Can P100B solve learning poverty?
Recently, Vice President and Education Secretary Sara Duterte “beseeched” President Marcos Jr. and members of Congress to give her an additional P100 billion on top of the approved 2023 Department of Education (DepEd) budget of more than P700 billion. The word beseeched does not seem apt for the way Inday Sara asked for the additional hefty sum; it smacked of her paternal unit’s characteristic arrogance—bravado even. Her reason: she would solve the country’s problems related to education of our children with this amount. Inday Sara is not a Duterte for nothing: she is indeed her father’s daughter. Remember President Duterte’s bold (unfulfilled) promise of ending the illegal drug problem within six months into his term as president?
In July 2022, the World Bank released an alarming report on the low levels of Filipino children’s reading and comprehension skills, saying that they are among the most learning-deprived in Asia and the Pacific region (refer to last week’s column, “Rays of hope,” 9/13/22). This is just one of the myriad problems the education department faces as it opened schools for the first face-to-face teaching-learning sessions at all levels of education after a two-year closure due to the pandemic.
Should we rejoice after hearing this demand from the education secretary?
Yes, if she has provided a detailed proposal of how she plans to use P100 billion.
Let us say she has crafted a solid road map toward addressing our perennial low educational outcomes, especially among basic education learners. Let us imagine she has assiduously prepared a proposal to use the money effectively, and efficiently as well so that our learning outcomes will improve within her term of six years. Let us conjure an image of an indefatigable education secretary initiating all possible ways to address our learning poverty problems. Among these would be the building of more well-equipped and learning-conducive classrooms in many parts of the country, especially in hard-to-reach geographically remote and disadvantaged areas. In addition, she will also mobilize her convening powers as the country’s vice president to make all education officials ensure that no child is left behind.
Inday Sara’s proposal should also be guided by specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time-bound goals and objectives and clear policy guidelines. In addition, the proposed educational reform program funded under this additional hefty sum should follow ethical processes and procedures, and be uniquely relevant to each area in the country. She should follow the dictum that in development, especially in education, no one size fits all.
Her proposed education reform program should be open to public scrutiny so that it becomes a model for emulation by other countries. This could possibly break the walls of learning poverty the country is already known for and might lift our status in the community of nations that we are really serious about addressing our pressing problems. We will be able to show that we are no longer on the back burner in terms of educational outcomes. We will not only be known as a country with a high number of Miss Universe winners or world-renowned singers, but we will also be among the most highly educated countries in the world.
Moreover, the education secretary should demonstrate that the additional P100 billion would be spent judiciously; that each budget line item in her proposal is tightly rationalized. She should also assure us that the DepEd follows the principle of value for money in its expenditures; that the principles of transparency and accountability are followed from procurement to actual implementation of programs for funding under this additional grant. The axiom, “honesty is the best policy” should be the underlying principle of how these billion pesos are going to be spent. Even if this is contrary to what she believes in about honesty not being a virtue among politicians.
Such guideposts will steer a tightly planned educational reform program to address our children’s learning poverty. If this is what the education secretary plans, then, by all means, let us all rejoice. If not, then we are in for more dire straits ahead.
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