, APRIL 11, 2007 (STAR) BULL MARKET, BULL SHEET By Wilson Lee Flores (Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe. — H.G. Wells)

How can business prospects become better and the ongoing economic growth be sustained if Philippine education is left to rot in crisis, if we don’t pour more money into it, and if there’s no political will to push sweeping drastic reforms?

In 2006, the Philippine education budget was only 2.5 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP) compared to the international benchmark of six percent of GDP. The Philippines’ 2.5 percent education spending is extremely low compared to 7.4 percent for our neighbors Malaysia and four percent for Thailand.

Philanthropists in the business sector and our politicians should not waste the limited resources of the Philippines in constructing more basketball courts (we need more soccer fields!), waiting sheds, free/cheap housing for the poor, or worse, the recent Mandaue/Lapu-Lapu cities’ overpriced lampposts scandal. Set your priorities right. We have so many millions of poor kids, we need to construct more public schools, invest in more textbooks (jail those crooks who exorbitantly pad textbook costs or produce shoddy books), and train better teachers.

Last March 31 at El Centro Convention Center in Subic, I delivered the keynote speech to the four-day in-house training of the Mathematics Trainers Guild Philippines (MTGP), an extraordinary group of volunteer math teachers nationwide who train the best 700 private and public school kids so the Philippines can have representatives in various international math competitions, even without support from the government.

I was very sincere when I cited MTGP teachers as "real heroes" of our education system which is now in crisis. In the 2003 Third International Mathematics and Science Study, the Philippines ranked 41st in mathematics and 42nd in science among 45 countries. I wouldn’t be shocked if a study will soon reveal that our English-language standards have slumped. We need more support for English, math and the sciences to be a truly globally competitive society.

The Philippine education budget for 2007 of P130 billion pesos is simply not enough. In 2006, the government allotted only P2,871.05 per Filipino aged five to 24 per year or only P7.87 per day for education. What is more disturbing and tragic is that majority of this insufficient education budget was allotted for teacher salaries and only 4.1 percent went to constructing school buildings, purchase of books and other instructional materials!

Now that the Federation of Filipino-Chinese Chambers of Commerce & Industry, Inc. (FFCCCII) has recently elected chemicals tycoon John Tan as president, I wish to commend outgoing 2005-2007 FFCCCII president Dr. Francis Chua for his dynamic civic leadership of the Filipino Chinese business community to donate record numbers of public school buildings to the poorest rural villages of the Philippines.

Over 4,000 public schoolhouses were donated under the pioneering "Operation Barrio Schools" project since the 1960s, with the Filipino-Chinese entrepreneurs’ hope of promoting true progress and social stability through education.

Chua himself is an example of how education can change lives. A provinciano from Nueva Ecija who was almost rejected by a top private school, he overcame the odds and graduated from Xavier School as valedictorian, one of its top five outstanding alumni in the recent 50th anniversary jubilee, and later a top UP alumnus.

His FFCCCII successor John Tan also studied college at Mapua and could only get into Yale University on scholarship, so he also knows how education can change lives.

According to Francis Chua, President Gloria M. Arroyo has allocated P78.3 million pesos, Senator Drilon has allocated P205 million pesos, Senator Kiko Pangilinan has approved P40 million pesos and the Senate Finance Committee last year 2006 approved P250 million pesos all for construction of public school buildings through the FFCCCII "Operation Barrio Schools" — at half the construction costs compared to those of government contractors.

My question is, couldn’t our politicians decisively lower the school building construction costs of government contractors, since FFCCCII contractors can earn modest profits yet charge only half?

Instead of more waiting sheds or basketball courts, instead of allowing politicos like Mandaue Mayor Thadeo Ouano and Lapu-Lapu City Mayor Arturo Radaza to allegedly overprice lampposts and streetlights for the recent Asean summit at P365 million pesos, instead of philanthropists donating houses or financing beauty contests in town fiestas, why don’t we focus our limited resources on education to alleviate massive poverty? Why not build more public schools to ensure a better Philippine economy?

Can’t we cut back on buying imported (and often overpriced) weapons for the military and instead bolster education spending, so we’ll have fewer jobless rebels to shoot in the future? Can’t our politicos, if they still have a conscience, exempt public schools, textbooks and teachers’ wages from their shameless, boundless corruption?

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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