With the issue of access to education largely resolved, the government will now “pivot” its focus on quality, Education Secretary Leonor Briones told The Manila Times in an exclusive interview last week. We support this shift, which will coincide with a program to build more classrooms in remote areas across the Philippines. And we urge the rest of the country to do the same.
The program focusing on quality will be known as Sulong EduKalidad. Its pillars are represented by the acronym KITE. K stands for K to 12, which will be reviewed, a timely initiative given that it was started a decade ago this year. The next letter, I, stands for improvement of the learning environment. T is for teacher training to enable them to teach students how to think rather than just memorizing lessons, and E is for engaging all the stakeholders in education for support and collaboration.
The pivot comes at a time when education authorities feel defensive about the poor showing of Filipino students in the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA).
In that test administered by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development in 79 countries, the Philippines ranked at the bottom in reading comprehension and second to last in science and mathematics.
Secretary Briones took exception to criticisms that the government was not doing its job.
She pointed out that she was the first Education secretary to sign up the Philippines to PISA. And one of her reasons for doing so was the need to benchmark the Philippines with other countries. In other words, the PISA results can be a valuable guide to policymaking and strategy formulation in education.
In that regard, we recall that the critics of K to 12 argued that 10 years of basic education were enough, and that limited public resources should be spent on other priorities instead, like building more classrooms. Fortunately, the government did not cave in.
It was also encouraging to hear that Secretary Briones believes in complementarity between the government and the private education sector. Government cannot do everything on its own.
In a recent education conference organized the Private Education Assistance Committee or PEAC, Dr. Vicente Fabella of Jose Rizal University reported that the total Philippine government spending on education as a percentage of gross domestic product (GDP) is only 3.5 percent in 2017. That was an improvement from 2.9 percent in 2015 and 2.6 percent in 2009. But the average for lower middle income countries like ours is 4.6 percent.
South Korea, which is a global leader in standardized student assessments, spends an equivalent of 5.3 percent of its GDP on education. For Vietnam, the rising star in Southeast Asia, that figure is 5.7 percent.
Dr. Fabella also reported the private sector augments total spending on education, pushing the ratio to 6 percent of GDP as of 2016. And on a side note, the private sector accounts for 87.2 percent of total education spending for higher education.
Regrettably, there are lawmakers and others in government who are against complementarity. Perhaps the critics of that partnership should read the 1987 Constitution. Article XIV, Section 4 (1) states: “The State recognizes the complementary roles of public and private institutions in the educational system and shall exercise reasonable supervision and regulation of all educational institutions.”
Less clear, however, is what complementarity actually means and how exactly to operationalize it. Obviously, the private citizens and organizations have been carrying out social programs for students and the larger education sector. But observation suggests that their efforts lack harmonization and could have greater impact with better coordination with government.
In executing its pivot from access to quality education, we hope that the Department of Education, Congress and other government bodies, including the Commission on Higher Education and the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority, will work with all stakeholders in education in formulating policies and executing effective strategies in education.
Education not only enhances an individual’s chances of having a better life. It is also vital to national development. In other words, ensuring quality education means more than the next round of PISA results. It means investing in our future.