Education Undersecretary Francis Varela offered this very intriguing proposition as he was concluding his discussion on why we should seriously consider decentralization as an education reform initiative. Speaking at the “Decentralizing Philippine Education” forum organized by the Philippine Business for Education (PBEd) last week, Varela said the full downloading of maintenance and other operating expenses to the school was one concrete example of decentralization. The School-Based Management program and the Special Education Fund are two more.
Varela pointed out that as the K-to-12 program unfolds through the years, the Department of Education foresees critical challenges ahead in terms of resource requirements and curriculum development. According to his projections, the full implementation of senior high school (Grades 11 and 12) or SHS by 2016 will mean that the DepEd will have to be ready for the two million or so fourth-year students who will now move up to Grade 11 instead of graduating and leaving the public school system. Varela said the DepEd would need P40-50 billion annually just to provide for more teachers, classrooms and auxiliary equipment that the added enrollment would need.
This is where decentralization seems like a good idea, at least for senior high school. Varela’s figures show that there are about 1.5 million places available for incoming Grade 11 students if senior high school were offered by all higher education institutions, including state and local universities and colleges.
“If only 50 percent of available places in non-DepEd schools are used for Grades 11 and 12, it will cover about 30 percent of the projected enrollment in SHS in a high-growth scenario” said Varela. There are other equally tangible benefits. A publicly funded, privately provided senior high school system gives students and parents more schools to choose from. Moreover, when done properly, decentralization gives communities more options to address the requirements of local business and industry vis-à-vis student learning needs and career preferences.
Private higher education institutions (HEIs) have collectively expressed strong interest in offering senior high school. Recently, Education Secretary Armin Luistro cited Asia Pacific College (APC) for its successful run of a model implementation of senior high school in partnership with the Business Process Association of the Philippines (BPAP). The APC’s senior high school model uses the Service Management Program specialization curriculum, the learning core of which draws on the expertise of BPAP members and is designed to provide students with the competencies they need to pursue a successful career in the information technology/business process outsourcing industry.
The APC model clearly shows that having an HEI run a senior high school is effective in terms of cost and, more importantly, in providing the learner with competencies desirable in the workplace.
Sen. Edgardo Angara said as much during his remarks at the PBEd forum. “Our graduates must now be globally competitive and internationally recognized,” he said. “Must we now devolve the function of education to the LGU (local government unit)? I think it is worth searching for an answer. I think we can devolve education to a highly organized school district.”
Former Sen. Aquilino Pimentel, author of the Local Government Code, commented: “Three major powers have been devolved to the LGU but education was not one of them … because teachers are also members of the board of election inspectors. It was one of the drawbacks to devolving education. What is to prevent the LGUs from becoming tools of partisan aspirations?” Pimentel added that the national government should define the thrust of both basic education and the curriculum. The specialized curriculum in senior high school can devolve to the LGUs for context and relevance.
Edilberto de Jesus, a former education secretary and a founding trustee of the Eggie Apostol Foundation, responded by saying that the education reform community had been repeatedly calling for the removal of teachers from the electoral process. He pointed out that the electronic voting machines had obviated the need for manual counting and canvassing.
Alex Brillantes invited the audience to examine the Special Education Fund as a vehicle to spur decentralization. He said that while the fund might have been “subject to abuse by both local chief executives as well as DepEd principals and supervisors,” there were cases where it was used judiciously by the LGU. Brillantes cited Naga and Benguet, where school performance monitoring and resource utilization had high priority.
PBEd chair Ramon del Rosario said: “There is wisdom in decentralization, but it has to be done right. It can foster community ownership, innovation and dynamism, and improve outcomes. But issues like corruption, lack of accountability, and lack of capacity of local players have to be overcome.”
Years ago, Eggie Apostol herself called on local communities to get organized and help improve the quality of the public schools serving them. Perhaps, decentralization can be a manifestation of her vision of harnessing people power for genuine education reform, one where “the nation’s education system imbues its citizens with purpose and vision.”
Butch Hernandez (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the executive director of the Eggie Apostol Foundation.