Can graduates’ postponed productivity be helped?
AS EASY AS ABC - Atty. Alex B. Cabrera (The Philippine Star) - July 12, 2020 - 12:00am

To dramatize the point that it is cheaper to be homeschooled, out-of-pocket-expense-wise, my wife with my agreeable son computed the cost of the home cooked pesto noodles that my son loves to eat. With one-fourth bottle of olive oil consumed, generous amounts of basil leaves, one-fourth kilo of spaghetti noodles and some peanuts the price comes out at P60 per head (with the entire meal shared only with his brother). It’s still a far cry from the allowance my son asks for lunch, early dinner, socials and Grab fare during the old normal. My son has coped well, quarantined, because of connectivity except that his loudness during his virtual meetings and virtual fun games oftentimes compete with my train of thought while working around him.

You who are able to read this article would not have connectivity problem, and would be able to munch on this data scraped by our PwC data analytics team: one out of five households nationwide are connected to the internet, and only half of that number have access to less reliable broadband networks (based on the 2019 National ICT Survey). So even the best designed virtual education can only benefit mostly the National Capital Region and other cities in the country but would result in exclusion if adopted as the sole method.

Here’s a rather revealing string of thought. If a semester of delay in education can result in a year of delay in graduation under old existing norms, undergraduates simply won’t find work. They have to graduate first, either from senior high school (SHS) or college. Assuming only 35 percent of the 6.4 million SHS graduates and all of the 850,000 college graduates would find work, a year of postponed productivity would cost the country easily more than P20 billion in economic loss. And that is even if the take-home pay of these graduates would just be based on minimum wages. The multiplier effect of the loss is greater because our economy relies heavily on consumer spending and 80 percent of that is household spending. For small income earners, they spend almost all their income, and that helps the economy a lot.

Before we get to the solutions, we need to note that the pandemic woes connive to make delayed productivity for many hard to prevent. There’s the unemployment rate going up to 17.7 percent, or 7.3 million people. That has taken away the family budget for education. This certainly is one of the reasons for lower enrollment. OFWs alone who are back home and out of work, number more than 500,000. The number of enrollees in private elementary and high school in this academic year has so far dramatically dropped by more than 3.3 million from the total enrollment of 4.2 million in the academic year 2019-2020. Enrollment in public elementary and high school, on the other hand, dropped by five million (with 22.6 million enrollees last academic year).

The result is closure or partial operation of private schools (more than 400,000, according to the Coordinating Council of Private Educational Associations, or COCOPEA) and a much worse number of unemployed yet talented private school teachers from 50,000 in April 2019 to more than 200,000 in April 2020.

The existing rules of the Department of Education (DepEd) already provide flexibility, even before the pandemic. Homeschooling is recognized as an alternative delivery mode. The thing is, one can only get credits if they enroll in homeschooling provided by educational institutions and accredited homeschooling learning centers.

This means that for the unemployed and otherwise talented private school teachers, even if they can teach online, or even if they can do it physically by visiting homes or communities, their students won’t get credit for what they teach if they are not connected to accredited schools or learning centers.

Can they form cooperatives with their fellow private school teachers in the community and organize homeschooling centers? Yes, if they at least have a million pesos, which is the minimum capital required under the existing DepEd rules. You see, all the brick-and-mortar requirements for establishing a school also apply to establishing a homeschooling center. So this may not work, not at a time when teachers really don’t have money.

And parents, despite their constitutional rights to be primarily responsible for the education of their children, couldn’t effectively homeschool their children by themselves because they are not an accredited institution.

The key, really, is not to solve the new problem with archaic tools. Accreditation requirements must be relaxed. Parents who qualify must be allowed to teach their own children at home and should be allowed to enlist teachers in their community or elsewhere, following the curriculum and syllabi approved by DepEd. And what the learners have been taught should be credited in their historical and co-curricular records. Anyway, there is already a Phillippine Educational Placement Test (PEPT), and similar tests can be crafted by the government per subject to result in credits. When school operations normalize, students with incomplete subjects should be allowed to catch up in their own time on subjects that they still need to take up. The DepEd also released a milestone open source database of knowledge called DepEd Commons. The relaxation of accreditation rules, this new database, combined with the television and radio solutions, I believe, are the way to go to avoid graduation delay and minimize economic loss. In life’s cycle of non-stop learning, flexible methods do not diminish the value of any lesson.

* * *

Alexander B. Cabrera is the chairman and senior partner of Isla Lipana & Co./PwC Philippines. He is the chairman of Integrity Initiative, Inc. (II, Inc.), a non-profit organization that promotes common ethical and acceptable integrity standards. Email your comments and questions to aseasyasABC@ph.pwc.com. This content is for general information purposes only, and should not be used as a substitute for consultation with professional advisors.

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