Education sector sees more subsidies, shrinking freedom for students

Christian Deiparine - Philstar.com
Education sector sees more subsidies, shrinking freedom for students
Students wearing protective face masks have their temperatures taken while entering their college campus in Manila on January 31, 2020
AFP / Ted Aljibe

MANILA, Philippines — The Duterte administration saw the passage of the free college tuition law — a landmark law that made tertiary education more accessible to poor Filipinos — but its years have also been marked by the challenge of learning during the pandemic and a youth sector increasingly vocal and critical of government policies.

Education workers gave the president a dismal rating as he is set to deliver his last State of the Nation Address on Monday, July 26.

Some 36% of 1,080 respondents in a survey by the Alliance of Concerned Teachers gave the president a “poor” score, while 24% said his performance was “unsatisfactory”, the teachers' group said.

Per the nationwide poll, Duterte failed to deliver on campaign promises like hiking teachers' salaries. 

"The state of the education sector only grew worse in the last five years," said Raymond Basilio, ACT secretary general. "Education access and quality continue to suffer due to severely lacking funds [and] more students are denied their right to education."

Here are some of the things education stakeholders faced in recent years under the Duterte administration.

Distance learning

The pandemic forced classes for over 25 million Filipino students to be carried out in their homes.

It was similar to situations across the globe but a striking difference is how some countries are slowly returning to classrooms while the Philippines waits for even pilot testing on how face-to-face learning might be done safely.

Duterte has continued to reject limited in-person classes even in areas with low virus transmission. He cited the threat of the Delta variant of COVID-19 along with low vaccination rates across the Philippines.

Groups have warned of the long-term consequences of the difficulties under distance learning. Such hardships are feared to continue, as another school year begins in September with classes still to be carried out remotely.

Global assessments

The Philippines fared poorly in international assessments on education, highlighting underspending and lack of resources that has characterized the sector even prior to the Duterte presidency.

Students scored the lowest in reading comprehension and were the second-lowest in mathematics and science in the 2018 Programme for International Student Assessment.

In the 2019 Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study, Filipino fourth graders also ranked the lowest among students in 58 countries.

Another study, the Southeast Asia Primary Learning Metrics, revealed that only 17% of students have developed proficiency in mathematics, 10% in reading, and a dismal 1% in writing.

DepEd has since vowed to improve learning and instruction in the country following the results. It acknowledged the findings and said such were crucial in addressing gaps in the education sector.

World Bank sorry for early report release

The global studies led to the World Bank apologizing for what it said was the inadvertent release of its report on education in the Philippines without giving the DepEd time to respond to findings.

The World Bank had flagged an education crisis in the country and said 80% of Filipino students do not meet learning standards for their level.

The release of the report did not sit well with education officials, with Education Secretary Leonor Briones demanding a public apology for the shame that she said it brought the Philippines.

The World Bank admitted an oversight in the early release of the report but did not 

Critics scored DepEd’s move as being onion-skinned, and told the agency to instead address concerns the World Bank identified in its findings.

Free tuition law

Duterte signed Republic Act 10931 in August 2017. A key administration legacy, it mandated free tuition in state colleges and universities.

Three years later, the program now has 1.51 million student beneficiaries, per figures obtained by Philstar.com from the Commission on Higher Education.

Some 405,753 are also under CHED’s Tertiary Education Subsidy program, which aims to cover college students’ school fees, at least partially.

Grantees in state and recognized local institutions receive some P40,000 ($795) yearly for expenses. Those in private schools, meanwhile, get P60,000 ($1,193).

TES grantees with disabilities get P30,000 ($596) additional subsidy, too.

Students in education programs lead the most number of beneficiaries. This is followed by those in business, administration and law, social sciences, and service-related programs, to name a few.

Red-tagging of schools

Student activism has been alive in the Philippines since before the Marcos dictatorship and the country saw more mobilizations during the Duterte years.

The administration had tried to zero in on the decades-long problem of the communist insurgency, a campaign that has often meant linking persons and groups to armed rebels on the flimsiest, of not non-existent, supposed evidence.

Lt. General Antonio Parlade, later named spokesperson of the anti-communist task focre, in 2018 claimed that colleges and universities were "breeding grounds" for the Communist Party of the Philippines and New People's Army. Among the accusations related to the supposed "Red October" conspiracy was showing students films about the Martial Law years, supposedly to recruit them into the communist revolution.

The conspiracy claim fizzled as officials of the campuses tagged denied the allegations and the military admitted their intelligence needed more verification.

He rehashed this claim in 2020.

School administrators rebuked him then and said his remarks were irresponsible “since cast without proof.”

Academic strike

Students from the Jesuit-run Ateneo de Manila sought to hold the Duterte government accountable for its response to the COVID-19 pandemic as well as to three consecutive storms last year.

They called the administration’s handling as “criminally neglectful” and vowed to stop turning in school requirements until their demands were met.

“We cannot sit idly and do our modules,” students said in a manifesto, “ignoring the fact that the Philippine nation is in shambles.”

President Rodrigo Duterte later fumed over the academic strike and focused his ire on the University of the Philippines down the street from Ateneo. His misplaced anger led to a threat to defund the University of the Philippines despite not being involved.

DND scraps accord meant to protect students

The Department of National Defense earlier in 2021 announced it was abrogating its 1989 accord with UP that was meant to protect faculty, staff and students from potential abuse by the security sector.

Under the agreement, the military could only enter UP campuses through coordination with university officials. It sought to guarantee academic freedom and students’ protection on campus.

Lawmakers were among those who objected to DND’s move. There are now bills at the House of Representatives and the Senate to legislate the accord and institutionalize it into UP’s charter signed in 2008.

"Without academic freedom, UP’s existence becomes meaningless," said UP President Danilo Concepcion.

RELATED: The military’s obsession with UP: some historical notes

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