What Can a Local Government Unit Do for Public Education in the Philippines?

Public school education in the Philippines is managed centrally by the Department of Education (DepEd). At the municipal level, there is a small unit called the Local School Board (LSB), which main task is to allocate a special education fund, collected from an additional 1 percent tax on real properties. The fund is intended to answer auxiliary needs of local schools. Unfortunately, as former Naga City mayor Jesse Robredo once stated, "Decision making has been confined to this eight-person board where most often, “educational priorities” are being defined by its two most powerful members: the local chief executive and the division superintendent".

Although the special education fund was designed to meet only supplementary needs of the local schools, there was a time in the small town of Paete, Laguna, during which a major portion of its fund was used to pay for the salaries of some of its public high school teachers. I have had the rare opportunity of witnessing several meetings by the Paete local school board. What I observed was not exactly the same as what Robredo described. The principals of the schools were there and they were actively participating in decision-making. I would however agree with something that Robredo also wrote:
As a result, this has largely prevented the LSB to help address the following problems facing public schools:
  • Deteriorating quality of basic education with far-reaching effects on the country’s future 
  • General lack of awareness about the current state of public education among stakeholders ƒ 
  • Weak “soft infrastructure” support to facilitate the learning process ƒ 
  • Weak mechanisms for meaningful parent participation in the education of their children ƒ 
  • Weak involvement and participation of other community-based stakeholders in the delivery of public education services ƒ 
  • An underperforming LSB that has been reduced to a mere budgeting entity for local education funds ƒ 
  • Weak planning and budgeting practices and processes that contribute to inefficient and ineffective use of local education funds, and ƒ 
  • The lack of transparency and accountability in the administration of the public school system. 
It is election time in the Philippines and people are campaigning for positions in the local government.

A proclamation event for candidates for local positions, Paete, Laguna
Above copied from photos shared on Facebook by Joseph Caday
Interestingly, education is mentioned in one of the platforms of a candidate for the local legislative body. The following is a list of actions proposed to address the needs of the local schools:

  • financial aid to elementary pupils
  • the return of a permanent feeding program for malnourished children in elementary schools
  • an "education research center" for local high school
  • maintenance of computers and internet for all the local public schools
  • strengthen and support the Alternative Learning System
  • continue the Special Program for the Employment of Students (SPES) by the Department of Social Welfare and Development
The above are indeed lofty goals for a local government unit that has funds that can meet only the supplemental needs of a school. Looking at these goals brings me to realize that we may just be missing one important thing. Although Robredo erroneously attributed the problems in schools to overpowering mayors and superintendents. In my opinion, he correctly identified the problem: Weak involvement and participation of the public. 

There is a journalist named Ina Alleco Roldan Silverio in the Philippines who happens to be a friend of mine on Facebook. She shares on Facebook a draft of a speech that she delivered during the commencement exercises at Beatea Mariae Academy. In that speech she exhorted parents to get more involved with their children's education. How many parents in the Philippines bother to read and examine learning materials used by their children? How many parents in the Philippines do their part to help teachers teach their children? Indeed, how many parents in the Philippines know what is inside DepEd's K to 12 besides the fact that it comes with kindergarten and two additional years at the end of high school? 

Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it.” This quote is from Dwight Eisenhower. Perhaps, this is where someone aspiring for local leadership should begin. We need leaders who can get more parents involved and engaged in their children's education.