Addressing Poverty and Education: The Philippines Receives a Failing Mark

The Asia South Pacific Association for Basic and Adult Education has recently shared some of the points raised by a UN committee with regard to basic education in the Philippines: "The UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR), in its Concluding Observations on the periodic report on the Philippines, asks the Philippine government under President Duterte to “strengthen its public education sector,” noting the “insufficient” funding for education, the “segregation” arising from the privatization drive, and the lack of access to quality education particularly among the marginalized sectors, including the indigenous peoples, children with disabilities and the rural poor.

A link is provided to the advanced unedited version of the report provided by the Committee so one may say that a part of my title, the "failing mark", is not justified. After all, on the segment on education, the Committee's report starts with saying, "While welcoming the important step achieved by the Enhanced Basic Education Act of 2013". The overall tone of the report does start with something positive, but every section pretty much begins with some "good news" followed by a huge string of "bad news". As a teacher, the first part of the report is already disconcerting:
The Committee is concerned at the lack of reliable data, including in the national census, particularly relating to indigenous peoples, persons with disabilities, and people living in poverty.
How can a country possibly address its problems in poverty and education when reliable data are not available? This alone deserves a failing mark. What is amazing is that even with the lack of information, the Committee is still able to spot major concerns. This, however, is not surprising, especially when it is far obvious that the measures that have been taken, policies that have been drawn, and the programs that have been implemented are doomed to fail. Take, for instance, the spiral approach in the sciences in high school where a student gets a taste of biology, chemistry, physics and earth sciences in each year, and combine this with the fact that there is a grave shortage of qualified teachers in the sciences. This is just one glaring example.

It is indeed difficult to address poverty. Poverty even crushes education so it is equally difficult to face the challenges of basic education. However, this is no excuse to take measures that are obviously, from the very start, are simply going to make things worse.

This blog, on various occasions, has pointed out what is wrong with DepEd's K to 12. At this moment, I would like to share with you what Chad Colmenares thinks with regard to this recent report. By the way, Colmenares also gives a "grade way below passing mark". Colmenares also writes, "For instead of solving the problems real time, they added more problems in the process."

On UN's Report on "Right to Education"

by Chad Colmenares

Warning: This is a long post, but if you truly care about our Education System and the Children's Future, then this may warrant your attention.

Last 7 October 2016, the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) came up with its concluding observations and recommendations as regards Right to Education in the Philippines. First up, it recommends to the present government to "strengthen its public education sector with a view to improving access to and the quality of primary and secondary education for all, without hidden costs, particularly for children of low income families and children living in the rural areas."

Only the esteemed employees of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) have a compilation of proof and studies to prove the veracity of the cited recommendation. In fact, anyone diligent enough to locate certain schools via Google Maps will understand the long hours of walk done by students in remote areas - a study I would have thought was within the competencies of the Education Department (DepEd), in partnership with the CHR.

By chance, I was once employed at a remote area in Negros were part of my function was with the Community Relations (ComRel) Committee. At ComRel, we adopted various public schools at remote areas which detailed to us the long hours of walk from home to school. Our project focused on feeding public school students. This was a result of the incumbent problem that students face while at school due to their long hours of walk to and from school.

From home, the students bring with them a pack of lunch, good for lunch. But because the students walk long hours, they consume their lunch when they arrive school.

By long hours, I mean 5 hours of walk to and from school, uphill and downhill.

There were also concerns on unavailability of electricity on said schools. In my experience at ComRel, we went to a school which was operating its system using a car battery.

Personally, I was out with my mother who met a teacher who spends her personal money in providing for the materials needed by her pupils. We couldn't help but sponsor those materials, knowing how little teachers earn.

At the time, the Philippines agreed to the UN Millenium Development Goals (MDG), one goal to be achieved is to ensure that all children successfully complete elementary education.

Completion rate was, and is, a standing problem. Reports show that around 25% students complete elementary education.

We have not seen the entire story behind the previous administration, but to note, they have been very quiet about the 75% of students who dropout from school.

Amidst this fundamental problem, the previous administration pushed its agenda on education based on Promise 21 of PNoy during his campaign period. This Promise was to raise 10 years of basic education to 12 years to be globally competitive.

An education secretary was tasked to make this happen. He came from the private sector, and to my mind, had the desire to implement the La Sallian system to the entire populous. It started with a Department Order which has prematurely implemented the promised reform. It was followed by two subsequent laws which made 13 years of compulsory basic education.

DepEd succeeded in propagandizing this "reform" on the guise of global competitiveness. Sadly, businessmen realised more profit, while the people - especially the parents and the teachers, were silenced by one statement: IT IS ALREADY A LAW.

As implementation went on, DepEd became a passive instrument. It tapped and partnered with private firms to build school facilities but asked Congress to increase its annual budget to substantial amounts. I do not know how well the budget were spent over the years, but there have been hints of jacking up prices which were raised with the Commission on Audit which initially took interest, but eventually, a full report went over the horizon.

It used Vouchers as a way to lure public school students into entering private schools. This was a solution to lack of school facilities, instead of building as many as they could themselves.

They reduced the number of hours to accommodate more students; they also divided classrooms into half and reported it as an accomplishment that classrooms have been increased. By the way, they also introduced "cariton" classrooms and commended teachers wearing lipstick.

Any sensible person will react to this situation. If it is global competitiveness that the previous administration argues, I will give them a grade way below passing mark. For instead of solving the problems real time, they added more problems in the process.

These additional problems are now faced by the present administration. At heart of this is still the long standing problem: 75% DROPOUT in elementary education. This is not remote from the recommendation of the UNCESCR.

It took a while to gather a group of lawyers and petitioners to understand this situation. The movement against the reform was sporadic, and was defeated by the previous administration's black propaganda. As soon as the non-conformists gathered some force, said laws and Department Order were challenged by several petitions now pending before the Supreme Court - for almost two years already. The petitions challenged the previous administration's overhauling of the entire educational system.

We dug into the lawmaking process of the educational reform. We have observed that the Department Order did not have any legal basis - simply by comparing its date of publication with that of the supporting law's enactment. The Order came before the law.

Other than that, we have also discovered and verified that what was signed as the law was not the law passed by legislature.

In our petition docketed as G.R. No. 218098, we argued that "[t]he K to 12 Program, in making kindergarten and high school education compulsory, expands the constitutional definition of basic education which is consistent with international law standards."

The legal bases in our petition are as follows:


43.Par. 2, Sec. 2 of Art. XIV of the 1987 Constitution provides that the State shall “(e)stablish and maintain a system of free public education in the elementary and high school levels. Without limiting the natural right of parents to rear their children, elementary education is compulsory for all children of school age.”

44.Clearly from the above provision of the Philippine Constitution, basic education refers to elementary and high school education. However, only elementary education is compulsory. This provision is consistent with the commitments of the Philippine government under treaty obligations and international law.

45.The 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which the Philippines adopted, provides: ”Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory.”

46. The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights which the Philippines ratified and is now part of our domestic law, recognizes education as a human right for everyone and provides: “Primary education shall be compulsory and available free for all.”

47. The Convention on the Rights of the Child which the Philippines ratified and is now part of our domestic law, also obligates States parties to “(m)ake primary education compulsory and available free for all.”

48. When the 1987 Constitution was framed, kindergarten and senior high school were not compulsory the latter was, in fact, non-existent and beyond the consciousness of the Filipino nation. It could not have been the intent of the framers of the Constitution and the Filipino people to make these compulsory.

49. Yet, Congress violated the sacrosanct doctrine of Constitutional Supremacy by making kindergarten compulsory in at least two Republic Acts it passed and in making secondary education compulsory in one.

50.Rep. Act 10157, otherwise known as the Kindergarten Education Act and entitled AN ACT INSTITUTIONALIZING THE KINDERGARTEN EDUCATION INTO THE BASIC EDUCATION SYSTEM AND APPROPRIATING FUNDS THEREFOR, approved by Congress on January 20, 2012, provides:
Sec. 4. Institutionalization of Kindergarten Education. – Kindergarten education is hereby institutionalized as part of basic education and for school year 2011-2012 shall be implemented partially, and thereafter, it shall be made mandatory and compulsory for entrance to Grade 1.

51.Similarly, Rep. Act 10533 makes kindergarten and secondary education compulsory or mandatory. Its pertinent provisions are as follows:

Sec. 3. Basic Education. — Basic education is intended to meet basic learning needs which provides the foundation on which subsequent learning can be based. It encompasses kindergarten, elementary and secondary education as well as alternative learning systems for out-of-school learners and those with special needs.

Sec. 4. Enhanced Basic Education Program. — The enhanced basic education program encompasses at least one (1) year of kindergarten education, six (6) years of elementary education, and six (6) years of secondary education, in that sequence. Secondary education includes four (4) years of junior high school and two (2) years of senior high school education.

Kindergarten education shall mean one (1) year of preparatory education for children at least five (5) years old as prerequisite for Grade I.

Elementary education refers to the second stage of compulsory basic education which is composed of six (6) years. The entrant age to this level is typically six (6) years old.

Secondary education refers to the third stage of compulsory basic education. It consists of four (4) years of junior high school education and two (2) years of senior high school education. The entrant age to the junior and senior high school levels are typically twelve (12) and sixteen (16) years old, respectively.

52.The above unduly expand the constitutional definition of basic education which is limited to elementary and high school education. Moreover, by making kindergarten and secondary education compulsory, Congress amended the constitutional provision that only elementary education is compulsory and encumbered the exercise of the right to education.