Tuesday, May 29, 2007

The High Cost of Free Public Education

DON'T LOOK NOW but it's back to school on June 4. Central to the multifarious debates and controversies that will arise in the next few weeks will be the the education budget, which is annually assailed as being "not enough" despite being the single largest expenditure of the government after debt service. At some metaphysical level of course, any finite expenditure of mere money to give Precious Knowledge to the youth, is "not enough" but I have come to a general conclusion that what ails the education budget is not primarily the amount spent, but what it is spent upon...

The 2007 National Government Budget allocates a total of 134.71 billion pesos for the Department of Education (DepEd) in 2007. More than 17 million students were enrolled in "tuition-free" public schools of the Philippines. The Basic Education system consists of a six year Elementary or Grade School program and a four year Secondary or High School program, both administered by the Department of Education, the largest single bureaucracy in the government with over half a million employees.

2007 BUDGET Basic Education


Personal Services (Teacher Salaries)


MOOE Overhead & Expenses


Capital Outlays


School Building Program




TOTAL (Billions of Pesos) 134.71

What does the Public actually get for this expenditure on education? Let's begin at the bottom of the above list and work upwards...

GASTPE stands for "Government Assistance to Students and Teachers in Private Education. " --a surprisingly effective government subsidy program to send public school students to private schools whenever the public school system lacks the facilities and cannot handle the demand. Former DepEd Undersecretary Juan Miguel Luz explains the rationale behind GASTPE:
Since the early 1990s, GASTPE has been paying private high schools an annual subsidy so that lower-income families could enroll their children in these schools. For the DepEd, GASTPE is a less expensive option to building more classrooms and hiring more teachers. Consider this: a class of 50 students under GASTPE can be subsidized at only P200, 000 compared to P625, 000 that will be spent to build a new classroom for 50 students, hire a new teacher, and procure more furniture and books (Luz, 2006).
The next item, the School Building Program, would seem to be self-explanatory, except for its miniscule size at 1.76 billion pesos! Soon the season will be upon us when people wring their wrists in pious outrage over the perennial class room shortage, decryng how little we spend on Education (mind you, with an eloquent and elegant capital E), usually to the inevitable accompaniment of that old chestnut about teachers holding classes under the proverbial mango tree. Well, no wonder, digging into the 2007 Budget Documents, one discovers that the "classroom gap" is actually for over 10,000 classrooms that would require 16 billion DPWH pesos to construct, or 5 billion if sourced through the open market.

The Capital Outlay budget for 2007 is a pitiable 3.35 billion pesos, almost an afterthought.

MOOE, which represents operating expenses such as electricity, gasoline, telecommunications (yup, we are paying for a lot of texting and cell phone usage by government agencies and employees!) is up considerably in 2007 at 17 billion pesos, but is still below the internationally recommended level of 15% of total budget.

The lion's share of the DepEd budget --109.78 billion pesos-- goes to Teacher Salaries, demurely called PERSONAL SERVICES in the budget.

But if you really want to know where all this money goes, especially the large slab called SALARIES, you need look no further than the Basic Education Curriculum.

Follow the money? Know the Curriculum!

There are five official Subjects in the Basic Education Curriculum (first adopted 2002)--English, Filipino, Mathematics, Science and Makabayan. The latter subject area, Makabayan, is actually composed of four component Subjects: Social Studies, Music and Arts, Technology and Livelihood, and Values Education. Strictly speaking, there are eight subjects in the Philippines Basic Education Curriculum. Below, the number of minutes per day per subject in the DepEd's current Basic Education Curriculum is shown for the Elementary and Secondary School levels.

ELEMENTARY SCHOOL Gr 1 Gr 2 Gr 3 Gr 4 Gr 5 Gr 6
ENGLISH 100 100 100 80 80 80
FILIPINO 80 80 80 60 60 60
MATHEMATICS 80 80 80 60 60 60
SCIENCE 0** 0** 40 60 60 60


80 80 100 100 100 100

** The SCIENCE subject has not been taught in Grades 1 and 2 of Elementary Public School since 2002 though it is said to be "integrated" into the English and Makabayan subject areas.

Medium of Instruction SECONDARY SCHOOL I II III IV
English ENGLISH 60 60 60 60
Filipino FILIPINO 40 40 40 40


60 60
English SCIENCE 80 80



Araling Panlipunan

48 48 48 48

Musika, Sining, PE, Health

48 48 48 48

MAKABAYAN Teknolohiya,
Pangkabuhayan at Ekonomiya

48 48 48 48
Filipino MAKABAYAN Values Education 24 24 36 36
I have put in the Medium of Instruction columns above because this may also become a hot topic, after a group of Naitonal Artists and other Official Language Patriots filed a Supreme Court case basically claiming the failures of the public school system are due to teaching of too much English! -- an allegation that seems to be amply disproved above.

[I've been trekking up North for over a week in case you're wondering why posting has been non-existent recently. Basically been off-line and cut-off from the Manila media. Recreating mostly on the sounds of the primeval forest..the murmuring pines and the hemlocks, as it were, of the Philippine Cordillera. Lil hiking, lil cycling, lots of visiting old and new friends, even more of eating and sleeping. It was a good time to go on a vacation. Comelec and Namfrel, in a race between the turtle and tortoise, are ponderously scurrying to a conclusion in canvassing over 224,000 Election Returns and CoCs. Perhaps next week or about a month after the polls, Comelec can finally say how many voters actually cast ballots and which candidates have actually won. There is a roundup of these yet-to-be-concluded May 2007 elections (and the ensuing political commentary and repartee) over at MLQ3.]


Tiki said...

If you remove minutes from one subject and add it to another, you generally still have the same cost for the BEC.

DJB Rizalist said...

That's true, but I'm not talking about keeping the minutes. We should permanently reduce the allocation for, or even abolish certain subjects from the curriculum. That would free up the money for the things we really need like computers, textbooks, school buildings, desks, and laboratories.