DUCATION was the topic on ABSCBN's Forum 2007 on ANC last night, involving senatorial candidates Sonia Roco (GO), Tessie Oreta (TU) and Richard Gomez. My vote goes to Richard Gomez who is an outsider to the education game and therefore not completely enamored of its persistent MYTHS, which were actively being peddled by the others including interpellator Marichu Lambino with her leading questions.
MYTH #1: We aren't spending enough on Education.
This widespread and persistent complaint is actually equivalent to saying that a family that spends 90% of its food budget on LECHON and BACON isn't spending enough on NUTRITION. It is true only in the same twisted and malnourished sense of PRIORITY, which by the way was the theme of last night's forum--i.e., whether the government is giving enough of a priority to education. The meat of the matter was examined in several Philippine Commentaries last year on the classroom shortage and the patriotic curriculum, where it was shown how the latter explains the former as cause-and-effect.
Sonia Roco was first to trot out the old saw that the 1987 Constitution mandates the "highest budgetary priority" for education. She states that we are violating this mandate because we are spending more on repaying our foreign and domestic debts. She would rather we practice international balashubasism by stiffing our foreign and domestic creditors to throw more good money after bad into public "education." Again by way of analogy, it is like that same family I mentioned above being told by the Wife that they should perhaps stop paying the red-hot credit card bills (without having to tear up the credit cards) and spend more of the family income on the bacon and lechon. What exactly is this bacon and lechon to which I refer? In a previous post on Education Secretary Jesli Lapus (The Man With Half a Million Employees and Not Much Else) you will find the explanation that in fact the Education budget is largely a Labor and Employment budget having little or nothing to do with education as such since about 90% of the 150 billion pesos allocated for it will go to the largest single bureaucracy and labor union in the government (the teachers, principals, supervisors, administrators, consultants that make up the DepEd). About 1 billion pesos will go to the school building program and far, far less to textbooks, computers and other facilities that the students and teachers all need badly.
Now what could possibly be wrong with spending almost all of the education budget on the teachers? Well, there wouldn't be anything wrong with it except for the fact that 60% of that budget is spent not on teachers of Math, Science, English or Pilipino subjects, but on the strange super-subject full of plantilla-bloating teachers called "Makabayan" that was invented by none other than former Education Secretary Raul Roco (Sonia Roco's late husband) at the same time that he ABOLISHED the Science subject from Grades One and Two of the curriculum. There is still no more Science subject at those two crucial levels of a child's education in all 40,000 public schools as a result, but they get plenty of "values education" and "patriotic instruction" -- and no classrooms, desks, computers, textbooks and school buildings, which get about 1% of the budget!
So I found myself both laughing and crying at Ms. Roco's pious but disingenuous response to Cheche Lazaro's question about the results of the 1995, 1999 and 2003 global Trends in Math and Science Study (TIMSS) showing the Philippines ranking near the very bottom (3rd from the last) in all three surveys of the countries of the world in these two subjects (ahead only of places like Haiti and Somalia!). It was in 2002 when, in response to these hair-raising, eye-opening scientific studies involving 600,000 students from over 40 countries, her late husband did indeed abolish the Science subject in Grades One and Two, established the Makabayan subject in preparation for the 2004 elections (which he lost anyway). This move recongested the Philippine curriculum contrary to the best recommendations of the international education community that was calling for streamlined curricula that focus on Reading, Writing and 'Rithmetic.
Myth #2: It's the fault of the Teachers
Former Senator Tessie Aquino Oreta responded to Cheche Lazaro's question about TIMSS and the dismal performance of the Filipino studentry in maths and sciences by blaming on the need to SPEND MORE MONEY on training the teachers, implying that it is their general incompetency which is to blame. Yet a simple examination of the Basic Education Curriculum which she has supported and promoted as "patriotic" and "values-laden" will show that it is because math and science have gotten the short shrift from the the politicians which is actually to blame. In other words, if you don't emphasize math and science subjects and put money into hiring math and science trained teachers in favor of Makabayan's "liberal arts" and religion masquerading as patriotism and civic virtues (which take up over 60% of the curriculum and therefore the budget), you are definitely going to get Africa-level students in those all-important subjects. It's when you insist on having non-science teachers (like English, Pilipino and Makabayan teachers) to somehow incorporate science subject matter in their courses, as the 2002 BEC of Raul Roco does, that you get the present strange and abominable situation. I don't think our math and science teachers are incompetent at all! But if we don't give them schools, classrooms, computers, laboratories and textbooks to use because we are busy hiring and training teachers in the Renaissance arts and leftist ideologies of nationalism and patriotism in the dominant Makabayan supersubject, how can we expect them to do a good job?
Myth #3 The Public Schools Need More Money To Compete With the Expensive Private Schools
This is another boil of a myth that really needs lancing. Folks like Oreta and Roco, as well as interpellators Marichu Lambino and Howard Calleja claim that public schools need more money in order to deliver the widely acknowledged higher quality of education available in private schools, which, oh by the wa,y commit the mortal sin of --gasp-- charging tuition fees. I guess it simply never occurs to them that the very REASON for those high tuition fees is that the public schools with their advertised free tuition (but not not other fees and expenses) represent UNFAIR COMPETITION to the private sector. It is as if the government were suddenly to announce that it will now subsidize hamburgers being sold at Jollibee's to make them free, and then wonder why the quality there goes down from an effect called the Tragedy of the Commons, and the prices go up in the non-subsidized food outlets where far fewer customers nonetheless care more about quality and results along with price. My assertion is that private school tuition fees would naturally plummet under market forces if they would be allowed to compete to service the educational needs of those 22 million kids in the public schools who are actually trapped in the false promises and flawed premises of our essentially socialist education system. I simply do not believe that the De La Salle brothers, the Ateneo Jesuits, the nuns of the collegiala schools are really in the education business to make a mean buck, considering they've all taken vows of poverty, chastity and obedience and dedicate their lives to that enterprise. It's the economic market forces, stupid!
Myth #4 You can run Fedex or DHL with only the truck drivers and no trucks, computers or telephones. The real key to understanding what ails Philippine education is the Basic Education curriculum and how it drives the Deped spending in all the wrong directions. We hire the wrong sorts of teachers and not enough of the kinds we really need in math, science and language because we insist on that patriotic curriculum. We don't invest enough in facilities, instructional materials and laboratories. It is not at all that we don't spend ENOUGH, it is that we don't spend enough on the right things. We insist on spending 90% on lechon and bacon and wring our hands that we don't get enough nutrition.