The Explainer: Education scorecard

Leading up to the State of the Nation Address, Hermogenes Esperon Jr. reminded the public that the President’s upcoming Presidential report card

By Manuel L. Quezon III


State of the Nation Address  “is not her final goodbye since she still has nine more months to complete her term.”

But the clock’s still winding down. In a recent column, Solita Monsod reproduced the President’s goal for Education, by the end of her term, as follows: Everyone of school age will be in school. In an uncrowded classroom. In surroundings conducive to learning. Three thousand school buildings a year shall have been built. And a computer put in every high school.

How near, or far, is she, to those objectives?

How does government rate itself in terms of primary school enrollment then? The NSCB has a helpful report on line and according to its own measure, the result is a red unsmiley face. Net enrolment in the primary schools is declining –and increasing it won’t likely be attained.

On the other hand, the good news is that the sinister-sounding cohort survival rate gets a green smiley face. Cohort Survival Rate means the percentage of those who started a level, finishing that level.  Government expects 5% more of those who start primary, to finish primary, compared to 2006. A healthy increase.

This necessarily means that the dropout rate must be going down –but here, government gives itself a yellow non-frownybutnonsmiley face. Dropout rates are decreasing, but not to the extent government desires. But the UNDP report notes worrisome declines were observed in North Cotobato, Kalinga, Zamboanga del Norte, Tawi-Tawi and Davao Oriental—where enrolment dropped 10 percentage points or more.

But less recent numbers tell us that about 94% of children completed full course primary. Based on the Philippine Human Development Report 2008/2009, public elementary students enrolment dropped to 12.03 million between 2007 and 2008, from 12.08 million between 2006 and 2007. For private elementary schools, enrolment stood at 1.09 million between 2007 and 2008, slightly higher from 1.03 million between 2006 and 2007.

However, data from 2007 showed that only 67% of girls and 56% of boys are in secondary school. That’s a huge number of kids who never go on past elementary school –a third of girls and 44% of the boys.

The NSCB in its more recent report card gives the government a red unsmiley face in terms of secondary school enrolment –they’re not improving and far from the target. According to the UNDP report, for high school students, enrolment moved up slightly to 5.12 million in public schools and 1.33 million in private institutions.

However, in terms of cohort survival rate –kids starting secondary school and finishing it- the government gave itself a green happy face and glowingly reported that there was a huge improvement and that targets have been exceeded ahead of schedule.

Another green smiley face for the government in terms of the dropout rate, after a big jump in 2005-2006, when secondary school dropouts increased from 8 to 12 percent, dropped again back to the 8 percent neighborhood.

But the UNDP report pointed out that spending in private schools on students was growing at an average of 1.8 percent per year while per-public school student budget of the DepEd grew in real terms at an average of 2.1 percent per year, a  “rate that looks respectable at first glance but which includes a notable spike in the 1997 budget due to increases in teacher salaries as provided by the Salary Standardization Law”. After the “one-time 1997 spike, the per-student budget declined by an average of 0.3 percent per year in real terms”.

Returning to the NCSB’s report card, the government gets a green smiley face for the target of pupils per classroom -1 classroom per student was the goal, and it’s been consistently met.

But on the secondary level, it’s a red unsmiley face: with the same target, 50 pupils per classroom, the target not only been not met, but government’s gone further away from it’s target.

However, regardless of this, the government has maintained its target at 6,000 new classrooms a year. NSCB says government gets a green smiley face for exceeding the targets, by 100% or more in the last two years reported. The UN report says “actual classroom shortages currently range from a few thousand to tens of thousands, depending on whether one assumes a single or double shift”.

And in both primary and secondary levels, with a pupil-teacher ratio goal of 1 teacher to 50 students, government gets a green smiley face for itself. But UNDP says there are teacher shortages that could range from 9,000 to 30,000—“depending on the assumed class size”.

And the UNDP report situates our student-to-pupil ratio at among the highest in the region.

According to the UNDP, from 1995 to 2008,  the Department of Education’s share of the national budget was almost constant at 13 percent. In 2007, the department’s budget was P139.4 billion, up from P118.75 billion in 2006.

But “On a per-student basis, however, investment was declining in real terms. Stagnant or falling real expenditures per students have been a recurrent problem and will likely to persist because of the government’s fiscal situation,” said the UNDP.

The UNDP report, which you can download in full online, also has a lot of things to say about how agencies like DepEd suffer from politics. In  fact, in terms of language policy, for example, it says rational decisions, based on research and not political whims, were reached only twice: in 1939 and in 1957. In broad strokes, it’s difficult to implement reforms if cabinet members are changed or use their office for political campaigning.

Finally, let’s briefly look at the curriculum that matters –because for so many of our countrymen, it’s the only curriculum to which they’ll ever be meaningfully exposed. In terms of class time, students get exposed to English and Makabayan –a hodge-podge, catchall subject- the most, and Filipino, Science and Math, the least. When it comes to the relative weight of the core subjects: half, roughly speaking, is devoted to languages, English and Filipino; a fourth for Makabayan; and a third of class time for math and science.

But as we saw in terms of budgets, even these percentages may be theoretical. For besides being in shifts, to keep the pupil to classroom ratio officially acceptable, and the pupil-teacher ratio officially OK too, do the kids have the tools needed to learn? “The extent of textbooks shortages also varies, depending on whether textbooks for music, arts, and physical education are counted on top of books for the regular subjects English, Filipino, Mathematics, science and social studies. Shortages are driven by the level of public funding relative to the demand for services. The demand for services is in turn driven principally by rapid population growth,” according to the UNDP.

Solita Monsod said, in a forum, last May, that we may face an “education crisis” because of falling enrolment as well as shortages in classrooms, books and teachers amid the government’s tight fiscal situation.

To make matters worse, the UNDP report also said we’re  wasting millions of pesos on salaries for “excess” government.

Manuel L. Quezon III.

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