The state and condition of Filipino human capital
CROSSROADS TOWARD PHILIPPINE ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL PROGRESS - Gerardo P. Sicat (The Philippine Star) - July 1, 2020 - 12:00am

(Part II)

In the course of Philippine economic development in the last half century, Filipino human capital experienced some improvement. But this improvement today is surpassed by other East Asian neighbors whose rapid economic growth have improved their living conditions faster.

Even so, there is a window of opportunity available to turn the tide. That depends on how the government succeeds in implementing a “whole of government, whole of society, and whole of life policy strategy of focus on the development of human capital.”

Such narrative and policy recommendation is brought out by the important work of Elizabeth M. King, Building Human Capital: Lessons from Country Experiences: Philippines.

The study has a second sub-title, “The Trajectory of Human Capital Development in the Philippines.” The study was commissioned by the World Bank, helped through the financial support of the SDG (Sustainable Development Goals) Fund provided by the government of Sweden.

I would call the adage that “development is for people” appropriate in describing the thrust of the study. For, as the it proclaims at the start, “Human capital is the Philippines’ most valuable asset.”

The study analyzes the “trajectory” of human capital development and brings to bear lessons learned from the experience of other paths of development in other countries.

Major findings. Below, I quote directly from some of the major findings of the study.

“The trajectory of several human capital indicators in the Philippines over the recent decades has been modest. More than a century ago, the Philippines led other countries of similar income levels with respect to basic education and health indicators, but by 2017 it lagged behind its neighbor countries. The World Bank’s Human Capital Index, a composite indicator based on survival rates, the quantity and quality of schooling and health indicators (with values between zero and one), is estimated at 0.55 for the Philippines, putting it just ahead of Indonesia (0.53), but well below Thailand (0.60), Malaysia (0.62), Vietnam (0.7), and South Korea (0.84).”

“The Philippines has pursued modern, widely accepted social policies well before the international movement towards universal access to basic social services. Yet, for reasons that we examine in this case study, the country’s good beginnings and seemingly sound policies have failed to sustain a robust development plan for the country. Long periods of weak governance, political instability, and corrupt practices have slowed human capital development, especially in poor areas of the country and among poor households. There is, however, ground for optimism about future progress.”

“… The Philippine government has taken important steps in the past decade and a half to redress weaknesses in its human capital development. In particular, it has adopted social programs that represent radical shifts in policy, among them, an expansion of the secondary education cycle, a conditional cash transfer program for poor households, a social health insurance program, and a promising population program…. Sound policies won’t lead to progress, however, unless they are implemented well across the agencies and levels of government.”

These findings were made after a thorough review of important cross-country information linked to schooling, income, public expenses, private sector participation, and surveys and tests from various data bases. The Philippines contributed major data through its own government-sponsored surveys. The study examined relevant international data and other exhaustive studies undertaken by experts on the expanding field of human capital studies.

The study covered many aspects of human capital. For my purpose in this column, I will refer to the impact of education and health on Philippine human capital.

Schooling and learning quality. The early advantage of the Philippines in having a higher enrollment in schooling at all levels of education among immediate Asian neighbors was eroded by the more rapid increase in enrollment of other countries. Across the years, they have caught up and have overtaken us.

There is also qualitative decline of education over the decades.

The difference in quality is even more revealing when currently enrolled 15 year-old students were tested under the PISA (Program for International Student Assessment), a program supported by the OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) to help assess the efficacy of educational systems across countries using a minimum set of standard tests in reading comprehension, mathematics, and science.

The scores for the Philippines were found to be among the lowest scorers for tested students from countries which included middle income and higher income countries. What is striking is that the scores for Indonesia and Thailand scored higher than those in the Philippines. Students from Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea and Japan did significantly better.

Another striking feature of the outcomes of the tests was that private school students from the Philippines who participated in the tests did significantly better than those coming from public schools. This emphasizes a problem of quality of educational output in nationally funded programs.

Life expectancy: survival and health. Life expectancy estimates are sensitive to the capacity of the health system to extend the survival rates not only from infancy, but also to adulthood. Through all the years, the surviving adult has to live through the challenges of many diseases that come in the way.

In the 1950s, life expectancy at birth for the Philippines was first among neighbors. By 2010 to 2015, the country had slipped to last among a group of nations in East Asia that includes immediate neighbors China, South Korea, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia and Vietnam.

Across all ages, the leading causes of death and of illness are a mix of communicable and non-communicable diseases. Rates of deaths from respiratory diseases, including pneumonia, bronchitis, and respiratory tuberculosis increased significantly in the decade between 2005 and 2015. Also, among non-communicable diseases, the prevalence rates have increased for chronic kidney diseases, diabetes, and hypertension.

Poor air quality, congested living conditions, and undernutrition are generally to blame for many infections. Serious income inequality aggravates these conditions for the poor.

The mortality rates attributed to these latter conditions are worse for the Philippines. Philippines has poorer air quality: 185 per 100,000 population compared to the average of 114 excluding rich countries in the East Asia and the Pacific.

The current coronavirus disease 2019 or COVID-19 pandemic can only further worsen the challenges that the nation faces to uplift its human capital.

My email is: gpsicat@gmail.com. For archives of previous Crossroads essays, go to: https://www.philstar.com/authors/1336383/gerardo-p-sicat. Visit this site for more information, feedback and commentary: http://econ.upd.edu.p h/gpsicat/

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