She unveiled her initiative, which was a preview from her July 23 State of the Nation Address (SONA), before the League of Corporate Foundations, an association of over 80 grant-making corporate foundations and companies. The organisation is working to solve social problems in the Philippines through a variety of corporate social responsibility (CSR) programmes.
Since 2002, the LCF has so far spent P3.8bn ($85m) for such activities, "with the bulk allocated for education", said Marilou Erni, LCF's president.
Arroyo announced the launching of a P4bn (a little over $88m) fund for student loans, business-funded training and the expansion of state universities and colleges under the commission on higher education. The allocation will also be used to raise the number of student beneficiaries under the state scholarship program to 200,000, or five times last year's 40,000.
The president also committed to "investing P3 billion [$66m] in engineering research and development technology to achieve a critical mass of research and development [R&D] capable manpower over the next three years." The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation's (UNESCO) Institute for Statistics recommends for developing countries a population ratio of researchers, scientists and engineers of 340 for every 1m people in the population. The country's current ratio is only 48 per one million.
However, some politicians are wary of the promises being made. "When I was a new senator in 2001 I wanted to find out how the SONA was. But my experience was that nothing came true out of the SONA promises. It's a one-day affair and then it comes to pass," said Senator Panfilo Lacson, who was quoted in the local press.
Nonetheless, since 2001, the Arroyo administration has hired more than 40,000 teachers, trained 200,000 teachers in various subject areas and built 15,000 classrooms. The administration has distributed 12m textbooks and manuals, resulting in a ratio of one textbook per grade school student for English, Filipino, science, math and social studies instead of one for every five students, as in the past. The Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA), a government agency under the department of education, is responsible for managing and supervising technical education and skills development in the Philippines. The authority will graduate 1.5m students this year in technical and vocational education, almost double the 2004 figure.
Government spending on education is up this year to P150bn ($3.3bn) from last year's total of P121bn ($2.7bn). However, the Philippines still lags compared to the rest of the world where the average spending on education is 4.9% of GDP. Thailand spends roughly 5.2% and Malaysia is at 8.1%. The Philippines invests 2.7% of GDP in education. The result, 16 to 24% of those attending public school drop out between grades 1 and 2, the completion rate for those enrolled in secondary school is only 54% and the national average score of public elementary school students is 57 while the pass mark is 75. With a population over 83m and growing at a rate of 2.3%, some 1.7m babies are born each year adding to the strain of an already limited amount of resources available. Thus, making it infinitely more challenging for the government to improve on current statistics.
The private sector has taken note of this fact and has attempted to do its part by implementing the 57-75 Campaign, which is aimed at reversing what is commonly considered a crisis in education.
"As a multi-sectoral campaign designed to reverse the education crisis, the 57-75 Campaign will harness the resources of the local communities as a counterpart to private sector support," said Mary Margaret M Barro, executive director of the LCF. She said that if the organisation works together, it can achieve its goals of keeping children healthy and in school, improving their literacy skills and increasing their achievement scores.
In addition to the campaign, leading companies in the Philippines, through their own foundations, have implemented programmes aimed at addressing a range of educational needs.
For example, Metrobank Foundation, the philanthropic arm of Metrobank Group, has developed a number of initiatives including college scholarships for poor students enrolled in education, engineering, science and business-related courses at one of the country's colleges or universities.
Other Philippine-based companies have created programmes to provide assistance to school and students. The Ayala Group, through its foundation, Ayala Social Initiatives, has created GILAS, Gearing Up Internet Literacy and Access for Students, to provide internet access and literacy to students in all 5900 of the country's public secondary schools. The Philippine Long Distance and Telephone Company's foundation has supported infrastructure programs for various schools throughout the country. Other locally based companies including Aboitiz Group, Lucio Tan Group, Petron, Philippine National Oil Company and SM (formerly known as Shoe Mart) have introduced similar initiatives.
While the private sector has made considerable contributions in addressing the social needs of the country, the sentiment among sector observers is that more could be done if improvements were made in government policies. Business leaders have stressed a desire for the government to create incentives for corporate investments in education. They have also called for the review of tax laws that would spur grants and eliminate the taxation of charity donations.