Assessing the Candidates on Education

Part of an #Election2016 series called “Public Choice”


A survey conducted by Pulse Asia back in December 2015 found that education was the second leading personal concern among voters after health which was at 62%, ahead of finishing school or providing an education for their children (48%), securing a well-paying job or source of income (43%), and having enough to eat everyday (41%).

The ranking by voters is quite intuitive. Your mind and body both need to be fit and healthy for you to absorb knowledge and skills at school. Without proper nutrition early in life, human development gets stunted both physically and mentally. Being protected from the financial cost of health care could spell the difference between fulfilling your potential and becoming destitute.

Developing human capital by investing in health and education will become the primary function of a developmental state in the 21st century. This is because getting a good education these days is so crucial to finding gainful employment. As the economic sociologist Peter Evans wrote

21st century development will depend on generating intangible assets (ideas, skills, and networks) rather than on stimulating investment in machinery and physical assets oriented to the production of tangible goods. This makes investment in human capabilities (which include what is traditionally known as “human capital”) more economically critical.

In the Philippines, the program to achieve universal basic education is known as Education for All (EFA). Back in 2015, the government conducted a national review of the reforms to basic education for an international conference sponsored by UNESCO. It provided an update on the status of these reforms and some recommendations for the way forward. It starts off by saying

A country’s vision of inclusive growth and development entails investment in human capital, particularly through the provision of quality basic education, competitive technical vocational skills training, and relevant and responsive higher education as stated in the Philippine Development Plan 2011-2016.

The report takes stock of the progress made under EFA, as reflected in the following table:

Performance Criteria What’s been achieved
Net enrollment rate (NER)

(% of population in school as of 2012-13)

Kinder: 77%

Primary: 95% (Female 96.3%, Male 94.2%)

Secondary: 65% (Female 70%, Male 59.9%)

Completion rate

(average % of cohort that completed the final grade from 2005-06 to 2012-13)

Primary: 72% (Female 78.2%, Male 69.6%)

Secondary: 73%  (Female 79.9%, Male 69.9%)

Survival rate of children until they reach the final grade/year

(% of cohort as of 2012-13)

Primary: 75%
Secondary: 78%
TESDA/TVET (From 2011 to 2013) enrollment and post-training employment status Enrollment:

Up 19% from 1.6 million to 1.9 million

Employment rate of graduates:

Up from 48.5% in 2005 to 65.3%

Adult literacy rates Basic literacy:

Up from 93.4% in 2003 to 95.6% in 2008

Functional literacy:

Up from 84.1% in 2003 to 86.4% in 2008

Adult literacy system (ALS) enrollment and completion rates Enrollments:

From 106,482 (2005) to 330,977 (2013)


From 77,168 (2003) to 232,393 (2013)

National Achievement Test Scores

(Mean percentage score, 2012/13)

Primary: 68.9% (target is 75%)

Secondary: 51.4% (target is 75%)


The main challenge of the education sector has to do with keeping students in school, particularly within the first 3 years. There is near universal participation in primary school, but the dropout rate in Grade 1 alone stood at 13% back in 2011/12. For Kindergarten there is still a lack of community awareness since the 2013 law that offered universal early childhood care came into effect.

Gender parity is not much of an issue in the Philippines. Female participation and completion rates have both been higher than their male counterparts. Poverty is still the main barrier to completing an education, which is why the Pantawid Pamilya was put in place, to increase participation by providing cash grants to households for keeping kids in school.

It also is there to address stunting, which occurs in the first two years of life and irreversibly lowers a person’s cognitive abilities. The Aquino government not only expanded it to cover 4 million households, it also increased the cutoff age for children to 18 so that they could stay in the program until they finished secondary school, and targeted those affected by natural disasters, conflict, indigenous families through the modified conditional cash transfer program.

The need to improve quality, access and funding, particularly now that the government has introduced senior high school have to be addressed. Even with the voucher program, which enables students to access places at private schools, a serious gap could still emerge in terms of facilities, since most private providers charge top-up fees. This could possibly lead to perverse outcomes for the K-12 program, if  not all incoming senior high students are accommodated and have to leave school due to inadequate fee free places.

The purpose for introducing K-12, which incorporates vocational education and training, was to align our educational system with our ASEAN counterparts, in time for the ASEAN Economic Community. The need to build 21st Century skills in critical thinking, collaboration, communication, creativity, and information technology is also a big challenge. With achievement at national tests still well below acceptable levels, new paradigms and pedagogical strategies need to be explored, which requires training and development of teachers, as well as better curricula and learning materials.


For post-school education, which includes both higher education and technical vocational education and training, the challenge not only includes improving quality of delivery, but meeting the demand of industry for skilled and qualified labor. As the World Bank Lead Economist Emanuela di Gropello remarked at a conference back in 2012

Employers in both manufacturing and services in the East Asia and the Pacific region including the Philippines are looking for problem-solving, communications, management and other skills that will support higher productivity. Yet employer perceptions and wage skill premiums point to gaps in these skills in newly-hired professionals.

The Roadmap to Public Higher Education Reform instituted by the Commission on Higher Education aims to rationalize and consolidate the number of state universities and colleges (SUC) and their program offerings. It also seeks to use something called the Normative Funding Formula (NFF) to provide adequate funding to SUCs based on the cost of delivering each program, which would include maintenance and other operating expenses, and capital outlays.

The NFF will be used as a mechanism to encourage more students into programs and courses that are of good quality and whose graduates are in demand. With the Comprehensive National Industry Strategy just released by the Department of Trade and Industry, it should be possible to geographically map the demand for skills down to the regional level, or even lower.

The University Student Financial Assistance System for Tertiary Education (UniFAST) was legislated in 2015. It consolidates all government scholarship programs for both public and private higher education, including the Iskolar ng Bayan fund into one bucket of money, overseen by a board. The UniFAST board will be responsible not only for scholarships but for setting up a sustainable student loan program.

The UniFAST Board will also study the possibility of entering into an agreement with the GSIS and SSS for deducting student loan repayments automatically from the salaries of students after they graduate, similar to the way that the Australian Higher Education Contribution Scheme works, which is also currently being studied by Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam.


Now that we have seen the challenges of our educational system, let us turn to what the candidates are proposing to address them.

MarMar Roxas

As Secretary for Trade and Industry, Roxas was responsible for promoting the growth of the business process outsourcing industry, which is generating demand for skilled service workers. His proposals for education are contained in a comprehensive policy document, and shown below along with a brief assessment.

Proposed Solutions Assessment
Continue and improve on programs that will enhance educational infrastructure and ensure the sufficiency of basic education inputs to meet the growing requirements of the K to 12 program. Gobbledy-gook. This sounds like purposefully vague bureaucrat-speak, which essentially signals everything and nothing, all at once.
Focus on further boosting the performance of teaching personnel through more extensive capacity building programs (from a speech he gave to the Makati Business Club, we now know that he “will require teacher training, that will require more scholarships for teachers so that they can get their masterals that will require (them) to learn new ways of teaching old lessons”. On the right track, but insufficient. While there are proposals from some quarters to make graduate training a pre-requisite for entry level teaching positions, programs for teacher education need careful vetting and have to be evidence-based to reflect world’s best practice.
Adopt international standards in assessing performance of schools, colleges, and universities to raise their competitiveness, as well as that of their graduates. Easier said than done. Measurement of school performance is a vexed issue. Even the means for assessing and managing teacher performance is contentious.
Develop technical vocational centers in provinces to expand tech-voc education both in and of itself, and as an integral part of our formal education system. Nothing new. TESDA already has established centers nationwide, as well as accredits private providers who offer vocational training and education both for school-based and adult education. The statement needs to be more specific. What on top of this does he intend to do?
To support deserving Filipino students, we will establish a fund to provide financial support (tuition and allowance) to high school graduates who finish at the top of their class nationwide, to allow them to pursue their tertiary education in quality schools; and honors high schools in the provinces, where education is subsidized and students will be provided with allowances.

From his talk at MBC we now know he plans to allocate Php2.4 billion to provide 5,000 valedictorians from public senior high schools with Php100,000 a year in college grants and provide Php10,000 stipends to the top 10%.

On the right track. This is an expansion of the Iskolar ng Bayan program that has now been subsumed under the UniFAST program. While this is helpful, we encourage Mar Roxas to look at the bigger picture-how to provide universal access to further education not just for the top 10% of graduating senior high students, but for the remaining 90% as well by increasing UniFAST funding, and allowing its board to determine its allocation in a rational and methodical manner.



Grace Poe

Senator Poe enunciated her priorities for education when she gave a speech covering her 20 point agenda. Here they are with a brief assessment.

Proposed Solutions Assessment
Maximize digital technology for education Vague. Needs to be more specific.
Eliminate classroom backlogs Vague. Needs to be more specific. Which backlog does she intend to eliminate? The Aquino government closed the 66,800 classroom backlog from the previous administration.
Expansion of scholarship programs, strengthen the “Study Now, Pay Later” system Vague. Needs to be more specific. UniFAST is meant to do this. How would she expand and strengthen this system?
Paid internships for college students. Questionable role of government. Vague. Which agency would be responsible for this? What would be the role of government providing paid internships?



Rody Duterte

Despite stating that education would become a priority under his administration, Mayor Duterte hasn’t released a detailed policy document that would spell out exactly what he would do. We do have this recorded interview though, which I extract below, with some comments.

Proposed Solutions Assessment
We will build adequate classrooms and raise the salary of teachers. Vague. He doesn’t explain what he means by ‘adequate’ nor provide detail on the appropriate level of teacher composition.
Double the shifts of our own classes even teaching with the use of large screen TV’s. Incoherent. Many public schools already hold two or even three sessions a day. Does he mean to hold 4-6 sessions a day? That would be physically impossible. As for using large screen TV’s for instruction, this needs to be more thought out.
Government Media and our Schools must Teach Values of Honesty, Hard Work, Respect for the Law, and above all Dignity and Pride as Filipinos for it is only with spiritual growth that we can sustain material growth. Motherhood statement. HEKASI or geography, history and civics, now called Makabayan is already being taught in school. How would he improve instruction in this area, more specifically?



Jejomar Binay

From the Office of the Vice President comes a press release detailing how the veep would handle the education system based on his experience as mayor of Makati. Here are its main points below, with some comments.

Proposed Solutions Assessment
Build 30,000 new classrooms nationwide, particularly in rural locations, by expanding the public-private partnership for school infrastructure with the help of business groups such as the FFCCCI. The President’s Social Fund (PSF) can provide counterpart funds for these classrooms. We will bring the schools closer to the students to decrease the attrition rate caused by schools being inaccessible to the pupils. On the right track. The PPP for School Infrastructure Stage 1 produced over 9,300 classrooms. Stage 2 is partially complete and is meant to produce over 4,300 schools. Stage 3 is being conceptualized. The veep’s plan is achievable (since Aquino closed the 66,800 school backlog left by the previous administration) and is a step-up for the PPP for School Infrastrure program and could address the shortage of classrooms for the senior high school program.
Increase the share of the education budget by 20% to hire more teachers, increase investments in teacher training and purchase additional books, computers and other instructional facilities and materials. Achievable and desirable. In 2016 the share of education to the total budget is about 17%, compared to 13% in 2009 (based on World Bank stats). This is an increase of 27%. The veep’s target of a 20% increase would mean the education budget would be 20% of the budget by 2022. This is achievable and desirable.  
Part of the CCT (conditional cash transfer or Pantawid Pamilya) funds can be allocated to Dep-Ed for teacher hiring.
Likewise, the LGUs [local government units] can be asked to use their special education funds – which comes from the additional 1% real property tax of LGUs – for teacher hiring and classroom repairs.
No longer tenable. The veep criticised the CCT for including non-poor recipients (a view supported by empirical evidence). He has had to backtrack from his position as the camp of Roxas sought to wage a scare campaign, saying the veep would scrap CCT altogether.

The veep has had to compensate by pandering to the CCT constituency even more by saying he not only would maintain it, but would also expand the program to cover senior citizens.

While the use of real property tax by LGUs for education use helps address the question of funding at the local level, it would not be equitable for poorer LGUs with lower property values.

We intend to close the budgetary gap between UP’s proposed budget and the actual appropriation within a span of five to seven years Too much wiggle room. By specifying 5-7 years, the veep is giving himself space to extend the attainment of this promise beyond his term.
For the youth who drop out for reasons of poverty, we will increase the number of scholarships. We are looking at the possibility of offering one collegiate study grant per family. We aim to help the child get through school while we help his parents find jobs or increase their incomes. On the right track. This is an extension of the the UniFAST program. While this is helpful, we encourage the veep to look at the bigger picture-how to provide access to further education for all deserving students who lack financial capacity to acquire it.
Our program intends to raise the basic salary of teachers and give them other extra benefits, like housing. We are looking at adjusting the salary of a Teacher 1, from the current salary Grade 11, to at least salary Grade 19. We also want our teachers to receive more material benefits, such as increased instructional materials, allowance, study grants for their children, tax exemptions for additional benefits given to them, as well as funeral assistance by way of discounts in burial services. On the right track. Compared to Roxas’ plan to raise the standards for entry level teaching positions, the veep is looking to attract the best and brightest teachers by offering them higher salaries and benefits. The two thrusts are complementary and useful.

The comments above are not meant to provide an endorsement to any one candidate. They show that the candidates still have much to clarify and refine in their policy statements. With the coverage of the race dominated by popularity polls and personalities, this series is meant to fill a void by providing an assessment based on principled policy platforms.

The author works as an economic policy analyst in Adelaide, South Australia. He is also the founder of the 2Klas Program in Manila, which equips inner city youth with 21st Century skills. He tweets as @thecusponline.

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