THE COST OF PRIMARY AND SECONDARY EDUCATION

MANILA, January 21, 2006
 (BULLETIN) Dr. Florangel R Braid - A SUB-REGIONAL conference on the costs of primary and secondary education in Southeast Asia which ended yesterday examined findings and recommendations which have significant implications in the restructuring of financing and management of basic education. The five-day meeting sponsored by the UNESCO National Commission in cooperation with the UNESCO International Institute for Educational Planning (IIEP) was attended by representatives of planning and educational ministries in Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam, Cambodia, Lao PDR, and the Philippines.

The meeting’s agenda focused on private education — not in the traditional way we understand it — like privately-owned, managed, and funded enterprises, but the search for new approaches in financing and management within the framework of new trends — globalization and the growth of information technologies. The latter are driving forces which have led to the questioning of traditional ways of delivering education. The trend, according to a book by UNESCO IIEP programme specialist Igor Kitaev, is based on the recognition that in terms of management, private actors can be more efficient than public bureaucracy due to their initiative-taking, problem-solving, and financial diversification. The new hybrid model of school ownership is a combination of various forms (be it public, private, or mixed) with private management, with mixed but largely public funding and with an overall government regulation in the areas of supervision, inspection, examinations, and curricula.

In building a conceptual framework, Kitaev raises these questions: Should primary and secondary formal education be considered a public good, or alternatively, a private good, or mix of both? Is formal primary, basic, and secondary education a government monopoly, or is it a part of the market (or industry) of educational services? Who benefits from formal compulsory education and who should pay for it? Should the State keep its key role in provision of formal primary, basic, and secondary education, or should it be subject to competition, furthermore deregulated, and privatized as, for example, railroads, energy, or telecommunications? Should parents have a school choice and pay some school expenditures directly to the school instead of paying government taxes? Are market forces and individual initiatives better able to manage schools and deliver the educational services than public authorities? What are the implications of private education for equity and efficiency of the whole education system? Is expansion of private schools a sign of growing income and spending disparities?

Although Kitaev’s main focus is on developed societies, the questions are as relevant to developing societies and suggest challenges in the funding and management of education. They suggest debatable issues for both Congress and the media. To respond to the myriad requirements – improved teacher salaries, continuing teacher training, upgraded facilities, access to adequate instructional materials, etc. would require exploration of innovative financing schemes. To date, there are such new practices but not enough to them — service contracts, education vouchers, and some experiments in parent-funded schools on the primary school level. A radical innovation of having a percentage of individual and corporate income taxes go directly to funding of schools may be worth exploring. Although the Constitution has given the sector the highest priority in our national budget, it is still way below the needed requirements. In fact, our budget for education is one of the lowest in comparison with the other countries in the region.

Again, when we talk of constitutional mandate, we know that most of the five sections of education (including several sub-sections) in our present Charter mandate the establishment and maintenance of free public education on both the elementary and secondary levels; provide incentive schemes (for students and teachers), tax exemptions for donations to educational programs, and the like. In terms of policy reforms, the only change proposed by the Con-Com is that of opening ownership to foreign investors. This proposal, meritorious as it may seem, as it is one way of easing the financial burden of private education, will need safeguards, in the light of concern with equity, quality, and social and cultural goals.

This is why when we talk of costs in education, we should look at it beyond indicators used for economic enterprises, that is, in terms of its end results — the acquisition of knowledge and skills, the expansion of the human potential and national values, concepts which are difficult to quantify. We also know that the first order in improving both access and quality, is to institutionalize an efficient and effective system of financing and management. Planning and policy making should now start rationalizing and weighing various cost options and alternatives and to evolve from the traditional and conservative mode in our educational planning. Diversity, informed choice are now guiding keywords in the restructuring of financing and management. Participation of more players in financing and use of new educational technologies are expected to reduce costs in the long run, in addition to making learning more participatory.

The last major evaluation of the educational system was made in the early nineties. This had resulted in the restructuring of education into the three units — the Department of Education which is responsible for basic education, the Commission on Higher Education or CHED, and TESDA or Technical and Educational Skills Development Authority. Perhaps there is now need to examine whether consolidation of the three agencies under one head is a more cost-effective response.

Revisiting our educational philosophy, evaluation of alternative modes of management and financing, delivery systems, review of how we compare with the rest of our neighbors in Asia, learning and piloting some of these radical approaches suggested, and finally, documenting our best practices, since we have a number of them, could provide some of the starting points. Please e-mail at florbraid@yahoo.com


Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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