Three months on from the general election and the triumphant start to the Duterte Administration, some of the core governmental priorities for the coming years are starting the become apparent. As the dust settles it is evident that education is front of mind both for the new President and his highly experienced Education Secretary Leonor Briones, with education a core pillar of his Duterte’s first state of the union address. Whilst it now remains to be seen how this positive start will be translated into action, we here at EduTECH are very positive about what the coming months and years hold for this rapidly growing nation.
Specifically there are five big trends that we see as signs of an exciting future for the Filipino education sector:
1) Money, money, money
Public spending in the Philippines has doubled since 2010, and one of the big winners has been the education sector. Commanding P411.905 billion out of the total P3.002 trillion national budget spend, Briones has made it clear that she is committed to squeezing as much value as possible out that funding whilst at the same time lobbying for further funding. Given that the education budget is still only 3% of the national GDP, well below the nationally accepted level of 6%, it is clear that there is still progress to be made, however it is clear that funding is moving in the right direction.
2) Talent at the top
There are few in the Philippines who are better placed to grow the education sector on a tight budget than Professor Emeritus Leonor Briones. With a background in social development, public administration and, between 1998 and 2001, a stint as National Treasurer of the Philippines, she brings with her a hard-headed yet compassionate approach that should serve the sector well, especially when tough decisions are made. We can also expect her to push for higher education spending, as she did previously as founder of Social Watch Philippines and president of Freedom From Debt Coalition.
3) Friends across the seas
For the last several years there have been deep ties developing between international development agencies and the Philippines. USAID, for example, has driven significant funding into developing financial inclusion in the country. From Australia, that aid has been focused upon the education sector. This year alone, P780 million has been applied through the Basic Education Transformation program, a partnership that has helped to reform K to 12 through improved syllabuses, better administration, teacher training and more. With the programme benefiting over 8 million students, it is clear that the Australian investment is changing the game for childhood education and is having a direct impact on employability and quality of life. It will be interesting to see what other international programmes will invest further into education in the country.
4) Tertiary opportunities
There is both good and bad news in the Filipino tertiary sector. On the one hand the country boasts far and away the most Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) than any of its ASEAN neighbours. For comparison, the Philippines has a total of 1935 HEIs, public and private, whilst Indonesia has only 191 and Thailand has just 159. On the other hand, output from these institutions has been up until now woefully low, with the Philippines ranking the lowest in the region when it comes to research and technical skill development. But all is not lost. With the institutions in place it is now essential for the government to double down on teacher training, retaining the best students through world class facilities, and the implementation of the latest pedagogies and technologies. With the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) increasingly vocal about the challenges facing the sector, there is a real sense that change for the better is on its way.
5) Alternative learning
With a country as large, disparate and diverse as the Philippines, there is a natural challenge between wanting to raise the achievement bar for the highest performers, and at the same time to increase the general standard and access rate for the rest of the population. This challenge was evident in President Duterte’s state of the union address where he mentioned an emphasis on growing the Alternative Learning System (ALS), the practically focused programme designed to catch those previously unable to access traditional education, but neglected to mention the K through 12 reforms that had been the mainstay focus of the Aquino government. Whilst it is looking almost certain that Duterte will continue with K12 implementation, it is equally clear that his focus will be on an inclusive approach that should radically raise standards in particularly rural areas. This is a positive, and will be welcomed by many as a move away from the Manila-centric approach from the past.