Illiterate Filipinos now 15 million, and counting

By Lilita Balane, Newsbreak

Posted at Sep 23 2009 10:45 AM | Updated as of Sep 24 2009 08:19 PM

Out-of-school children, school dropouts pushing statistics upward

The number of illiterate Filipinos, which has grown to 15 million in the last 6 years, is expected to further increase as more children stop schooling every year, education specialists said on Tuesday.

The unabated stream of dropouts, they said, may prevent the government from fulfilling its international commitment to provide “functional literacy” or adequate education for all Filipinos by 2015.

When the Philippines adopted the United Nations’ Education For All (EFA) in 2006, its initial goal was to make all Filipinos aged 10 to 64 functionally literate. This means bringing to zero the number of functionally illiterate population from the recorded 11 million Filipinos in 2003.

Unlike basic literacy, which only requires the ability to read and write, functional literacy includes the ability to cope with the demands of everyday life, like problem solving and communicating.

The Functional Literacy, Education, and Mass Media Survey (FLEMMS), a survey to determine literacy rate in the Philippines every 5 years, showed that 11 million Filipinos lacks functional literacy, while 4 million Filipinos have no basic literacy.

Critical year

From around 15 million illiterate Filipinos, the illiteracy rate is expected to increase with the more children unable to go to school, and with those in school dropping out, said Edecio de la Torre, president of the Civil Society Network for Education Reforms (E-Net).

“2010 is a critical year for education. It marks the final stretch of the EFA 2015. Countries will be conducting its end decade-assessment to check the progress they had made. The Philippines will be conducting its own assessment and the picture does not seem to be rosy,” said Raquel Castillo, advocacy officer of Asia South Pacific Association for Basic and Adult Education(ASPBAE).

In 2008, Department of Education (DepEd) reported that some 2.2 million children aged 6 to12 years, and 3.4 million aged 12-15 years, are not in school. Moreover, a 2003 Asian Development Bank report showed that out of the 100 children who enter grade school, only 65 graduate. After graduation, only 58 return for high school, and only 45 of them finish.

To meet the EFA target, the Department of Education has carried out programs like adult education for old people who want to continue their education, and the alternative learning system (ALS).

This month, it launched Project ReaCh (Reaching All Children). This program allows public schools to hold another enrolment in October to accommodate about 5.6 million out-of-school youth.

The new students will be provided “flexible alternative modules,” which would help them catch up with their missed lessons.

Center of debates

There is also the DepEd’s Project EASE (Effective and Affordable College Education) and Open High School program, which will not require the presence of students in the classroom, especially those who are working. Instead, they will be provided modules they can study at home.

“Despite Philippine basic education being free, we still have a staggering number of school-age children and youth out in the streets who face exploitation in all forms,” Education Secretary Jesli Lapus said in a press statement.

For its part, E-Net launched “10 Days, 10 Voices,” a 10-day campaign that would place education as a center of election debates for the 2010 polls. The event hopes to highlight the situation of education as seen by teachers, parents, child laborers, indigenous people, and other marginalized sectors.

Meanwhile, Literacy Coordinating Council head Norma Salcedo and E-Net vice-president Flora Arellano said that an increased education budget would help the DepEd invest in programs that would reach out-of-school youth and adults.

Meager budget

Arellano said that in the past years, the budget for education was only around 12% of the national budget, or 2.36% of the country’s gross domestic product. This is way below international standards, where 20% of the national budget goes to education.

“The proposed budget speaks very little about quality, equity, the out-of-school youth, the illiterates, and the un-reached,” Arellano added.

For 2010, DepEd proposed for P159 billion budget for basic education, but the alternative budget initiative of E-net and other education advocates suggests P165 billion.

Arellano said the additional budget would fund the expansion of DepEd’s ALS program and other drop-out reduction projects. (Newsbreak)