December 8, 2023

To address basic education sector challenges in the Philippines, policymakers need to look at increasing investment while ensuring resources are used wisely and consistently, according to new research.

While basic education attendance and survival rates have improved considerably over the last three decades, schooling quality remains an important challenge, with only modest improvements in literacy rates among aged 10 to 14 years old over the same period, said a new policy note published by the Philippine Institute for Development Studies (PIDS).

The report entitled “Basic Education: Quality is the ‘Now’ Frontier” observed that the Philippines fares below its neighboring peers in international large-scale student assessments (LSAs).

It cited the 2018 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), which ranked Filipino students at or near the bottom after testing 15-year-olds in math, science, and reading, and the 2019 Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study, which measured the performance of Grades 4 and 8 students worldwide.

“Thus, when adjusted for performance, average schooling in the Philippines translates to only seven to eight years worth  of schooling, or a learning gap of about six years,” said research authors Michael Abrigo and Aniceto Orbeta, Jr.

The paper said among the biggest challenges undermining the basic education sector is underspending.

“Despite prioritizing education in the government budget, the country’s public education spending remains below its Southeast Asian peers. Indeed, in a recent analysis, countries that performed poorly in the recent PISA, such as the Philippines, have invested relatively less in schooling per person,” said the report.

Moreover, the challenge that the basic education sector faces is the large disparity in the quality of access. Children from richer households benefit from better internet access and computing devices and more varied learning resources as well as better-quality home support through their better-educated parents and guardians.

Learning environments also differ across schools in the country. Only about two-thirds of schools have access to the Internet, which puts the Philippines behind most of its neighbors, including Vietnam and Lao PDR.

A study by the United Nations Children’s Fund and the World Health Organization in 2022 showed that only 45 percent of Philippine schools had basic drinking water services, 74 percent had basic sanitation services, and 61 percent had basic hygiene services.

The report also noted that despite private schools generally providing better quality services at cheaper operations costs than public schools, the share of private schools in total enrollment has been declining over the last five decades, with a significant number of private schools even closing operations in recent years.

Other issues mentioned in the report are the poor implementation of good educational interventions and programs, and the underutilization of large-scale student assessments that could be used to track progress in education quality and serve as an early warning of the state of education quality.

The authors urged policymakers to increase investment in education but in a more wise and consistent manner through better empirically validated guidance.

The research said education investment options that could be considered in the near term include investing in the development of remedial programs for lagging students as “a great majority of students have below-minimum proficiency levels.”

Investment should also be channeled toward leveraging technology for more student-centered education, strengthening private school participation, and addressing implementation issues of good programs. – Press release