ARE WE SPENDING ENOUGH ON EDUCATION? OR TOO MUCH? This is a question that gets debated a lot around the time the kids go back to school in the Philippines. The answer given by virtually everybody trying to reform the education system is a resounding NO. But it seems that whatever the diagnoses of what is wrong with the education system someone comes up with, it also requires a cure that will cost a lot more money than what is being appropriated now. I think this usually leads to an intellectual dead-end for the analysis and proposed solution because I think the problem lies not in the amount we are spending, which has always increased in absolute terms, if not in per capita terms. I think the problem lies in HOW the money is spent, and on what: It goes mostly to salaries with little left over capital expenditures on school buildings, desks, computers, libraries and books.
Yet, the Education already gets "the highest budgetary priority" per the 1987 Constitution. To this point, I've been reading a very interesting document generated by the Congressional Planning and Budget Department An Analysis of the President's Budget For Fiscal Year 2006 (PDF). It's amazing what a treasture trove of information about the government and its spending habits such a document is.
For fiscal year 2006, the education sector will receive P146.45 Billion or 8.12% increase from theprevious year. Over the past years, the education sector continues to be the priority of the government as it receives a significant portion of the national budget, second to debt servicing. Apparently, the percentage share of education to total budget has been decreasing—from 14.85% in 2004 to 13.90% of the proposed 2006 budget. On the other hand, the share of debt servicing has jumped from its 2004 level of 30.90% to 32.28% in 2005. There was a 20% jump in budget for debt servicing while that of education had only a 5.17% increase.Most illuminating is Table 8.7 on page 93 of the PDF, titled Deped Budget By Object of Expenditure, in which we find that the Department of Education (Deped) is programmed to receive 119.9 billion pesos in the 2006 fiscal year, of which 100.9 billion will go to salaries ("personal services") of the 400,000-strong national bureaucracy of teachers, principals, superintendents, directors, assistant-, under-, and acting secretaries, who by the way, also count the votes in our elections as Comelec's indentured and endangered, servants. It seems to me that the education budget is basically a hidden subsidy for the Commission on Elections.
I guess my answer is also, NO, we are not spending enough on EDUCATION as such, even if we are spending about 101 billion pesos this year on SALARIES. Any dispassionate analysis of the education system must face this fact. It is not so much an education system as it is a giant employment and welfare program in support of the manual election process. The share devoted to salaries in the budget far exceeds regional standards, and that given to capital expenditures such as school buildings, textbooks, computers, libraries, laboratories, etcetara, gets a miniscule 3.86 percent of the total budget. It's like running Fedex with 400,000 truck drivers you cannot fire, but without trucks, planes, computers, telephones or running water in the offices -- or even offices!
As members of the Republic's Board of Directors, citizens really ought to be asking why we should this year give 119.9 billion pesos of the public's meagre treasure to the largely faceless bureaucracy of politicians and their appointees and the rest of those government functionaries somewhere in Pasig. Why should we spend our money on them? Why DO we spend so much money on public education? Are we getting our money's worth? It does not seems so when Deped's own figures show that an inexplicable 2% (1 in 50!) graduates of the public schools were able to pass the standardized National Elementary and Secondary Assessment Tests (NEAT, NSAT) and that was with a passing grade of 50%! Moreover, it has been publicly admitted by the Deped that no one ever fails or is held back for academic nonperformance in the public schools. You either pass or drop-out. Is that an education system, or an aging vat?
Ah, but why are private school tuition fees so high?
I think it is because the "free public schools" have WARPED the education market. By offering free tuition at public schools, the government has taken over the lion's share of the education burden. Because its resources are necessarily strapped and limited, that education of a far lower quality than optimal or even acceptable by international standards. This durable ideology of "free universal public education" in a country like the Philippines, has only led to a ghettoization of the Have-nots and their children into the substandard public school system. Meanwhile the Haves, who groan and complain about exorbitant tuition fees in the private schools, nevertheless send their kids to them if their economic circumstances at all permit. Conversely, more and more people are moving their children to the public schools, when they cannot afford the high private school tuitions. But I don't believe that the largely religious Christian private schools are interested in MAXing out their tuition fees so they can repatriate obscenely large profits to their Mother Houses in Rome. I think it is akin to the situation that would certainly develop in the fast-food market if let us say, the government were to announce that henceforth, hamburgers will be free at all Jollibees restaurants because of a new government subsidy. People would still go to MacDonolds, KFC, and Chow King and even pay more for their non-subsidized food.
I think that by largely monopolizing the available market for students by offering tuition free public schools, the government is unfairly competing with the private school sector. I think giving even a billion pesos each to say the De La Salle Brothers, the Ateneo Fathers, the nuns of St. Theresa's and St. Scholastica's, and yes, even Assumption Convent, Ayala Corp., the Lopez Foundations, and the rest of the private sector would result in significantly more EDUCATION being delivered to the Filipino youth than what Deped, Ched and the national government have been able to accomplish under an essentially socialist education system.
Deped has a new logo. The website is highly functional and mostly up-to-date. Here is the Calendar for the 2006-2007 Academic School Year. Our best women--mothers, sisters, daughters--largely comprise the public school teaching corps. It is my belief that they are locked up in a system that is not designed, organized or run as an educational delivery system. Rather it is an adjunct of the traditional political system of patronage and the manual electoral system that is at the heart of Democracy's rot in the Philippines. I also believe that this sector of Philippine society, its teachers and nurturers of the hearts and minds of many, are the key to a new Revolution among Filipinos that will cast away the chains that bind them still, after centuries. There is no more grievous emotional loss, a famous philosopher once said, than that of an excuse for ones failures in terms of the actions of another. We have had no such excuse for over half a century, yet excuses are redolent in all of our Media.
I really think it is time for the Government to phase out of the education business and give the private sector a shot at illuminating the future of the Filipinos. Why should we give almost P120 billion to the government for educational purposes, when whoever runs the government only uses it for other things? Why should the public schools have an unfair, dare I say, unwisely granted advantage over the private schools to deliver education?
The national government has to get out of something at which it has been largely a monumental and historic failure, and the expenditures from the public coffers mostly a humongous waste. The hardest thing to change will be the utterly politically correct ideology of "free universal public education." Like in Cuba, or Russia, or China? Like most goods and services, I think most people would settle for education at the right price, even if it's not. zero I mean would you eat or support government-subsidized hamburgers at Jollibees? There are 18 million kids in the Basic Education sector, an overwhelming percentage of whom are in the public schools. But if government were not in the education business in such a big way, private school tuitions would go DOWN as economies of scale cut in. It is those economies of scale, competitive pressures, and enforced efficiencies, quality and productivity that a government-run education program, with its bureaucracies and monopoly position, simply cannot do very well at all.
Government should get out of education. It is unfair competition from the public schools that causes high tuition fees in the best schools in the country, not greedy nuns and priests who've taken vows of poverty, chastity and obedience in the very service of education. I say, privatize education.
UPDATE BREAKING NEWS: President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo reportedly asked the Palace Media to leave this morning's Cabinet meeting after Deped Officer-in-Charge, Dr. Fe Hidalgo, opened her presentation by saying there is currently a shortfall of 7,000 classrooms just two weeks ahead of School opening. I heard the taped exchange in which the President sounded really cross and "corrected" Dr. Hidalgo on her formula for computing the shortage in classrooms, just before she asked the media to leave. Poor Fe! I'm sure her ears are still ringing from what the President said after the cameras were turned off....Resigned Education Secretary Butch Abad came to Dr. Hidalgo's support however, saying that the government simply has not prioritized the building of these facilities. I agree! We are running a Fedex without any trucks or planes or computers. Oh well. She's good earnest person, but I never expected Dr. Hidalgo to get the Education post, which will surely be given to a POLITICIAN ahead of the real work of Deped next year: the 2007 national elections.
QUESTION: If you didn't have to turn it over to the Gang of Four Hundred Thousand in Pasig, what would YOU do with P149.9 Billion Pesos of cold hard cash every year to educate 20 million kids?