THE POLITICS OF PUBLIC EDUCATION

PHNO, June 22, 2003 - by Anne Lan Kagahastian-Candelaria (this article is part of the Ateneo de Manila - Political Science Department's "Discussing Politics" Series) - Politics, may be viewed in four ways – as an art of government, as public affairs, as compromise and consensus and as power, including the relationship of institutions, processes and dynamics when these four interact.  But ordinary people view politics to be just plainly “gubyerno” – or government matters, strictly speaking.  Thus, it is believed that society’s problems arise because of the failure of government:  mismanaged bureaucracy, corrupt officials, unsound policies, un-doable programs, etc.
 
One urgent issue in Philippine politics today is providing access to quality education for all.  Indeed, a nation cannot be great if its people cannot read and write.  But what kind of education are our public schools giving our children?
 
Based on the data from the Department of Education (DepEd), out of the 12.8 million children who enrolled in the elementary level, 11.9 million or 93% of them are in the public schools.  This means out of 10 children, only 1 enjoy
the privileges of private school education.  On the other hand, out of 5.8 million youth who entered high school, 4.56 million or 79% are enrolled in the public high schools.  To date, there are 36,234 public elementary schools and
4,422 public high schools in the country.

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LATEST FIGURES sent by author (added to this article on June 23, 2003 by PHNO staff per request by author)

These are figures for School year 2003-2004
Enrollment in the Elementary School:
Public = 12,358,000 (93%)
Private = 942,000 (7%)
Total = 13,300,000

Enrollment in the HIgh School:
Public = 4,975,000 (79%)
Private = 1,330,000 (21%)
Total = 6,305,000
source: Manila Bulletin, June 9, 2003
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With these huge enrollment comes the cost:
- close to 4 million chairs needed
- average class size is 60 to 70 children cramped in a room good for 35 to 40
- around 16,000 – 20,000 classrooms lacking
- current textbook ratio is 1 book :7 children

In a study that was conducted by the Ateneo-TEEP Team among the SRA Provinces  in 1997-1999, an appalling 55% of the schools have no electricity, 84% have no water, and 62% have no toilets.
 
With these problems, children in our public schools cannot compete with their counterparts in other countries.  They are too tired of dealing with undesirable classroom conditions complicated further with poor health and hygiene, let alone memorize the multiplication table or learn how read complex words to be able to understand a story.
 
Is Public Education a Political Issue? Yes. Public Education IS a political issue, and more.
 
Even though the Department of Education remains to be the department with the highest appropriation (followed by DPWH, DILG, and National Defense), there are some fine points that need to be closely examined to be able to
accurately see the picture.  As a starting point, in last year’s national budget, it was proposed that the Department of Education be allotted a nominal budget of P103 billion .  However, only P95 million was actually approved for appropriations by both Houses.  This year’s proposed national budget, the Department of Education was allotted a nominal budget of P104.4 billion pesos, a 1.06% increase from last year’s proposed level.  This is, so far, the smallest
increase posted from the period 1996-2003 with the highest increase of 31.5% posted in 1997.  In reality however, the proposed budget actually represents a decline of 3.3% in real terms.  This means, if you take away the inflation rate
as a built-in factor in computing for the nominal budget, you are faced with the fact that the actual allocation is only P59.6 million.
 
An important feature in the DepEd’s budget is the MOOE component or the Maintenance and Other Operating Expenses. This fund is used for the purchase of basic inputs, such as textbooks and instructional materials, critical to student learning.  It is alarming to note that since 1998, a sharp decrease in shares was experienced, from a nominal amount of P8.3 billion in 1998 to only P6.9 billion proposed for 2003.
 
As massive as its yearly enrollment, the Department of Education is one massive Department, with about half a million teachers and salaried staff nationwide. Since much of the DepEd’s budget goes to personnel expenses, the decline
in the Education Budget leaves a sour note in the shrinking share of the MOOE.

However bad this may sound, the worsening condition of public education cannot be just a consequence of a bad political decision or an always-deficit national budget. Our public schools are failing because the much-needed
structural reforms in the DepEd will take a longer period of time to implement; time which we do not leisurely have right now.  And with these problems, parents prefer sending their children in the streets to work rather than send them to
crowded, poorly ventilated, dilapidated schools with overworked teachers and no books.

The state of public education in our country today reflects a failed political reality – because politics is not just the affairs of the government. Politics is all about people making a difference in the realities affecting their lives.  This is the essence of politics.  This is the essence of democracy – citizens as active participant in good governance working towards a more responsive national development.
 
Sadly though, even with a barrage of news highlighting various donations made by both small and big funding institutions to the various public schools around the country, the question of sustainability remains a key problem.  Can
the public schools sustain these efforts, given that external funding sources have also their limitations?
 
The 1987 Constitution was framed to pave the way for a more democratic and participatory system of governance by incorporating participation from all sides of society.  Article II, Section 23 states: “The State shall encourage
non-governmental, community-based, or sectoral organizations that promote the welfare of the nation.”  This laid down the foundation of participatory politics and the offer of the State to open its doors to all sectors concerned.
 
For one, the breakthrough 1991 Local Government Code of the Philippines concretely altered the political arena into a more democratic and representative one.  By transforming local governments into self-reliant communities, cities, municipalities and provinces become active partners in nation-building enjoying more powers, authority, responsibilities and resources.  And with the creation of Local Special Bodies, government, civil society, and concerned citizenry teamed-up to ensures the discussion, implementation and monitoring of pressing problems such as education, health,
and peace and security of their community.
 
Particularly in education, the Local School Board (LSB) was created to address pressing problems of the community’s public schools without going through the massive bureaucracy of the Department of Education as well as straining
its overstretched budget.  Another feature of the Code is a more responsive planning framework that allowed participation from the different stakeholders in the community.  Matters ranging from approving the school’s annual
budget to looking at ways to raise funds for additional projects for the school are tackled by the Board.  The power to look for alternative sources of funding to help the schools placed in the hands of the people in the community
gave public education’s problems a workable solution at the local and national level.

Not only did the Code facilitated the institutionalization of representative democracy but also it gave these communities a piece of government that they can be proud to belong to. Thus, a lot of success stories from our public schools come from collaborative experiences among organized citizenry, civic groups, and government at the local level.  Studies have shown that community advocacy and support for local public schools is a major factor in improving the quality of public
education. This, however, should not discourage funding institutions to continue their generosity to the public schools.  Rather, this should encourage them more to focus their efforts in raising the intensity of political participation at the local level through funding more programs focusing on building-up the community’s social infrastructure – upgrading its basic and technical skills, the ability to manage its own affairs, and developing its democratic institutions.
 
Politics is all about government.  But more.  It is about the citizenry responsively running government and not to leave its fate in the hands of a few politicians.  The question is not whether we, the Filipino people, are ready to take this challenge.  Undoubtedly, we are ready.
 
But are we willing?

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(Contact address)
Anne Lan H. Kagahastian-Candelaria
Ateneo Center for Educational Development
Ateneo de Manila University
Loyola Heights, Quezon City
1108 Philippines
Trunkline:  (632) 426-6001 local 4017, 4018
Telefax:  (632)  426-5693
E-mail: aced@admu.edu.ph


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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