Public-private complementarity to enhance basic education quality


Sonny Coloma

“The State shall protect and promote the right of all citizens to quality education at all levels, and shall take appropriate steps to make such education accessible to all.”

This is the specific provision, Article IV, of the Constitution that underpins all efforts to seek to improve the educational system. Republic Act 8545 on the Expanded Government Assistance to Private Education (GATSPE) was the legislation that enabled and fleshed out how the national government would bring about greater accessibility to quality education.

Through the Education Service Contracting (ESC) scheme, financial assistance in the form of tuition subsidies) has been extended to qualified elementary school graduates who wish to pursue Junior High School (JHS) – Grades 7 to 10 –  in private schools.

To address the additional financial burden brought on by two more years of basic education, the government introduced a voucher system that took effect in school year 2016-2017, the first year of implementation of the new senior high school component of the new K to 12 system. Due to the government’s resource constraints, there is need to expand the voucher system to include those in primary education so that congestion in public schools would be mitigated while government seeks to close the gap in terms of lack of classrooms.

Recent studies show that 83 percent of students of Filipino Grade 5 students fell below the Southeast Asia Primary Learning Metrics (SEA-PLM) reading and mathematics standards, while 58 percent fell under the lowest proficiency bands in writing. Using the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMMS) norms, 81 percent of tested Grade 4 students tested below-standard in mathematics while 87 percent did not meet the minimum proficiency norm in science. They were consistently outperformed by their counterparts in the private schools.

Also disturbing are the high dropout rates in the primary level. In two school years from 2018 to 2020, 75 percent of dropouts are between Kindergarten and Grade Four, with dropouts in Kindergarten and Grade One accounting for 60 percent.

Dr. Victor S. Limlingan, a retired Asian Institute of Management (AIM) Professor and an education policy advocate, believes that expanding the voucher system would provide an effective response to this worrisome situation.

Meantime, in the recent Basic Education Summit, concern was expressed on the apparent “failure” of the K to 12 program to improve immediate employability of senior high school students which had been one of the expected outcomes. Such assessment may not be timely nor appropriate, especially considering that we are still at the inception stage of its implementation, and that during the last three years, the country enforced a protracted shutdown of basic education due to the pandemic.

While it is true that curriculum improvements are also essential, a broad-gauged perspective would point to the higher priority that needs to be placed on stemming the high dropout rate, as well as in providing the optimum infrastructure in terms of adequate classrooms, well-prepared teachers and a wholesome learning environment.

Political will is needed to significantly increase the outlay for education. This covers the budgets of the Department of Education (DepEd), State Universities and Colleges (SUCs), Commission on Higher Education (CHED), and Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA).

While it is true that at ₱852.8 billion, the education sector budget reflects its being the government’s highest budgetary priority, the country’s total spending for education estimated at three percent of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is only half the global norm of six percent suggested by the United Nations.

Clearly, it would take a whole-of-nation approach to address this gap. The private sector, whose industries and businesses employ the product of the educational system, has much to gain by investing significant resources to boost the quality of education, especially of the youngest learners.

Among the vocal advocates of educational reform is Bro. Armin Luistro who served as Education Secretary during the initial rollout of the K to 12 program. He has called for the crafting of a “realistic workmap” to address macroeconomic concerns such as “social equity, students’ nutrition, adequacy of the national budget for education, as well as the schools’ curriculum and management.” He describes the present situation as being a “multifaceted, multi-player and multi-generational learning crisis that deserves broad public support.”

But while such broad, long-term reform programs would take time to generate sufficient traction, it is well to consider pragmatic, bite-size and readily implementable solutions including the expansion of the voucher system, so that our young learners could benefit from improved basic education opportunities.