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Education statistics draw gloomy picture
Posted: 0:28 AM (Manila Time) | Oct. 07, 2002
By Amando Doronila
Inquirer News Service

Inadequate in IT age

THE deficiencies of basic education (elementary and high school) in the Philippines block the access of millions of our young people to the advantages offered by the age of information technology.

The educational system is inadequate in coping with the challenges of the IT revolution that is reshaping the global economy and rearranging power structures. To say that the educational system is in crisis is to understate the problem. We like to claim we have one of the highest literacy rates in the world (94 percent), but this is only a facade that hides the fact that our basic educational system is not prepared to cope with the complex issues of globalization, tough economic competition and even the rising era of populist politics.

The appeal of show biz celebrities as recruits for political leadership is probably a symptom of the hidden illiteracy produced by our basic educational system. At the beginning of each school year, press stories of shortages of classrooms, facilities and books, and the swelling entrants to grade school have become routine.

National hero Jose Rizal, more than a century ago, said education was the best weapon against poverty. Today, more than half of our people are poor. But much more people have gone to school in the era of mass education than during Rizal's time when only a handful of the elite could attend school. And poverty also affects the health and performance of students. As well, it is responsible for the rising number of dropouts.

The government has fulfilled the constitutional mandate by giving education highest priority in the budgetary allocation. This allocation has not wiped out the hidden illiteracy in the schools system.

This article is an assessment of the state of education at its basic level that determines the quality of entrants to tertiary education. The statistics paint an appalling picture, although gains have been made at least during the past decade.

Education infrastructure

This article is not going to discuss the debate over the new curriculum revamp aimed at realigning the education system to the demands of international competitiveness and at inculcating Filipino cultural values and civic responsibility. It is about the more basic infrastructure of education where students are taught to master the three Rs, and its output. For example:

  • We have 36,169 elementary schools and 4,202 high schools, employing 500,000 teachers. In the academic year 2002-03, more than 17 million students were enrolled. Of this, 11 million pupils were enrolled in public elementary schools, with 925,000 enrolled in private schools. Four million were enrolled in public high schools and 1.2 million in private schools.

  • While the ideal gross teacher-to-student ratio is one teacher for every 34 students, the actual public school class size is, on the average, more than 60 students.

  • In a recent national elementary achievement test, the overall mean percentage score of elementary school students was about 49 percent. The lowest score was in Mathematics (45 percent). The score was higher in social studies (55 percent). These figures indicate that the average Grade 6 student has mastered only half of the contents of the basic subjects (Math, Science, English, Filipino and Social Studies).

In the national secondary achievement test, the mean performance score was 54 percent, with Math scoring 49 percent, compared with 66 percent for Filipino and 58 percent for Social Studies. These figures indicate that the average fourth-year high school student has mastered only half of the contents of these basic subjects.

According to a report by Inter Press Service, the Philippines "spends only one-eighth of what Thailand sets aside for basic education." The Ateneo Center for Policy Studies reports that there has been a minimal increase in public spending for social services--basic education, preventive health care, water and sanitation-in proportion to total public spending. "Human proportion (share of spending on basic social services to total budget), barely increased from its 11 to 12 percent levels in 10 years from 1987 to 1997," says the report.

No electricity, toilets

A government-sponsored survey of more than 400,000 teachers found that 55 percent of their schools had no electricity, 84 percent had no running water, and only 38 percent had toilets. A quarter of the teachers polled said they taught in classrooms without ceilings, 45 percent said they brought their own tables to school, and 43 percent brought their own chairs.

The survey found that a number of teachers were teaching subjects they were not trained for, explaining "why the public school system churns out graduates who are totally unprepared for a complex world," in the words of journalist Yvonne Chua. Teachers have been found to be underpaid.

In 1995, according to the Inter Press report, the Philippines ranked third to the last in elementary and second to the last in elementary science in an international test taken by half a million elementary and high school students in 45 countries. A 1997 Unesco (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) study assessed the performance of the Philippine Education for All (EFA) program and the Philippine Plan of Action (PPA) for the 1990s.

According to its report on the state of primary education, the Philippines followed the constitutional provision requiring education to receive the highest budgetary priority. In 1990, the education sector was allocated funds equivalent to 3.07 percent of the gross national product (GNP). National defense was allocated 1.38 percent; health, 0.71 percent; and transportation and communications, 2.18 percent.

The primary education sector took a third of the education sector funds, equivalent to 1.18 percent of the GNP or 40.1 percent of total expenditure on education. Comparing our allocation with that of other Asian countries, Malaysia in the 1980s was spending for education 7 percent of GNP; Bhutan, 4 percent; and Indonesia, 3.7 percent.

The Philippines and Bangladesh (1.5 percent of the GNP) were at the lowest end of the spectrum. Malaysia and Papua New Guinea (6.9 percent) were at the high end.

Although at first glance the education budget may appear to enjoy only a small share in the total national budget, the record for the EFA decade shows that the education sector's share in the total budget pie has steadily increased from 13 percent in 1991 to 21 percent in 1998. Funding for elementary education has grown from 42.3 percent of the total education budget in 1989 to 59.1 percent in 1999, although this was merely a return to the 60 percent in 1987 and earlier years.

2.3 million illiterates

In 1990, the simple literacy rate among 15-plus year olds was 93.6 percent. Although this literacy level was high for developing country standards, there were 2.3 million illiterate adults, which Unesco found "worrisome."

The Unesco report notes that the Philippines provided a high level of access to primary education in 1990. The apparent intake rate for new entrants to Grade 1 was 134.2 percent and the net intake rate was 79.8. percent. The gap suggests that many families were postponing their children's schooling, probably a symptom of poverty.

The report points to the effect of ill-health on school performance. Frequent sickness abetted frequent absences and lack of concentration. Malnutrition, rampant in rural areas, causes lower intelligence quotients (IQs), poor school attendance and shorter attention spans, making the affected children more prone to repeat grades or to drop out of school.

Malnourished children also tended to achieve less in school. Iron deficiency was the most common form of malnutrition in the Philippines in the 1990s.

Although public policy provides for free elementary public education, poverty disadvantages the poor. Here, smaller resource allocation to poverty alleviation program appears to affect the quality of school output. As many as 1.7 million Filipino children in the 7-12 age bracket are out of school, most of whom are from the poorest provinces. "Although public elementary education is free, school-related expenses like transportation fare, snacks, lunch, school supplies and other materials are beyond the financial capabilities of the poor," says Unesco.

The Ateneo study found that out of every 100 Filipino schoolchildren enrolled each year, 66 will complete elementary education and 42 high school. Only 14 will earn a college degree.

Posted: 0:28 AM (Manila Time) | Oct. 07, 2002
By Amando Doronila
Inquirer News Service

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