THE beauty of using percentages is that it hides what is absolutely ugly.
Take the 2006-2007 net enrolment ratio (NER) data released by the National Statistical Coordination Board (NSCB). The agency reports that the NER dropped to 83.2 percent last year, down from 84.4 in 2005-2006.
To those busy making ends meet, what’s another 1.2 percent? The number seems negligible.
In reality, though, that means some 2,208,742 children aged six to 11 did not enter grade one or return to their classrooms for further education. In 2005-2006, that figure was 2,001,668.
The NER, or participation rate, “is the ratio of the enrolment for the age group corresponding to the official school age in the elementary/secondary level to the population of the same age group in a given year,” according to the NSCB.
In simpler terms, it is the proportion of children aged six to 11 who go to school as against the actual population of six to 11-year-olds nationwide.
Under Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s regime, that percentage has been steadily dropping, erasing the much improved enrolment ratio of the past two decades, which hit a high of 96.95 percent in 1999-2000.
Rene Raya, co-convenor of Social Watch Philippines, also warns that “more learners drop out from the system particularly in the lower grade levels, even before functional literacy is acquired.”
Source: CPJ, 2008
Functional literacy includes reading, writing, and numeracy.
“The simplest, most direct measure of functional literacy is the ability to follow a written set of instructions for even basic tasks,” says former education undersecretary Juan Miguel Luz. “Thus, functional literacy is the more important indicator of competence when it comes to adults in the workforce.”
Since the Arroyo administration came to power in 2001, all key performance indicators in education in fact have floundered. The percentage of schoolchildren who reach up to grade six, for instance, is down from a high of 75.9 percent in 2001 to 69.9 percent in 2006. Elementary dropout rate in 2001 was 5.75 percent, but went up to 7.36 in 2006. Those who repeat a grade is also up, from 1.95 percent in 2001 to 2.89 percent in 2006.
Read the relevant chapter from the Social Watch book, “Missing Targets”
The biggest reason for the slump in enrolment is the Arroyo government’s underinvestment in education. While education gets the biggest chunk of the budget pie (after debt servicing and internal revenue allotments), the budget is not enough to cope with the growing population that depends on public education. For one, enrolment grows at an average of 2.5 percent annually. The education budget, Social Watch says, grows only at about two percent in real terms annually.
Expenses for basic education, being free, is shouldered mainly by the government. On a per capita basis, though, the allocation for this sector has been on the decrease since Arroyo took over, save for 2006, when it went up by P38.12 as against its 2005 level.
Social Watch Philippines co-convenor, Prof. Leonor Briones explains it simply: “It is like spending P2,000 a year for the education of four children. When you have one more child and you budget P2,200 for five, there’s a decrease on your spending on a per child basis.”
Raya says this makes the Philippines one of the lowest spenders on education in Southeast Asia and the rest of the world. He also notes, “While most Asian countries are taking concrete steps to increase real spending on education in comparison to the size of their economies, the Philippines is moving back and taking the other direction.”
This chronic underinvestment hits the poorest of the poor most, consigning the sector to repeat the cycle of poverty through generations.