To help reverse the decline in the quality of Philippine education, the incoming Aquino administration is mulling adding two more years to the country's basic education cycle--an additional year in elementary and another year in high school.
But, speaking on ANC's "The Rundown" on Tuesday night, an education expert says this may not be a realistic solution.
"Why are we trying to complicate the problem? Prolonging the cycle may not really address the issue. The crisis is, children are not learning, and children are dropping out. So, I think we should focus all our resources on enabling all the children to complete grade 6, math and reading and be good citizens," says Milwida Guevarra, president and CEO of Synergeia Foundation.
Synergeia Foundation is an organization that aims to transform basic education in collaboration with local governments, parents and the private sectors.
Guevarra adds, all that's needed is a do-able solution, which includes empowering the parents and local governments to share part of the engagement of children in schools.
Guevarra says the incoming administration should instead make efficient use of government resources, focus on training teachers, and make education a shared responsibility.
Aquino's campaign manager Florencio "Butch" Abad, who is rumored to be the education secretary of the Aquino government, earlier said that Aquino proposed a 12-year education cycle as part of his 10-point agenda. The plan supposedly includes 7 years of primary and 5 years of secondary education.
Guevarra also stresses the need to address bad governance, corruption and poor management of resources in the education sector.
"The studies document corruption eats up 50% of the budget of DepEd [Department of Education] because of under-the-table transactions and commissions," says Guevarra.
"Our resources are very limited, and they should be focused on keeping the young children in schools," Guevarra says.
She notes that 20% of children drop out as early as grade 2, while the education system loses as much as 70% of grade 6 students in very depressed areas.
Guevarra gives the Arroyo administration just a passing mark for education.
"I would give her the same grade as average performance of children below 75%," Guevarra says.
"She's accountable for that except that the central government is too remote. And that's why we're saying, even the barangay officials, it should be their responsibility to look out for children who are dropping out and call the attention of the parents. Why are you letting this child work at home? Why aren't you sending him to school? I'm sorry, it happened during President [Cory] Aquino's time that the drop-out rate has risen and the performance level has become so low," she says.
'Smooth opening' of classes
Meanwhile, the Department of Education (DepEd) says the smooth outcome of the opening of classes on Monday was very encouraging.
"The opening of classes was smooth and orderly. We're happy to note the eagerness of our students," Education Secretary Mona Valisno said on ANC's Rundown on Tuesday.
But, she admits, some schools did not have enough chairs. Valisno admits the growing student population remains a tough challenge, amid persistent problems with overcrowded classrooms.
Valisno says 95 out of 6,600 high schools, mostly in Metro Manila, have three shifts a day, and this will have to be met by building more classrooms.
Zero drop-out rate
Valisno says the Arroyo administration has also doubled the budget for education, from P100 billion in 2001 to P235 billion today, in hopes of making education available to all.
The DepEd boasts of having an unprecedented zero drop-out rate from first year to fourth year high school in at least four provinces: Zamboanga Sibugay, Cotabato, Southern Leyte, and Romblon, a feat achieved through effective intervention programs via the DepEd's Drop Out Reduction Program (DORP).
"We would like to encourage everyone to go to school, all the dropouts the past years. We want education for all, including those without credentials. We will do assessment to find out which grade level they belong. And for those who can't stay in the education stream, like the main education highway, we provide alternative learning system, accreditation program, home study program so they can proceed and study," she says.