From cradle to classroom: The government’s adoption of the K-12 programme looks set to improve the provision of basic education

Whether it is basic, elementary or tertiary, the fundamental challenge for the Philippine education system is one of access and quality. The country is now making its boldest attempt to date to correct some of these shortcomings, which have constrained its human resource potential for the last three decades. The administration of President Benigno Aquino III has significantly raised the budget and introduced sweeping reforms that are aimed at meeting both those challenges. If it succeeds, the country will not only release the potential of its diverse and large pool of human talent but also make education a driver for sustainable, inclusive economic growth.

Reforms have opened up new business opportunities for service providers and private investors – mostly on account of substantial public spending to improve classroom and laboratory infrastructure, as well as on faculty development initiatives. Although the sector caps foreign equity participation at 40%, for the most part, new opportunities in technical and vocational training could emerge by 2016.

CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHT: The Philippine Constitution guarantees the right to basic education and makes it obligatory for the state to make public education free and accessible up to high school. The academic year in the Philippines starts in June and lasts for approximately 200 days, with the summer break falling between March and May. Students also enjoy a two-week break over Christmas and a four- to five-day break at the start of November to commemorate the Day of the Saints and the Day of the Dead.

SYSTEM OVERSIGHT: The Department of Education (DepEd) is responsible for primary and secondary education and manages an Alternative Learning System for out-of-school youths and adults. Early childhood education, which includes kindergarten, is overseen by DepEd in partnership with the Department of Social Welfare and Development. Tertiary degree programmes are supervised by the Commission on Higher Education (CHED), and the Technical Education and Skill Development Authority (TESDA) manages non-degree vocational training.

Although the government has tried to make education accessible at all levels, it has been an uphill struggle, with 97.5m Filipinos spread out across 7107 islands and many communities living in pockets that are remote and often difficult to reach. In the far-flung areas of Cordillera, for instance, children have to wade through rivers and walk for hours over mountainous terrain to reach school. The sheer task of constructing schools, deploying trained teachers and ensuring that every child is able to reach school in such places is in itself difficult. Even where facilities do exist household poverty means that children often drop out to help parents make ends meet.

The government has set aside P292.7bn ($7.05bn) in the 2013 budget for education, most of which is to be spent on hiring school teachers and improving basic infrastructure. Although this represents an increase in funding 22.6% over 2012, the Philippines will still end up spending less than 2.8% of GDP on education, as compared to Thailand whose public expenditure on education is 3.8% of GDP. UNESCO prescribes a spending of 6% of GDP on the sector.

Nonetheless, public spending on education as a percentage of government expenditure is a healthy 16.9%. Both public and private institutions play a role in the provision of education. While an estimated 87% of Filipinos attend public elementary and high schools, the vast majority of those pursuing higher education do so in private colleges and universities.

EARLY START: Early childhood education is financed through a combination of public and private funds. The government also supports programmes on a cost-sharing arrangement with local government units and other agencies. Basic education uses more than 85% of the entire education budget, most of which is spent on teacher and staff salaries. The minimum monthly wage for teachers in public schools is P19,000 ($460). The private sector delivers 80% of higher education and 60% of the technical and vocational education training (TVET) and is financed mostly through tuition fees, grants, endowments and other income-generating sources. Public funding supports public universities and colleges, scholarships and various activities of CHED.

STUDENT BODY: According to DepEd estimates, total enrolment in public schools in 2013 reached 20.8m (1.78m pupils in kindergarten, 13.3m in elementary and 5.7m in high school). In 2010 the gross enrolment ratio (GER) for primary and elementary education was 100.8%, the net enrolment ratio (NER) was 85%, the completion rate was 72.1% and the transition rate to secondary education was 97%. In the same year the GER and NER figures for secondary education were 82.1% and 62.4%, respectively, the completion rate was 73.7% and the overall drop-out rate was 7.9%. Although estimates vary, anywhere between 1.4m-1.7m children are believed to be out of school. Under an initiative called Abot Alam the DepEd is in the process of collecting data on the actual number of out-of-school children across the country and providing resources for them.

BASIC EDUCATION: The challenge for the state to provide for basic education is formidable. The Philippine schooling system is among the largest in the world. A quarter of the population is made up of students, with 21m enrolled in more than 46,000 public schools and the rest in private facilities. Some 40% of the country’s population is under the age of 15. To meet demand, the Philippines needs approximately 610,257 teachers and 522,867 classrooms. In his 2013 budget proposal President Aquino raised government spending on education to eliminate all resource gaps, for example in the provision of classrooms, teachers, textbooks and toilets by 2016.

Indeed, the Aquino administration has gone into overdrive hiring new teachers and constructing thousands of classrooms. Since 2010 more than 35,000 new teachers have been hired and 32,000 classrooms have been built. However, DepEd estimates that it still needs another 46,567 teachers and 34,000 classrooms to cover the shortfall. The Department of Education secretary Armin Luistro has vowed to end the infrastructure backlog “once and for all.”

Historically, rapid population growth and inadequate investment had led to a deterioration in the quality of basic education in the country. Many schools had begun resorting to multiple shifts in order to accommodate ever-increasing demand. According to a DepEd study from 2007, over 900 schools were providing two shifts per day. Textbook shortages reached 41.32m and the performance of primary school students had declined to such an extent that in 2008 the Philippines was ranked around 41st from among 45 countries in the Trends in International Maths and Science Survey.

At 45:1, the pupil to classroom ratio in the Philippines is among the worst in Asia. However, it is worth noting that there is almost no gender disparity when it comes to education. At the elementary level boys and girls students are almost equally represented, and at secondary and higher levels girls actually begin to outnumber boys. Boys also have a higher dropout rate than girls. This can partly be attributed to economic reasons: in the countryside, boys are expected to support their families by working on farms while girls are allowed to pursue education.

K-12 REFORMS: On May 15 2013, President Aquino signed into law the “Education for all” programme that mandates one year of kindergarten, six years of elementary school education, four years of junior high school and two years of senior high school. The passage of this legislation ended the country’s 10-year basic education cycle that allowed Filipino students to graduate with a university degree a full two years earlier than their peers overseas.

The K-12 programme, which adds two additional years of high school, is therefore the most far-reaching act of basic education reform undertaken by the administration of President Aquino. It will improve educational outcomes and bring the system in line with international standards. DepEd claims the move will improve basic competency and make high school graduates better suited for the work place. Critics counter that it will put financial strain on both educational institutions and parents.

The change is being implemented in phases starting in 2013 and finishing in 2017, is expected have significant consequences for the entire education system. Starting in 2013, new curricula will be introduced in the first year of elementary and junior high school, with new curricula for each subsequent grade introduced year by year through 2017. The new K-12 system also standardises age and curriculum requirements for all students within the school system. Further changes to education include the introduction of science from Grade 3 onwards, teaching in mother tongue until Grade 3, and new skills-oriented tracks in the two years of senior high school, Grades 11 and 12, that offer specialisation in academic subjects, vocational training, sports and arts.

Other reforms include reintroducing technical and vocational training in public high schools; providing financial assistance to deserving elementary school graduates who wish to pursue their secondary education in private schools; upgrading textbooks; improving science and mathematics scores and increasing the number of classrooms.

KINDERGARTEN: Congress passed the Early Childhood Care and Development Law in 2000 to make kindergarten universal. Student numbers increased 1.45% in 2013 after it became compulsory. Day-care centres were established in every barangay (a village-level local government unit) and a National Coordinating Council for the Welfare of Children was established to coordinate the implementation of the new early childhood policy.

The government has sought to include non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and parents in the decision-making process, which has fostered a sense of community ownership. The result was that kindergarten enrolment reached 2.04m in 2011 – a participation rate of 91.67%, representing a significant improvement over the 75.72% achieved in 2010.

CONNECTING UP: DepEd claims that all public schools have been equipped with kindergarten facilities and efforts are being made to provide every school with a computer lab with a minimum of 10 computers. Merle Asprer, operations manager for DepEd’s Adopt-a-School programme, told OBG that 7000 high schools have been equipped with such computer labs and those that remain are the ones not connected with electricity. DepEd figures show 3107 public high schools still need an internet connection, but only 428 that do not yet have a computer lab. “The focus now is on the country’s 27,000 elementary schools,” Asprer said.

HIGHER EDUCATION: Higher education institutions (HEIs) are broken into four types: state universities and colleges (SUCs), local universities and colleges (LUCs), CHED-supervised institutions (CSI) and private higher education institutions (PHEIs). While the SUCs are chartered public institutions established by law, administered and subsidised by the national government, LUCs have been established by city and provincial governments through resolutions or ordinances. LUCs are financed by the sponsoring local government unit. CSIs are non-chartered, public, post-secondary institutions established by law, administered and subsidised by the federal government. PHEIs are established under the Corporation Code, administered independently but governed by special laws, guidelines and policies set by CHED.

CHED is the sole authority responsible for licensing and accrediting degree programmes. There are approximately 2.5m students enrolled in 2247 HEIs across the country. According to CHED there are a total of 2247 colleges and universities, of which 1604 are privately owned, with the remaining 643 being either SUC or LUC institutions.

Students currently enter the tertiary education system at the age of 16 and can graduate with a bachelor’s degree by the age of 20. But even as two more years of high school are added, it will not be until 2019 that the Philippines will have finally synched its graduating scale with the rest of the world. Bachelor’s programmes are typically four years and master’s programmes are two years.

Private institutions are mostly for-profit ventures and dominate the tertiary education sector. Although financially independent, PHEIs cannot offer degree programmes without seeking authorisation from CHED. SUCs and LUCs, however, are free to do so. The only exceptions are the 40-odd private autonomous universities and colleges that have been given wider berth to develop their academic programmes in recognition of their status and quality of education.

Bachelor’s programmes in public universities include arts and sciences, teacher education, engineering and technology, medicine, business, agriculture, law, religion, information technology (IT), maritime studies and criminology. Although business is the most popular degree programme there has been a rapid increase in the number of students taking up IT. CHED has also launched a series of new programmes in disciplines such as geology and meteorology. Admission to SUCs is a competitive process based largely on the National College Entrance Examination which is administered to students during the fourth year of junior high school.

REFORM AGENDA: The Higher Education Reform Agenda seeks greater accountability for higher education outcomes. It has been drafted in response to two long-standing weaknesses in the system – an absence of academic excellence and a general lack of access. The reforms therefore seek to rationalise higher education, raise standards and expand access. The process of rationalisation in the tertiary sector includes restructuring SUCs to improve their financial management and governance systems and shutting down programmes are not aligned with their core objectives. Ongoing cost pressures have pushed SUCs into offering programmes that have little to do with their mandate but serve as revenue streams.

CHED plans to phase out all such programmes in public institutions by 2016. It hopes to raise academic standards through accreditation, faculty training and upgrading of SUC research and development (R&D) facilities. Further, 22 SUCs have been identified as Centres of Excellence or Centres of Development and will receive enhanced financial support for scholarships, faculty development and R&D activities by way of grants-in-aid. Such aid also includes support for collaboration with foreign institutions. The strategy is to lavish spending on a few institutions to create impact, with the aim being to have at least three HEIs break into the ranks of the world’s leading institutions. Currently, only the University of the Philippines, the country’s lone national university, is in the top 100 in Asia.

As part of a restructuring exercise, SUCs in Davao are being amalgamated into a single regional university system as a pilot project. Another potential reform is the creation of two specialised institutions that would cater to the needs of, and work with, the industrial sector. Semiconductor, business process outsourcing, tourism, agriculture and fisheries, and infrastructure have been identified as priority sectors for job creation and CHED is pressing SUCs to offer programmes that support these sectors.

TARGETING FUNDING: In terms of extending access, the reform programme includes targeted financial assistance to the neediest students with the aim of helping them enrol in leading SUCs or private institutions of their choice. According to CHED, some 52,517 students have benefitted from its Student Financial Assistance Programme, which awarded more than P706m ($17.01m) in 2013.

Student financial assistance programmes include scholarships, need-based grants-in-aid and loans. But these cater to only 1.82 % of the student population and for the most part are poorly administered, although attempts are being made to simplify the process to make disbursement more effective.

Meanwhile, the funding formula for SUCs has been recalibrated to account for specific quality indicators, and institutions whose programmes fall below standards will now receive less funding. A socialised tuition fee system will be piloted in 10 SUCs in 2014-16 in which higher fees levied on students from higher-income families will be used to subsidise places for those on low-incomes.

In a bid to make SUCs less dependent on public financing, CHED is encouraging them to develop income-generating business ideas and partner with the private sector. Such plans could include, for instance, using excess property for commercial undertakings or renting lecture halls for functions.

DIGITISATION & STAFFING: The digitalisation of SUC information management systems is expected to be completed by 2016 with at least 20% of SUCs connected by 2014. An executive development plan has been designed to enhance the capability of SUC administrators. Specialised courses are being delivered on strategic planning, benchmarking, quality management, curriculum development and human resource management.

VOCATIONAL SKILLS: Despite a perennial shortage of skilled labourers in the economy, vocational training has not received significant attention. Only 4328 institutions across the country deliver TVET courses, out of which 3906 are private. Enrolment in TVET peaked at 2.14m in 2007 and registered a 13.72% increase between 2006 and 2009. According to TESDA this growth was the result of the substantial scholarships and free training it offered. In 2013 TESDA received a budget of P2.97bn ($71.6m), of which P900m ($21.69m) is allocated for scholarships. TESDA runs a network of 125 TESDA Technology Institutes. Other training centres are run by HEIs, industry and NGOs. These non-degree technical programmes are regulated by TESDA, whose mandate also includes training out-of-school youth and retraining of unemployed adults. The competency of trainees is tested through the Philippine TVET Qualifications and Certification System (PTQACS).

“The key for educational institutions will be to be market-driven, focusing on quality education yet also on the needs of the economy. Integration of technology and ICT services will be a major factor given the industry's high demand for these skills,” Ambassador Amable R Aguiluz V, chairman emeritus and founder of AMA Education System, told OBG.

Students and their parents have traditionally favoured university degrees over technical diplomas. The record on TVET graduate employment could also be improved. From 2006 to 2008 only 28.5% of TESDA graduates are said to have found jobs. However, some of the problem also lies with the manner in which the education system has been structured. “It is loaded in favour of college degrees at the moment,” Vicente Fabella, president of Jose Rizal University, told OBG. “When students graduate from school at the age of 16 they really cannot enter the workforce. So the only option for them is to go and pursue degrees in universities.”

OUTLOOK: Some stress the need for reforms all the way through the school system before students have entered university so as to help them prepare for the shifting demands of today’s labour market. “There is a persistent mismatch between the increasing demand for manpower of the industry and the educational sector’s output. To maximise the potential of K-12, there should be a thorough study of the curriculum to identify the best way to use the added years,” Cristina Padolina, the president and chief academic officer at Centro Escolar University, told OBG.

This situation looks likely to improve in the coming years: from 2016, students will have the opportunity to hone their technical and vocational skills while as part of the K-12 system, helping students who will not go on to attend colleges to find jobs. Assuming issues of access and financing can be addressed sustainably, the changes to the education system look set to improve learning outcomes.

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The Report: The Philippines 2014

Education chapter from The Report: The Philippines 2014

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