Sunday, December 18, 2011

Education Nation: Not the Philippines

There’s a newly formed group very publicly calling for reforms in education. They call themselves the Education Nation coalition. On paper, it’s a powerful group comprising founders, senior executives and high level officers of top-tier organizations. Just how powerful a group will remain to be seen (on future government education policies) but the issue they’ve decided to take on is more significant. It is Philippine education, which is to say, Philippine public education. Private institutions - being relatively free from government control and funding - have largely remained globally competitive and hardly ailing. Although President Arroyo and the Commission on Higher Education have made initiatives to rock the otherwise smooth sailing boat of private institutions. But that’s a whole other bunch of issues (continuously taken up by Fr Joaquin Bernas).

Anyway, the coalition has come up with a 10-point agenda to uplift the current state of education. But the 10 points are mostly generalized so we’ll just tackle the least broad one which is: “[e]nhancing basic education by adding two more years to it.”

As already mentioned, the state of the Philippine education system is largely the state of our public school system. The UNESCO National Education Support Strategy (dated January 2009)reports that “[a]s of School Year (SY) 2007-200839, out of 44,471 elementary schools, around 85% were public while only 15% were private. On the other hand, 8,450 schools offer secondary education in SY 2007-2008, of which 60% were public and 40% were private.”

At present, our public school education only has 6 years of grade school and 4 years of high school, with not even a mandatory requirement for pre-school learning. So only 10 years of basic education.

K-12, K-10 and just 10

The international standard is K-12 education which is formal education from kindergarten to 12th grade (i.e., kindergarten plus 12 years of grade school and high school). A lower standard is K-10 which is kindergarten plus only 10 years of grade school and high school. But our public school system is short of even K-10 education (most of our students go straight to grade 1 and go through only 6 years of grade school plus 4 years of high school). Thus, most of our students start formal education only around the age of 6.

In a recent commentary (dated January 8, 2010), Former Secretary of Education, Edilberto C. de Jesus, referencing the resolution of the Education Committee of UNESCO’s Philippine National Commission notes that “among 155 Unesco member countries, only Djoubuti, Angola and the Philippines still fall below what has become the international norm” which is K-12 education. This is a triumvirate of shame. It is scary to inquire what other records we have that also puts us on the level of African countries. We’re not even on the same level as any Asian country, not even Bangladesh.

So we’re only 1 of 3 remaining in the world, and the only Asian country, to not follow international education standards. [Sigh] When one of our modern heroes is former street child Efren Peñaflorida, who was prompted to offer pushcart education to street children, it’s depressing and distressing.

Current State of Philippine Basic Education

And these problems are on top of the deficiency in the international standard of K-12 or 13 years of formal education.

Relevant Laws and Government Policies

Education Act of 1953

Republic Act No. 896 (“An Act To Declare The Policy On Elementary Education In The Philippines” or the "Elementary Education Act of 1953” mandates that “[t]he primary course shall be composed of four grades (Grades I to IV) and the intermediate course of three grades (Grade V to VII).” This law has yet to be amended yet its mandate of 7 years of grade school has already been “amended” by the executive branch of government by making public elementary education only 6 years.

Medium-Term Philippine Development Plan 2004-2010

It is further telling of the Arroyo government’s priorities that in its MTPDP for 2004-2010, although already noting that “[t]he Philippines has one of the shortest basic education systems in Asia-Pacific, with six years of elementary and four years of high school”, the government did not include in its 8 goals for elementary education the latter’s increase from 6 to 7 years, thus perpetuating government policy of short basic education contrary to the Elementary Education Act of 1953 and the international norm for basic education.

To add further injury, the Arroyo government included as one of its goals: requiring preschool as a prerequisite to grade one.

Philippine Constitution

Article XIV, Sec 2, paragraph 3 of the Constitution obligates the government to “[e]stablish and maintain, a system of free public education in the elementary and high school levels.” By not increasing elementary education from 6 to 7 years, Arroyo ingeniously saved government funds by taking these away from already poor students needing more basic education while potentially increasing the financial burden on their families by aiming to make preschool a prerequisite to entering grade school.

We definitely need an additional 2 years of basic education. The presidential elections are nearing. If you care about the state of our education, choose the candidate who prioritizes education (pursuant to the Constitution) and plans to implement K-12 education (pursuant to international standards).

Education inevitably affects the state of our country one way or another. Uneducated people make uneducated decisions (to put it mildly). And if they end up as leaders or even just the voting majority, we’ll always be doomed.

I know of an educator who wishes that the children of all government officials be mandated to go to public schools to ensure that our education system be given the rightful attention it needs. It seems like the sure-fire way of making us an Education Nation.

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