The vestiges of a bygone era have now come to haunt us.
This day marks the 30th anniversary of the passage of Batas Pambansa (BP) Blg. 232, more popularly known as the Education Act of 1982, signed into law by then President Ferdinand Marcos on September 11, 1982. This seminal law governs both formal and nonformal education systems in public and private schools in all levels of instruction in the country.
With the lifting of Martial Law, then President Marcos needed a law that would circumscribe all his past decrees pertaining to education, all the while agreeing to recommendations of various financial institutions, particularly the World Bank, so as to usher in more foreign debt. The Education Act of 1982 is the embodiment of Marcos’ blatant maneuvering– a powerful law that reoriented the Philippines’ education system in the guise of national development, all the while toeing the line dictated by US imperialist interest.
As with all Marcos-era legislations, the Education Act of 1982 disguised itself as landmark law that would democratize access in education. However, BP 232 reoriented the Philippine education system from playing an integral role in national development, pursuit of knowledge, and flowering of culture and the arts towards being profit-oriented and producing graduates that would feed the global need for cheap labor.
The Education Act transmogrified Philippine schools into money-making machines, flaunting the then alien concept of commercialization, which treats education as a commodity, a rare privilege given to only those who can afford it.
One of the most pernicious provisions of the Education Act is Section 42, which pertains to tuition and other fees. It states, “Each private school shall determine its rate of tuition and other school fees or charges. The rates and charges adopted by schools pursuant to this provision shall be collectible, and their application or use authorized, subject to rules and regulations promulgated by the Ministry of Education, Culture and Sports.”
The said provision effectively granted school owners the unlimited authority to raise tuition fees, and even repealed an earlier law – Presidential Decree 451 – which states that 60 percent of tuition fee hikes be allotted to teachers’ salaries and benefits.
Three decades hence, the Philippine education system has drowned in the murky waters of commercialization.
Due to the Education Act, the government has failed to regulate tuition increases in the country, rendering both the Department of Education (DepEd) and the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) – agencies that have been borne out of later revisions to BP 232 – useless paper tigers, especially in curbing annual tuition hikes.
However, a closer scrutiny on the jurisprudence under the said law reveals that DepEd and CHED should not act as toothless agencies. Under BP 232, agencies that govern the education system in the country can and should impose rules and regulations on tuition and other fees.
In a landmark decision in the case Lina vs Cariño in 1993, the Supreme Court itself recognized the legal authority of the then secretary of the Department of Education, Culture and Sports (DECS) to impose “maximum permissible rates or levels” for tuition and other fees. The high court also ruled that implementing guidelines should be drawn regarding the collection of tuition and other fees.
Despite the said ruling, DepEd and CHED both remained inutile in controlling the spiralling cost of education. At times, these agencies even act as defendants for private schools, justifying instead of stopping tuition increases.
Due to the deregulated nature of tuition under the Education Act, tuition in private schools has risen to skyrocketing levels. According to the National Union of Students of the Philippines, the national average of tuition and other fees in private higher educational institutions has increased from P257.41 in 2001 to P501.22 in 2010.
Also, the incessant tuition hikes in private schools have driven students to enrol in public schools, thereby bloating enrolment in public higher education institutions in the past 30 years. To illustrate, public elementary schools have 7.5 million more students than the private sector in 1980. By 2010, the difference reached up to 11.6 million. Such mass migration of students led to the current ills of basic education – the dearth of classrooms, textbooks, and other facilities. The situation has been further aggravated by the government’s policy of underspending for education.
What’s more, the spiralling cost of education – coupled with the stagnant wages and rampant unemployment in the country – has caused the steady increase in the drop-out rates in the country. According to a 2009 study by the Philippine Institute for Development Studies, for every 100 pupils who enter Grade 1, only 86 will continue to Grade 2. By Grade 4, 76 will remain, while only 65 will graduate from elementary. Of this number, only 58 will enter high school, and 42 of them would graduate basic education.
Paving the path to state neglect
The Education Act of 1982 was the primary framework that gave rise to succeeding government platforms for education.
The said law has set the precedent for the notion that schools, even those sponsored by the state, should generate their own income and become self-sustaining. An example would be Section 39 of BP 232, which encourages schools to pursue income-generating projects, and Section 33 and 53, which likewise encourages assistance and support from private entities.
Succeeding administrations have taken their cue from Marcos’ Education Act.
By 1996, President Fidel Ramos first implemented the Long-term Higher Education Development Plan (LTHEDP), which sought to increase cost-efficiency and global competitiveness of public higher education. Ramos then signed the Higher Education Modernization Act (HEMA) in 1997, which pushed state universities and colleges to enter partnerships with the private sector and generate higher internal income.
In 2001, President Gloria Arroyo revived the LTHEDP and pushed state schools to earn more, while government funding for education dwindled.
At present, the Aquino administration posts two plans for the education system – the K to 12 (K-12) Program for basic education and the Roadmap for Public Higher Education Reform (RPHER) for tertiary education.
K-12 seeks to add two more years to the country’s current 10-year basic education cycle. However, such move translates to added economic burden for families, and additional income for private school owners. Meanwhile, Aquino’s RPHER basically rehashes Ramos and Arroyo’s plan to reduce state obligation to higher education and push state schools to be self-sustaining.
A failed social experiment
Since the inception of the Education Act of 1982, critics have been vocal about how it would eventually create a “nation of English-speaking technicians as well as skilled and semi-skilled workers in the service of the expanding manpower needs of US and other foreign corporations.” Thirty years hence, we suffer from the grave repercussions of this law.
The Education Act is a failed social experiment that not only led to the deterioration of our country’s education system, but also to the maximization of exploitation of Philippine resources, particularly, our workforce. Borne out of World Bank’s structural adjustment policies in the 1980s, we now bear the brunt of the Education Act’s impact in our nation’s job generation, industrialization, and economy.
Now, more than ever, there resounds a call not only to repeal BP 232, but to reorient the Philippine education system towards being nationalist, scientific, and mass-oriented – an education system that seeks to increase knowledge instead of profit, an education system that teaches Filipinos the value of national industrialization instead of driving them to foreign lands to work.
The vestiges of a bygone era have come to haunt us, yet we should not cower in fear. To move forward towards the reorientation of our education system, we must first extinguish the ghosts of the turbulent past.