nearly half of high school graduates choosing to work rather than pursue higher education, Aquino is looking at re-introducing technical-vocational education in public high schools “to better link schooling to local industry needs and employment.”
But his foremost plan for basic education is ambitious: to expand the duration of formal schooling from the current 10 years (six for elementary and four for high school) to the global standard of 12 years starting school year 2011-2012.
“We need to add two years to our basic education cycle to catch up with the rest of the world,” Aquino says.
The plan is still “subject to fine-tuning,” says former Education Undersecretary Juan Miguel Luz, who currently sits as the vice president for policy and research of the Liberal Party think-tank National Institute for Policy Studies.
A possible division is Grades 1 to 7 for elementary, Grades 8 to 10 for high school, and Grades 11 to 12 for senior high school in preparation for college.
“What’s most important is that Grade 1-12 be seamless and that the curriculum have no gaps between the elementary school and high school levels,” Luz tells GMANews.TV in an email. “The rest of the world has added more years of formal basic education and this has helped them build stronger economies.”
The proposal to add more years to education is nothing new, says Raymond Palatino, the representative of youth party-list Kabataan in Congress.
Former president Joseph Estrada had the pre-baccalaureate program, which proposed an additional year for high school, while President Arroyo introduced the optional one-year Bridge program for incoming high school students who scored low in the High School Readiness Test (HSRT) for English, Math, and Science.
In 2005, the DepEd conceptualized the Basic Education Sector Reform Agenda (BESRA) in response to the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goal (MDG) of universal primary schooling by 2015. The BESRA also proposes two additional years to basic education.
Additional school years, however, were never made mandatory due to opposition from some groups and budgetary constraints.
Palatino says, “All presidents, at the beginning of their terms, want to add one or two years in elementary or high school. The problem: funds. Lack of funds. Where will the new president source the funds?”
ACT Teachers party-list president Antonio Tinio, who taught the P.I. 100 (Rizal’s life and works) course at the University of the Philippines for 18 years before he resigned last semester to prepare for his work as incoming congressman representing his group, says Aquino should prioritize lifting the quality of education over quantity.
“Yung kasalukuyang sampung taon nga natin ng basic education hindi nai-deliver nang maayos ng gobyerno,” laments Tinio in a phone interview. “Sa ganyang kalagayan pano naman natin pag-uusapan pa yung pagdagdag ng dalawa pang taon?”
Ritchie, mother of five, can barely afford to send four of her kids to school even though she doesn’t have to pay tuition.
A mother of five, 33-year-old Ritchie Escubido, says she can barely make ends meet as she is sending four of her kids—aged 13, 11, 8 and 5—to school even though she’s jobless and her husband works as a finishing carpenter on an irregular basis.
“Mahirap,” she says. “Kung dadagdagan pa, lalo pang mahirap.”
Expanding the basic education system to 12 years will definitely cost a lot. Aquino’s education team admits that an investment of close to P100 billion, or P20 billion a year from 2011 to 2017, will be needed to build additional schools and classrooms, hire more teachers, buy more textbooks and equipment, and pay for operating expenses.
These figures do not even include the necessary funding for the additional one year of universal pre-schooling that Aquino also wants to implement during his term. According to his team’s own estimate, this could cost P9.6 to P11.1 billion a year.
“Families will have to bear additional costs whether in public or private schools. The real argument though should be that the additional two years of basic education/schooling should translate into better chances at a good university education or work,” says Luz.
Aquino has more proposals to improve education: strengthening the science and math curricula, expanding assistance to private schools, and building more schools in coordination with LGUs.
But Palatino points out that Aquino’s basic education agenda somewhat “mirrors” the education program of the Arroyo administration.
“Under an Aquino presidency, expect no fundamental change in the education programs of the country,” says the young lawmaker.
Palatino, however, concedes that Aquino’s education agenda has “specific proposals on the amount needed to revive Philippine education.”
Luz, who once served as DepEd undersecretary for finance and administration, says Aquino will work on allocating six percent of GDP to education, as recommended by the UNESCO: 4.5 percent for the DepEd, and 1.5 percent for tertiary education and private elementary and high schools.
Aquino will also work on making the budget allocation for education closer to 18 percent of the total national budget, Luz says. He added that under the Arroyo administration, only around 2.4 percent of the GDP or 11 to 12 percent of the total national budget was spent for education.
Where will they get the funds? Aquino has promised throughout the campaign to increase the government’s budget by plugging loopholes in tax collection and getting rid of corruption. Because of Aquino’s clean record and strong anti-corruption stance, investors are also expected to gain confidence in the Philippines and boost economic growth.
President Arroyo’s erstwhile economic adviser, Albay Gov. Joey Salceda who defected to the LP in the middle of the election period, estimates that P642 billion in investments would likely enter the Philippines in the first 18 months alone of the Aquino presidency.
To start over, Aquino plans to get rid of Arroyo programs such as the education voucher system, which gives financial assistance to qualified beneficiaries but is largely seen as a vehicle for political patronage.
He also promises tougher screening for textbooks to ensure that sub-standard and erroneous books would not make its way into schools, and into the minds of the youth.
Madaris education with Arabic Language and Islamic Values Education as additional subjects will also be offered in public schools for Muslim Filipinos.
Some of the things Aquino intends to do for the rest of the country, such as his goal to end the conflict in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, will also ultimately benefit school children, says Abad.
“In those areas, to be able to go to school without interruption, you also have to make sure that the peace process is pursued and that development is introduced. Instead of going to war, you introduce livelihood,” Abad says.
Aquino’s dedication to the peace process was obvious early on: even before his proclamation as president, Aquino had already instructed former presidential adviser on the peace process Teresita Deles (later announced to be his own peace adviser) to get a briefing from Malacañang on the status of the peace negotiations.
Aquino has yet to name his education secretary, although rumors are rife that Abad might make a comeback or De La Salle University president Bro. Armin Luistro might take the reins of the DepEd starting June 30.
Whoever he appoints will have to bear a heavy load, as the UN’s goal of primary schooling for all by 2015 falls under Aquino’s watch. –
By YA, GMANews.TV