The euphoria generated by the hosannas from the Manila WEF forum was supposed to linger for some time, and the Philippine leadership really prayed for an extended shelf life.
After all, it was the first time President Aquino and his economic managers got the Davos crowd notice, if not the seal of approval. The high priest of the Davos crowd, Karl Schwab, even swapped the airy cold of the Swiss alps for the punishing heat of Manila to join in the vesting of the seal of good economic stewardship on the Aquino government.
Aquino, Purisima, Tetangco et al basked in the glory of the moment—the global acclamation as a star economic performer in an environment of lethargic economies, threats of deflation and secular stagnation. There was never a moment in the president’s public life that he appeared with more energy and zest than in his WEF gigs.
But who would have foreseen the bad timing of the WEF forum in Manila? Just days after the national lift, the problems of the education sector came unraveling. And the brief moment of rejoicing came crashing down to earth again, shattered by the opening of a school year that was marred by the usual chaos and the visceral but ugly display of the education sector’s hollowness and overall mediocrity.
The WEF-induced euphoria quickly vanished as these problems reappeared to remind us, that, despite the sustained growth rates under President Aquino, the same old, old problems of the education sector have remained unresolved—a most vital social sector unaffected by our country’s sustained growth since the Arroyo presidency.
Educating the people is the prime mandate of government. The constitution is very precise on the priority place of education among the various mandates of the state.
Yet, why is the primary mandate of the state untouched by the rock star performance of the national economy? Good and relevant question.
The problems of the education sector are grave across all specific concerns. The most visible, and which was piled on by the media reportage that was always on the lookout for easy-to-report stories with shock value, was the classroom shortage. In the most populous parts of Quezon City, very near the halls of Congress, public elementary school children started the school year packed like sardines in classrooms that were bursting at the seams.
There was no image more tragic than that one—the imposing halls of Congress looms over classrooms of the Third World kind.
The same scene -of classrooms stretched to the limit – was true in the other metropolitan areas as well as in the provinces on the route to near urbanization.
Will the classroom host three shifts? Or, will the authorities just cap the enrollment? The overburdened teachers and principals, their long clamor for pay adjustments just turned down by the President, were at their wit’s end explaining the gap between the shabby public education infrastructure and the surge in enrollment.
All those glorious press statements about the giant strides in public educational investments, it turned out, were way too short to cope with the huge need for classrooms, desks, books and, take note of this, basic classroom ventilation.
We have not touched the topic of libraries, laboratories and computers yet. While other countries are dealing with the imperative of teaching the young school kids how to code (yes, code so they can be the Zuckerbergs of the future), many Filipino children in public schools cannot even get hold of a sturdy desk and books in good shape.
We are not dealing with child malnutrition yet. Some 7 to 8 million school kids, especially those in the Club 20 provinces, suffer from various stages of malnutrition. They waste and wilt inside the classrooms for obvious lack of required nutrition. Believe it or not, the most inspired work on combating malnutrition in public schools used to be funded by the PDAF. Believe it or not, such feeding programs had been slammed in the COA special audit for lack of documentation.
Believe it or not, the programs that dealt with real-life problems, the social cancers like widespread child malnutrition, are the ones most suspect to COA auditors.
The under-investment in education, the absence of a crash program that would solve its basic ills such as classroom lack, the allocation of 85 percent of the education fund for salaries and operating costs (leaving a meager 15 percent for capex) have conspired to put in place an educational system that is, at best, mediocre.
Graduation rates, in which 2 out of ten entrants into the school system graduate from college, or scores in aptitude tests, or school children being directed into the STEM fields, are yet to be hotly-debated topics in Philippine education. There are no debates on its future direction and goals. It is all about malignant and malingering basic problems such as classroom lack.
On tertiary education, the best we can say is that we take pride in the low rankings of our supposedly premier universities. Again, on basic education, Haiti—just weaned away from a cannibal-leader—has better education achievements than the ARMM, the troubled region that is a glorious showcase of Philippine poverty and illiteracy.
Good thing that Schwab had repaired to the comforting cold of the Swiss alps before the opening of the Philippine school year. The ugliness of the school year opening would have forced him to take a deeper look into the real state of affairs in the country he and the Davos kind just vested with torrents of alleluias.