One of the keynote speakers for CESHK 2013 was the Dean of Teacher Education at Cebu Normal University, Filomena Dayagbil, who spoke about quality issues in Philippine education. Internal and external (TIMMS) testing showed that there has been a precipitous drop in math, reading, and science scores in the Philippines that show up in even short, year-to-year timeframes. She spoke about three new approaches to remedy the issues: a new policy to increase the length of schooling from K-10 to the more conventional K-12 system, the role of teachers colleges in increasing teaching quality, and change away from English Medium of Instruction to mother tongue instruction.
I found myself disagreeing with the overall framing of educational quality issues in the Philippines. In general, it’s difficult to disagree with the idea that teachers can and should be better or that K-12, under the right conditions, would make the Philippines more academically competitive. But this ignores the fact that expanding enrollment rosters without increasing funding to go with it would likely decrease quality even further. This is exactly what has been happening over the past two decades, as successive Philippine governments failed to adequately prepare for a population boom. A 2009 New York Times article summed up the issues very succinctly:
According to the World Bank, the Philippines spends $138 per student per year. By comparison, Thailand spends $853 per student, Singapore spends $1,800 and Japan spends $5,000. The Philippine government spends 2.19 percent of its budget on education, according to official figures, well short of the 6 percent that educators say is optimal — despite a constitutional mandate to make education a priority. At the start of the decade, educators talked of a radical overhaul of the education system, but the main change since then has been increasingly intense overcrowding, Mr. Luz, of the policy study institute, wrote in a recent paper.
I was hoping to find the source of the $138 per student figure, but I couldn’t find it either the UIS or World Bank databases. Comparative absolute per student spending seems to be a metric that only the OECD collects. But using the (rather limited) UIS statistics, we see a general trend of education spending as a percentage of government spending increasing by .03% a year. Existing demographic trends have been raising by 1.42% every year. That is a massive difference, showing that population growth is outstripping educational spending growth by a factor of almost 5.
So what happens when we increase overall student enrollment by keeping students in the system an extra two years? I’ve built a linear regression to follow existing trends out to 2020, assuming that spending stays the same and secondary enrollment increases by 30% because of students staying in the system longer. UIS isn’t always clear what they mean by secondary, so this might be a conservative estimate.
This is a crude model, but it shows the issues at hand: things are getting bad, and K-12 would make it worse. It’s absolutely no surprise for me to hear that Filipino students are falling behind in math and science, and that educational quality, in general, is suffering. What’s interesting is that my wife, who finished high school in the Philippines in the 1990s, seemed to have gotten a solid education in the Catholic school system in a provincial city in the Philippines, which she says wasn’t markedly different than the public high school* (she chose it because they had computer classes). Even missing those extra two years of schooling, she’s thrived at a highly ranked M.Ed program. Many of her university classmates went on to top American schools like Columbia and Harvard.
So perhaps the pertinent planning and policy question for me would be this: how do we return to the educational quality the Philippines had in the 1990s, when teacher quality and the length of schooling was the same as today (recalling that K-12 hasn’t yet been implemented)? The obvious answer would be to restore proportional per-student spending. That’s something that’s proven extremely difficult with existing demographic trends. There’s every reason to suspect that increasing enrollments through an expanded secondary system will make the problem worse. And finally, I think we need be very careful with the discourses of educational quality. It’s far too easy to blame teachers for macro/structural issues far outside of their control.
* update: she said that it was considered to be an even better school than the Catholic school