THERE is a common acknowledgement that the quality of our education system is quite low. This observation, without doubt, has been validated by the poor results of the performance of our students in periodic international assessments of achieved learning.

The most telling of these assessments is the very poor performance of our students in PISA (Programme for International Assessment) in 2018 for 15 year-olds where our students ranked lowest in reading and second lowest in mathematics and science, out of 79 countries. A humiliating results, indeed; but which brought a loud and clear confirmation that may drive us to action. Similarly, we did poorly in the ASEAN assessment in 2019 of Grade 5 students among six ASEAN countries.

In addition to the academic issue, the term I use to describe the situation portrayed above, we also have a serious school attendance problem. According to the latest information obtained from the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) based on 2015 and 2016 data, the enrollment rate in secondary schools of students of the same age cohort is 74.2% (2016). Of the same age cohort of secondary school enrollees, 74% completed high school (2015).

As these rates relate to similar age cohorts, multiplying them together will provide a measure of the proportion of our children who entered Grade 1 and completed high school. On this basis, only 55% of those who enrolled in Grade 1 finished high school.

The low education attainment of nearly half of our population has, by itself, serious implications. When combined with the poor quality of the education received by the other half, we carry a very heavy handicap that prevents us from realizing our potential as a nation.

We cannot expect the almost 50% of our adult population who have attained only low levels of education to be judiciously discerning when choosing our elected leaders. More so when one considers that this large sector of our adult population would likely not be predisposed to be keen observers of the country’s day-to-day political events which, if otherwise, may have compensated for their education handicap. This observation is quite evident when one tries to characterize the present day free television daily programming.

Unless we are able to substantially improve our education system, it is unlikely that our nation can achieve mature political development that will enable us to acquire having an effective and progress-looking political leadership.

If I were the next President, I will endeavor to overhaul our education system to make it a strong force in developing our national well-being.

Undoubtedly, the effects of the widespread incidence of child stunting has a bearing on the poor results of the learning assessments of our children. This environmental issue will be dealt with by the program on combating child stunting discussed in Part 5 of this series.

Accordingly, we will implement an additional program of free lunch to those who need it at the primary school level. We will develop a qualifying system to try to capture those children who are likely to drop out.

To get an approximation of the cost of this program, I used the non-completion rate of primary schooling of 16% mentioned earlier and the total enrolment in public primary schools in school year 2019-2020 of 11.9 million children as obtained from the Department of Education.

While this enrolment number is understated for our purpose because it is already net of those who did not enroll for Grade 1 and those who had already dropped out of primary school, it is useful for approximation purposes. The calculation results to 1.9 million children who drop out of primary school. Combining this information with the estimated cost of P30 per lunch meal and 205 schooldays in a year, the indicative total cost of this free lunch program is about P12 billion for the entire country per year.

This expenditure rightly belongs to the local government units and, as such, the total cost is spread out. We will discuss this matter, as well as the related transportation cost issue, with the LGUs as part of our program to engage them in nation building.

As the economy grows, we will study and work out a similar assistance program for those who are likely not to enroll in secondary school, as well as those who drop out of high school.

The problems in our education system are very serious. These problems greatly hinder our progress towards the desirable levels of our economic and political developments. I will engage the Filipino people vigorously and persistently to get rid of these unwelcome inhibitors to progress.


As published in The Manila Times and Mindanao Times, dated 06 and 29 July 2021