Monday, June 2, 2008

Education's Dilemma

The periodic international survey Trends in Math and Science Study (TIMSS) measures the math and science proficiency of grade school and high school students from all around the world in a series of standardized tests whose data are analysed and used to improve national and local school systems, curricula, and performance outcomes over time. A paper by K. Nabeshima (PDF) shows the Philippines consistently near the bottom in both Math and Science among Asia Pacific Rim countries.

Philippines34536 (out of 38)

Philippines34536 (out of 38)

The Philippines repeated this dismal performance in both math and science in 1995, 1998 and 2003, being consistently dead last among the Asia Pacific Rim countries and always third from the last in the world. (Thank God for Haiti and Somalia!)

The major causes for low academic performance in math and science were identified by the survey sponsors after analyzing the data and working with the participants:

(1) Congested curricula have to be streamlined to focus on the the essentials so human and material resources can be devoted to key subject areas instead of a whole potpourri of curricular and extacurricular subjects and activities.

(2) Teacher training and instructional materials like textbooks and computers are needed to teach key subject areas like Language, Math and Science.

As full and active participant in the TIMSS process, the Philippines was well-informed of these findings, and they certainly applied. But as usual the Nationalists and Anti-imperialists in the Media and Gov't went to work soon after the 1998 Timss results were announced (which confirmed the 1995 findings) -- to suggest that the tests were flawed or biased (despite the fact that they were each conducted in the Philippines by Philippine authorities on 6,000 private and public school students).

jThe findings should've been a wake-up call to the Philippine Education establishment. Instead how did they respond to the international evaluation of our curriculum and teaching systems?

When Raul Roco took over at DepEd as Secretary of Education in 2001 in the aftermath of Edsa Dos, he brought with him a powerful cabal of Roman Catholic Church academicians and consultants, mainly from the University of Asia and Pacific and Jaime Cardinal Sin's version of the Roman Curia. They were determined to "fix" the Public School curriculum, which had been dangerously veering off into things like --gasp!--Sex Education in high school (where a lot of sex starts to happen). They were determined to "integrate" something called VALUES EDUCATION into ALL the subjects being taught at public school.

Together they came up with and implemented the 2002 Revised Basic Education Curriculum which covers the TEN-YEAR public school system (6 in Grade School, 4 in High School) and consists of FIVE SUBJECTS (Pilipino, Makabayan, English, Math and Science), under the 2002 Revised Basic Education Curriculum:

Grade 1 20%30%25%25%NONE
Grade 2 20%30%25%25%NONE
Grade 320%30%20%20%10%
Grade 420%30%20%20%10%
Grade 520%30%20%15%15%
Grade 620%30%20%15%15%
*Makabayan is actually a "super subject" consisting of Social Studies, Home Economics, Information Technology, Physical Education, Arts, Music, etc. and other curricular and extracurricular stubjects, which were "stuffed into it" in order to "decongest" the curriculum!

**The Science Subject was abolished at the Grades One and Two Levels in the 2002 Revised Basic Education Curriculum which was approved by President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo while DepEd was under Sec. Raul Roco and the heavy political influence of the Roman Catholic Church.

In retrospect, the abolition of the Science subject at Grades One and two was a disastrous and destructive change. Not only did it represent a real reduction of 20% in the overall coverage of Science in the public school system, it also knocked the foundations out from under the whole structure because, as bitter experience is now demonstrating, graduates from the public Grade Schools are coming into high school with 33% less Science subject exposure!

How then can the High School system manage to teach a relatively rigorous course involving Earth Science, Biology, Chemistry and Physics when the graduates being produced by the Grade Schools only started learning Science in Third Grade?

It was literally impossible for the system to adjust to what might have seemed in the dim light of 2002 to be a small, minor change in the removal of the Grades One and Two science subject.

The disdainful thing about it is the sneaking suspicion that is daily confirmed by 20/20 hindsight that the Science subject was abolished for no other reason than to make room for the thing called Makabayan, which I must stress is not a single pure subject, but a hodge podge of many subjects.

So what was the Philippines' basic response to the TIMSS recommendations to decongest its curriculum and improve teacher training and textbook availability?

Well, the curriculum now in place has just as many subjects as before (except half of them are hidden away in "Makabayan"), and they abolished the Science Subject at the Root, thus killing the whole organism!

The Philippine Public School System is an altruistic and ambitious construct left over from Colonial Days. It pledges to give ten years of quality education, tuition-free, to every Filipino citizen born, of which two million a year are arriving every year in this epoch of 2% population growth rates and 30 year doubling times. In 2008 the Dept. of Education budget was 144 billion pesos, while State-run Universities and Colleges were allocated 19.4 billion pesos through the Commission on Higher Education (Ched). With Tesda's share, the Education sector got over 180 billion pesos out of the 1,227 billion peso 2008 national govt budget. Most of these allocations (85% or more) go to "personal services" that is, salaries.

EVERYONE knows the 10 year Public School System is woefully inadequate for maintaining the overall competitive stance of the Philippines in global employment and investment markets. A K-12 system such as in the more advanced countries, or as many privileged, private school kids enjoy even in the Philippines, would be a lasting social investment in the language, technical and scientific literacy of the Filipino work force -- as everyone agrees -- but the daunting challenge is pressure on scarce resources since the system must conceivably absorb up to two million new enrollees annually.

The US Census Bureau maintains a a very useful International Data Base on world population which reveals that the Philippines is currently the 12th largest country in the world by population. The website also contains animated population pyramids for the Philippines showing a ballooning structure in the age distribution diagram -- a veritable Baby Boom and Youth Bulge during the next few decades. Any plan to upgrade the quality of Philippine public schools, by going from a ten year to a twelve year long program or by increasing classroom instruction time must deal with sheer rising numbers that must be served.

The Philippines implements a 10-year public school system with 6 years in Grade School, 4 years in High School. Educators say that we really need a 12 year public school system in order to maintain a competitive, well-educated work force. Now if former Sen. Tessie Aquino Oreta ever becomes Secretary of Education, look for pre-school or kindergarten to be included in the mix of a dream system, K-12, just like in the US.

But with over 20 million school age citizens presently enrolled in the public school system, and 2 million being added to the population annually, it's hard to imagine how a 20% expansion in the system could be accommodated.

The dilemma that faces Education is that the people within it have always known what the right thing to do has been, but forces other than they control the system and powerfully distort what ought to be our greatest social investment in the Future--the education of the next generation!


Jego said...

Holy mother of pearl!!

Now what do we do?

cvj said...

I hope no one is contemplating education for the few, child labor for the rest.

Jego said...

Whoever is running DECS should quit. Whoever is running the regional offices where the kids scored the lowest should quit. Out of delicadeza. Right, what are the chances?

They probably won't quit and blame the lack of funds. Theyll say, increase the budget for DECS and youll see changes. Again, what are the chances of that? The DECS budget has always been increasing and we still get stupid books for the money they get from us and science teachers who teach based on those books.

I dont know. Im stumped. We have a public sector that's hopeless, and a private sector that doesnt realize that to increase the size of the market, it would be in their interests to promote and sponsor science and math education among the kids. Or perhaps they do realize it; its just that like most Pinoys, they would rather have the government do it for them.

(Companies like Coke do indeed select communities to help with their Little Red Schoolhouse project.)

cvj said...

There is a myth that more competition leads to better social outcomes. This is one case where it is better to have a monopoly. Let everyone go through the public school system. Make it mandatory for kids of government officials (and employees).

Jego said...

Perhaps, but we run smack dab into the dilemma: in this scenario, DECS runs things. They have already shown that they can't. This will just be rewarding them for their incompetence.

But I see where youre going. The logic is if government officials have their kids go through public schools, it would be in their interests to see to it that public schools are run well. However, public officials -- they have access to our money -- will just send their kids overseas or home-school them with private tutors.

Deany Bocobo said...

Solution is simple: privatize most of it at the primary and secondary levels. The tertiary education level is already 90% private, secondary is half and half while primary is overwhelmingly government public school.

I think the govt should get out of education and concentrate only on what it can do well: UP, IRRI, and curriculum reform. Leave the rest to the market.

Schools are a great business. It would be great for the private sector if the govt got out of it.

Jego said...

If government got out of it, then government wouldnt have a reason (a moral one at least) to continue taxing its citizens for education. The citizems would then have money to spend on the education of their choice.

In principle, Im also against DECS determining what a school could teach. Math, science, communication arts (English and Filipino) should be enough. If a school wants to teach Makabayan type courses, they could do that in the Comm Arts courses. Three subjects. I wonder how much of our taxes go to education on a per-child basis. Would giving that amount back to the citizens make a school teaching these three subjects profitable?

Of course if you want to learn more stuff like foreign languages, you have to pay more. That's up to the schools and the markets.

There of course would those schmucks who would take the extra income (from the 'refund' of taces for education) and spend them on some unproductive things (like yosi, or inuman, for instance) instead of education for their children. Are you in favor of the government stepping in and forcing these parents to spend the money for education, DJB? It is in these instances where I dont feel my 'minimal government' vibe.

cvj said...

I see that we're heading to the child labor scenario then.

Jego said...

Child welfare is always that area where Statists argue with Marketists. Who 'owns' the children? is a very important question. When does the State intervene? Of course in cases of abuse, it's a no-brainer. But in the case of education, who has the right to our children? If for example, I dont send my kids to school, can the State take them away from me?

(I see youve been down this road before, cvj. What's the background on the child labor scenario?)

Jego said...

Im assuming we dont want this.

LOS ANGELES, March 5, 2008 ( - Thousands of homeschoolers in California are left in legal limbo by an appeals court ruling that homeschooling is not a legal option in the state and that a family who has homeschooled all their children for years must enrol their two youngest in state or private schools. Justice H. Walter Croskey in a written opinion said, "California courts have held that under provisions in the Education Code, parents do not have a constitutional right to homeschool their children."

My emphasis.

Ben Vallejo said...


"Congested curricula have to be streamlined to focus on the the essentials so human and material resources can be devoted to key subject areas instead of a whole potpourri of curricular and extacurricular subjects and activities"

extends even to our colleges and universities.

For example one science program of a highly reputable Catholic university had to be reconfigured since the school wouldn't pare down the heaps of theology and philosophy students have to take. So the four year course became a five year one.

In order to be more cutting edge in science, universities may have to rethink the liberal education base of undergraduate work.

But as DJB wrote the basic education that grounds students in liberal education (in the grades) is woefully lacking.

As for having no science taught in the early grades, this is a tragedy since it is precisely at this time that a child's scientific worldview starts to develop. Science educators have known this.

The lack of science education actually condemns people to being nonthinking cogs for export.But that has been the priority of sucessive administrations from Marcos to Arroyo.

As for sex in the schools, straight laced Catholics are so peeved about this. The "Growing Up Catholic" books have hilariously presented that Catholic attitide to sex education is a biggest neurosis before that sex abuse issue came out into the open.

I don't agree with DJB about a complete privitization of basic education. Whose going to take advantage of the market opportunities?

The Church (Catholic and otherwise) that DJB is so peeved about will take over!

The State has the right to educate children according to its principles. The rights of parents over their children isn't absolute like any of our other rights. So it is morally acceptable for the State to intervene if parents don't want to send kids to school.Not even the religious liberty of practice clause can overide this. The State may allow religious groups to operate schools.

But I'm digressing

Has the Church ever operated a school that charges no fees? Don't laugh but that was the original intent of Ateneo and De La Salle! (LOL! Sorry I can't resist!) Forget UA&P! We know what their operators really want!

While some of the readers here may oppose DepEd mandating what to teach,there is logic to what needs to be taught.The State has it in its declaration of principles (Sec 17, Article II).

This is the same reason why the Catholic Church has always insisted its right to education of the youth.

What is sauce of the goose is also good for the gander!

cvj said...

Jeg (at 5:05 PM), it's just that there is a reason why we choose not to subject our children to the logic of the market. That's the idea behind Universal education.

If we abandon that principle in favor of education only for those who can afford it, this would represent a step back in that we once again subject our children to market forces. One more step in that direction and we're back to the days of Oliver Twist.

mesiamd said...

Place this education data in tandem with the liking of the young Filipino students. No wonder the interest in science and math (the backbones of higher education) is low.

Many youngs ones, just like their parents, don't want to till the soil (agriculture,) and prefer jobs like nursing, hotel and resto management, criminilogy, call center, and typing. I rarely hear them say they want to become scientists...

They are assertively insistent (following the cues of people ahead of them?) about career preferences. And some would rather wait and be idle while the world churns.

DJB: If we keep passing jobs to the private sector, what then is left for the government to do for the people? I guess many students stay in the public schools because private education is out of their reach. Ask Mother Superior---if the poor can pay, more private schools will open.

Deany Bocobo said...

Govt ought to get out of areas where it cannot do the job well. Education seems to be one of them, at least in the current conception of public education. And I claim one of the reasons private education is so unaffordable is because of public schools.

Amadeo said...

I do not see why this has to be an either/or issue. While conceding that overall public education on the basic levels may be a failure, even in first world countries like the US, having public education at those levels does have inherent merits all to its own. Here in the US, the existence of charter schools, or target schools, or even schools for the gifted, initiated and operated by the government does more than its share of providing opportunities for those who may not have the financial wherewithal to go through such specialized schools. And in these specialized areas even private sector groups may not find these endeavors to their financial liking.

In the US, it is the almost default choice of parents to send their kids to public schools that has somehow created all these problems that we now see aired around the world. Like, for example, the lowering of standards to accommodate an ever more diverse population with equally diverse backgrounds, the creation of bi-lingual education which had a noble intent but disastrously implemented, etc.

mesiamd said...

DJB: I think it is the government's job to go into endeavors that the private sector can't handle. If the government gets out from areas it can't do well, then it is dodging responsibility. It is not keeping up with the challenge of governance.

I believe the government must strive hard to improve its job of serving the people. It must be in the forefront of leadership rather lazily recoil at the back.

Jego said...

I see, cvj. That's the reason why I wanted to know what the government budget per child is. If we keep taxes at the same level, then refund the per-child amount to the parents to be used specifically for schools, we might have an idea whether this amount would make private schools viable, that is, would they be able to provide quality education and maintain facilities with this amount.

Deany Bocobo said...

mesiamd: Our philosophical difference on the matter of government's proper role in society is very real. I can say that only because like you, I once subscribed to the idea that govt SHOULD lead society's progress, or worse, even run it all. I don't believe that any more. I believe in small govt restricted to the specialized issue of governance, with focus on the essentials that NO ONE ELSE can do well, namely, peace and order, common defense, long range planning and the true discernment of the smart strategy for the country as a whole and in the long run.

The rest must be done by the people themselves, or as Thomas Jefferson once said, "The best govt is the least govt, for then, the people must discipline themselves.

I don't want the Philippine govt running insurance companies, any more than I want it to run electric generation, transmission and distribution companies.

mesiamd said...

DJB: Here's my opinion with no intent of convincing you.

Does "least" government mean less oversight, less bureaucracy? If so, they are areas of improvement which the government must work for instead giving away its function on education.

Does "most" government imply, we won't be able to discipline ourselves? I believe wherever we are (whether in government or in private sector) all of us must have discipline. We are Filipinos who must take care of both the public and private sector.

If education worked before under the government, why can't it not work now? Why can't we trouble-shoot and fix its problems?

Except for more educators, workers, students, planners (thus making the system appear less nimble,) our educational system has the same effective basic structure. What made it fail isn't its expansion, but its lack of budget, poor teachers, corruption, lack of discipline, etc. These are serious, but correctible problems which can be handled by the government or the private sector.

Why then will the government avoid correcting them? By giving away its duty. the more will people disbelieve our government. If we leave peace-keeping and the military to the government, all the more people will see the gov't as useless. The military (except for perfecting intimidation?) is likewise a faltering institution. The more will people be distrustful.

I believe so long as we think we're outside the government and have nothing to do with it, we'll always relie on someone better in the private sector who can make education better. Ironically, that someone can turn out to be ourselves.

Deany Bocobo said...


We must convince ourselves, before we can convince others. The question at hand is the stuff of every US election, it is the subject matter of a debate ongoing there for two centuries on the proper role, size, objectives of government.

On the matter of education, it has to do with the concept of "free public education" warping the market for education in general.

I think the reason private schools for example are so expensive in the Philippines is because of the presence of public schools with no tuition.

It's just as if the govt decided it will subsidize all hamburgers sold by Jollibee, but not McDo, KFC or Burger King.

In that situation, "most" people would rather eat at Jollibees (even if only the burgers are free), but there will be some who will stick to the unsubsidized but higher quality alternatives. The latter however will be forced to raise their prices because of the much smaller clientele.

Likewise in education, we see a situation where the private schools are forced to charge a higher tuition than they otherwise would if they had a bigger market.

I'm willing to bet that if there were no free public schools, the Ateneo Jesuits, the La Salle Brothers, the St. Theresa sisters, and all those dedicated private religious educators would be charging a lot less tuition because they would have such larger numbers in their schools.

I don't think they are in education for the money anyway, but even if it were purely private sector capitalists, without free but lousy public schools, we would really be far better off.

Under the govt, education is nothing but an aging vat.

I agree there is a role for govt. but it ought to be much, much smaller and concentrated where it can really do more good.