The state of education today

Posted at 06/05/2010 2:20 PM | Updated as of 06/05/2010 6:01 PM

MANILA, Philippines - Summer break is almost over and a few days from now students will be heading back to school. Most parents together with their children are flocking to bookstores and malls to buy school supplies, shoes, uniforms and bags.

But this is not so for the less fortunate ones, like 14-year-old and incoming third year student Arlene Santiago who is still busy selling sampaguitas.

From 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. Arlene can be seen walking along the dangerous road of EDSA-Kamuning with her cousin Jane, begging every motorist to buy their fragrant sampaguitas. Her mother Delia and sister Jennifer are busy making garlands at the sidewalk.

The Santiago family is from Bulacan and every summer for the past 10 years, they would pack their bags and spend the whole summer vacation selling sampaguitas in Kamuning. “There are only a few motorists who would buy our sampaguitas in Bulacan,” Arlene lamented.

For the whole summer the streets of Kamuning would be their home. The money they earn would be their budget for Arlene’s education and baon for the first few months of school.

They would sleep outside a restaurant around 10 p.m. as it closes. No pillows and blankets for the family; they only have their makeshift cardboard beds. As the sun rises the family will get ready for another day of selling. For 10 pesos they take their baths at Nepa Q-mart.

“I have high hopes for Arlene,” Delia said. Out of her 8 children, only Arlene has reached high school. Delia vowed that she would do everything for Arlene to graduate from college.

Arlene wants to be a nurse. “I want to go to college, finish it and help my family get out of poverty,” she said.

Delia had already inquired at a semi-private college in Bulacan. “P8 thousand per semester,” she shook her head but was still smiling. “Where will we get that money?”

Arlene and her family are not alone in this struggle.

Aiming for zero dropout

According to the Department of Education (DepEd), out of 100 students, only 66 will finish elementary education, 42 will finish high school, and only 25 will go to college.

Education Secretary Mona Valisno said their answer to this problem is already in place. DepEd had already integrated Unesco’s program “Education for All” which aims at a zero dropout rate, making all Filipinos functionally literate and able to read and write.

Their target year for this is by the end of 2015. "We are asking for more budget,” said Valisno.

She hopes that the new Aquino administration would grant their request because they can only achieve this vision through an additional budget. She also encourages the private sector to help out in the process.

Valisno said our education system is getting better and is headed in the right direction.

Education crisis

But the Alliance for Concerned Teachers (ACT) thinks differently. “We are in an education crisis,” said Antonio Tino, ACT president. He added that the Arroyo administration had neglected our education system.

In 2002, there were approximately 1.87 million out-of-school children between the ages of 6 and 15 and in 2007, this grew to 3.33 million. Within a span of five years, the ranks of out-of-school youth increased by 1.46 million or 78 percent.

Students and teachers outside a public school. More classrooms and teachers are needed.

In 2009, DepEd declared that there were 5.6 million out-of-school children.

For Tino, the Arroyo years were characterized by declining enrolments, reduced completion rates, and dramatic increases in the number of dropouts and out-of-school children.

The incoming president is facing a lot of challenges. This coming schoolyear, P91.54 billion is needed to fill in the shortages in crucial resources.

Estimated Shortages of Crucial Resources, schoolyear 2010-2011 

Resource  Provided in 2010 budget    Cost in Php (Billions)  Shortage    Cost in Php (Billions) 
Teachers 10,000 1.32  54,060  8.04
Principals 2,000 0.39  4,538  0.89
Head Teachers 0 0.00  6,473  0.49
Classrooms 5,538 3.60  61,343  39.87
Textbooks n/a 2.05  n/a  0.40
Seats 887,000 0.89  816,291  0.82
Water and Sanitation Facilities 6,226 2.26  113,051  41.03
Total   10.51    91.54

ACT estimates based on data from Department of Education, FY 2010 Budget Proposal, September 2009.

DepEd and ACT may not seem to have the same picture of our education system but they both agree that additional budget is needed.

But according to presidential front-runner Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III, in a recent interview in Greenhills, San Juan, an additional budget is quite hazy due to a huge budget deficit that he would inherit from the Arroyo administration. Instead of an additional budget, the existing budget should be spent wisely.

His plans for education: “I want a 12-year program. The textbook issues and the classroom shortages should be resolved,” Aquino said.

According to ACT president Tino, with this kind of plan it’s business as usual. Like the Arroyo administration we cannot expect anything to improve in the next six years. Tino added that although money isn’t everything, it is a basic necessity for improving our education system.

Section 1 of Art. XIV of the Constitution requires the State to promote the right of all citizens to quality education at all levels. So is there a glimmer of hope for students like Arlene in the next administration?

Perhaps Arlene and her family should pray for a miracle and quadruple their efforts in selling their fragrant sampaguitas.