Time Running Out on Education

The Author is a Board Member Action for Economic Reforms and of the Center for Migrant Advocacy. He is also a co-convenor of Social Watch Philippines. This piece was published in the Yellow Pad column of Business World, 03 May 2004 edition.

In April 2000, 182 governments participated in the World Education
Forum in Dakar, Senegal and reaffirmed their commitment to the
Education for All (EFA) initiative. The forum adopted the “Dakar
Framework of Action” which outlined six education goals – attaining
Universal Primary Education (UPE) and gender equality, improving
literacy and educational quality, and increasing life-skills and early
childhood education programs. These goals should be achieved within 15
years except the gender goal which sets achieving parity in basic
education by 2005 and full equality throughout education by 2015. Two
of these goals (UPE and gender parity) were eventually integrated in
the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) adopted during the UN
Millennium Summit held in September 2000.

Four years after Dakar, the Philippine government has yet to finalize
and submit its own National Action Plan which will outline the
strategies to meet the EFA goals according to the timeline set by the
global conference. In fairness, though, the delay in formulating the
national plan may not be due to sheer negligence on the part of the
Department of Education. For one, the successive turnover of education
secretaries in the last four years was definitely a factor that
contributed to the delay. Bro. Andrew Gonzalez was replaced by then
Senator Raul Roco in February 2001 after the collapse of the Erap
presidency. Secretary Edilberto de Jesus took over the department
shortly after then Secretary Roco resigned his post in August 2002. To
be sure, managing the biggest government bureaucracy is not an easy
job. But more importantly, reversing the deteriorating state of
education is no simple task and needs very careful and thorough
planning.

The Philippines maintains one of the most extensive public school
system in the developing world with combined enrollment surpassing
those of richer and more developed countries. Yet, critical gaps remain
– in terms of equity, efficiency, quality and governance. The public
school system is simply too big and the resources too little. Quality
is poor and the system is badly managed.

While school coverage improved significantly through the years,
internal efficiency remains low and virtually stagnant. Only two-thirds
of grade one entrants reach grade six and less than half eventually
complete high school education. This indicates a high fall-out rate,
with a significant percentage of pupils dropping out between grades 1
and 3 even before functional literacy is achieved. The worst part is
that the quality of education has deteriorated to such an alarming
level that the country now ranks among the poorest performers in East
Asia and the rest of the world. Years of neglect, mismanagement and
underinvestment have set back the education sector by at least a
generation.

The poor quality of education is reflected in part in the performance
of students in learning achievement tests. Most test results reveal
that pupils in both primary and secondary levels learn less than half
of what they should be learning in school. What is most appalling is
that teachers who took the same tests fared no better than the students
they teach.

In its Global Monitoring Report for 2003/4, UNESCO introduced the EFA
Development Index or EDI, which incorporates four indicators to measure
progress in achieving the Dakar goals: net enrolment, adult literacy,
gender parity and education quality. This measure is indicative of how
far the Philippines have failed in delivering education of acceptable
quality. Using the EDI as a gauge of education performance, the
Philippines now trails most countries in East Asia, including Thailand,
Vietnam, Indonesia and China. What is worse is that in terms of quality
as measured by cohort survival to Grade 5, the Philippines ranks in the
same category as Africa’s poorest – such as Burkina Faso, Zimbabwe and
Ethiopia.

This, indeed, is a wakeup call for everyone. Unless drastic reforms are
undertaken soon, the country may never recover from the state of
stagnancy and mediocrity that has characterized the public school
system in the last quarter of the century.

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