How local education governance can improve early grade education

How local education governance can improve early grade education

07:11 PM January 23, 2024

Even with ostensibly discouraging learning outcomes, the lack of school infrastructure and resources to support the ideal teaching and learning processes remain the most pressing issue pounding basic education.

This has been one common trend in schools across the country for the past five years: since before the pandemic, and now that schools are back to in-school classes, the same problems persist.

We have known for quite some time that there are deep-rooted problems in the Philippine education system, especially in the formative years of Basic Education, or Key Stage 1 from Kinder to Grade 3. These are the crucial years of learning for the foundational skills of our learners, and learning happens and outcomes are realized in the schools. But do we actually know what is happening in our schools?

From where I stand, it’s the lack of access for learners to have an opportunity for better early grade education. Many questions come to mind: are teachers ready and prepared to teach reading and numeracy? Do our learners have access to quality materials? Are we doing the right assessment so we can target early grade learners who are most in need? And do our schools get the right support from the system to foster a healthy learning environment?


These are all questions of resources, but I believe it was never an issue of scarcity — it’s more of an issue of equity.

The battle for education starts in school, but not all schools throughout the Philippines have the same capacity to fight their own battles. Education is not just a one-sector problem — and it’s not just limited to the teaching and learning aspect. As they say, it takes a village to raise a child, or rather a barangay to raise a Filipino.

The 1987 Constitution mandates that the lion’s share of the national budget goes to education. However, a sizable share of that goes to the salaries of teachers and personnel, and other operational expenses. Some localities utilize their Special Education Fund to support the education sector. But we all know that the SEFs are extracted from real property tax, which means there is an inequitable distribution of SEF across the country.

This is when and why we call on for help from other stakeholders, other than national and local governments.


Participatory governance, when embraced by local chief executives, becomes a force multiplier. It’s a call for leaders to not merely occupy administrative roles but to be architects of change. By fostering an environment where communities actively engage in shaping educational policies, local governments can bridge the gap between aspiration and achievement. Instead of works of charity from the top down, everyone can own their role. It is only when we start owning the problems in education, that we see the real action of creating new institutional arrangements, and forging partnerships to come up with relevant and viable solutions.

The USAID RTI ABC+ project introduced the Education Sector Mechanism (ESM) in Regions 5, 6 and Cotabato City. One of the core tenets of ESM was to harmonize the local education sector planning process in supporting early-grade learning. As the program delved into the needs of parents, students, and local communities, a compelling case emerged for the urgent need for participatory governance in early-grade education.


Through the collective efforts of parents, teachers, and local governments, public schools at the level of barangays transformed into vibrant spaces of learning. The process did not merely focus on academic metrics but instead took a holistic approach toward education by weaving in threads of socio-economic development to address the countless barriers confronting Filipino students today. Through it all, the ESM provided avenues for discussions and data sharing among government agencies, civil society organizations, private sectors, community leaders, parents, and teachers.

This wasn’t magic. It happened because the Local Chief Executives, School leaders, Parents, and other stakeholders made the right decision, backed up by the right data and information, to face the challenge head-on and come together and talk. The ABC+ project has a simple principle: education thrives when stakeholders bridge schools and the systems that work with and around them.

But the real success stories are in the experiences of parents and government officials who, once disillusioned, now find themselves key contributors to the solutions to our problems in education. This transformation is the essence of participatory governance – a symbiotic relationship between the governed and the governing. This active engagement wasn’t dictated, it was sparked.

And if the battle for our children’s education starts in school, school is also where participation should take place, whether you’re a parent, teacher, DepEd employee, or local government worker. It can be done, and my hope is that Filipinos will no longer have to look far to see examples of this. The stories behind the initiatives of the cities and provinces that embraced the tenets of the ESM are proofs on how genuine convergence translated aspirations into actual and tangible investments of resources for improving learning.

In the past five years, I’ve seen that teaching parents to teach their children helped everyone involved in the long run. And my point is this: that helping schools helps our children help and contribute to nation-building

Again, we highlight the roles of our Local Executives. Their leadership and ownership in education governance is foremost. At the end of the day, it would be an unending balancing of what is popular and what is needed. And again, convergence is the key: we need to listen, and we need to listen well.
As we commemorate the International Day of Education, this is the call I extend to us all: contribute to nation building by joining the revolution of participation. Let us paint our communities with the vibrant colors of collaboration, where education isn’t just a burden borne by teachers, and the Department of Education, but something that’s carried by the community together.
We all want a brighter Philippines for our children, and the opportunity to raise up the next generation starts in their early years in school. We can champion the change we want to see. If we are serious about improving learning outcomes, it’s time to come together to support spaces for it.

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Malcolm Garma currently serves as the ABC+ project’s Education Systems Strengthening Advisor. He was formerly the Assistant Secretary for field operations in the Department of Education.

TAGS: Commentary, education

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