‘The failed system of Philippine education’ | Inquirer Opinion
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‘The failed system of Philippine education’

It is official. The Second Congressional Commission on Education or EdCom II confirmed the decades-old concern that had prompted its convening: the country faced a “complex, immense, … deeply rooted” education crisis. Providing historical context and copious documentation, detailed in 60 figures and 38 tables developed from official, national, and international sources, the Year One Report underlined its generational character.

The report explicitly connected current problems to those raised over 30 years ago by the First Congressional Commission on Education and education stakeholders. The list covers all levels of the education cycle, including malnutrition among children and inadequate support for early childhood care and development, the medium of instruction in basic education, and the interlinking governance issues among vocational, technical, tertiary, professional, and graduate education.

EdCom II findings, 27 priority recommendations and 40 action points, provide a valuable long view. First, it compels reconsideration of reflex reliance on easy solutions, such as new laws or bigger budgets. Despite many laws and much money invested in the last 50 years, the crisis has persisted and, from the perspective of learning outcome, has arguably aggravated.


Bigger budgets do not always realize better results—because of absorptive capacity, misdirected goals, shoddy implementation. The report is rich with examples, without even focusing on corruption. Government reportedly allocated P12.6 billion from 2018 to 2022 for Kinder to Grade 10 textbooks and other instructional materials, but only obligated P4.5 billion (35.3 percent) and disbursed P952 million (7.5 percent). EdCom II reported that 95 percent of Grade 4 participants in the 2019 Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study attended schools lacking learning materials in both subjects. Complaining about staff shortage, the Commission on Higher Education (CHEd) saw its budget rise 633 percent from P4.1 billion to P30.89 billion between 2013-2023 but its plantilla positions increased only 22.7 percent from 543 to 666.


Making new laws is easier than finding new money. When these add new staff or offices, however, they may produce higher costs and heavier work, with more organizational boxes to “integrate,” “synchronize,” “align,” “harmonize,” and “coordinate” toward “cohesive,” “collaborative, “coherent,” ”systems”—terms recurring in the report.

The proliferation of coordinative bodies, such as those resulting from the trifocalization framework divorcing CHEd and the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority from the Department of Education, have led to complaints of “uncoordinated,” “mismatched,” “misaligned,” “fragmented,” “disjointed” efforts. EdCom II counted at least 68 national level interagency coordinating bodies established through legislation, agency issuances, and agreements.

The long view also explains the report’s preamble that disclaims any finger-pointing or punitive intent behind its analysis of the education crisis. There is much blame to share. That said, however, the report also stresses the urgency of establishing a robust accountability framework.

Laws regulating the education landscape prescribe explicit, often quantitative targets. A rich municipality may have six child health centers for the same number of children that less-endowed neighbors cover with only one. But a 1990 law mandates at least one center for each barangay. EdCom II reports that only 36 percent of 42,027 barangays are compliant. Despite provisions for their oversight, education institutions have continued to operate through serial failure to shepherd any graduate through the licensure examinations.

Assessing accountability for policy decisions requires more deliberation. Governments exercise the prerogative to select what access, equity, quality, and sustainability goals to pursue in education and the options to hold them in balance. Until 2016, the government invested about 25 percent of the budget in tertiary education, whose benefits tended to benefit private more than public interests. Although K-12 required additional expenses, the tertiary budget increased but supported free education in state and local government institutions rather than the voucher subsidies more carefully designed to target poor students. EdCom II has confirmed predictions that free college would disrupt the market, run into sustainability problems, and undermine the goal of equitable access to quality tertiary education.

EdCom II has identified examples of missed mandatory targets and implementation mistakes, miscues, misalignments. It is also best positioned to determine where responsibility for avoiding them should rest. Left undone, it would be difficult to explain, let alone address, a massive education failure for which no one appears accountable.



Edilberto C. de Jesus is professor emeritus at the Asian Institute of Management.


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