“Good news, bad news” was first published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer on May 6, 2017.
The basic education budget more than doubled in real terms, from roughly P152 billion to P350 billion, in 2005-2014. But it remains insufficient for what the system needs and, as a share of GNP, amounts to less than what Laos and Cambodia spend (roughly 2 percent vs. 2.4 percent). Many schools do not get the budget they should receive, nor do they always spend what they get on the right things.
The Department of Education brought down the average Student/Teacher Ratio (STR) to 36:1 in grade school, and 27:1 in high school. But these levels are still below the average STR in lower-middle-income countries (31:1 in elementary and 16:1 in high school). Inefficient distribution of teachers, moreover, left many elementary schools with fewer (29 percent) or more (52 percent) teachers than DepEd guidelines require for the number of students enrolled.
Starting salary of teachers has improved to 150 percent of per capita GDP, as against 50 percent in Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand. Teachers rated very highly in their command of curriculum subjects, a sign of self-confidence. But the average teacher could answer correctly less than half of the questions on a test that covered subject matter knowledge.
These observations come from a study of public basic education study supported by the Australia-World Bank Philippines Development Trust Fund and launched at the Asian Institute of Management last week. The research gives DepEd’s new leadership a baseline from which to measure its own progress in addressing unresolved problems that it now owns.
Pairing positive and negative results is not intended to devalue the genuine achievements of the previous DepEd leadership, nor to discount the difficulty of the issues that the new administration and probably its successor must address. While the AusAid/World Bank study has helpfully identified key problem areas and suggested possible solutions, their successful implementation often requires the actions of other agencies.
The transfer of teachers from schools with a surplus to those with a shortage would benefit students and save DepEd P3.8 billion annually. But transfers across divisions or regions require the approval of the Department of Budget and Management. To encourage teachers to accept redeployment to another area, DepEd would probably need to provide incentives, which would also require DBM approval.
Beyond the efficient allocation of teacher supply is the improvement of teacher job performance. Unless we can nurture a core of competent and motivated teachers, we cannot reasonably expect a major breakthrough in student learning outcomes.
Some 75 percent of DepED teachers attend in-service training programs it provides, a rate comparable to that in high-income countries. But 40 percent of the teachers want the DepEd to do a better job by extending program duration (now about five days) and ensuring their quality and relevance. Most training programs are based on decisions made at central and division offices, with the school principals seldom consulted on what their teachers need.
A more strategic intervention to raise teacher competence must come at the level of the colleges and universities offering education degrees. But it is the Commission on Higher Education, not DepEd, that oversees the institutions producing the teachers. Closer coordination between the two agencies is necessary to address a distressing conclusion of the AusAid/World Bank study: the lack of correlation between teacher credentials and performance.
Teachers with more experience and with postgraduate degrees did not perform better in the test than those without these advantages. This raises questions on the state of our teacher education programs that rank first or second place in the number of students they enroll. A rigorous assessment of the content and process of these programs would advance the AusAid/World Bank study, whose main concern is the allocation and use of resources, toward the issue of learning outcomes and their key drivers.
Increasing resources is necessary but not sufficient to raise education quality. The study’s focus on basic education is well placed. But reform initiatives to meet the quality and equity goals of basic education requires intervention beyond DepEd boundaries.