EDITORIAL - Private schools in distress

The Philippine Star

In the first year of the pandemic, nearly 900 private schools were forced to shut down as enrollment dropped and operating costs surged. The lockdowns that forced a shift to blended learning added to the cost of formal education for students, teachers and school operators alike.

Parents invest in their children’s education in private schools because in this country, these institutions typically have smaller class sizes than in public schools, have better equipment and are generally perceived to provide a better quality of education. Quality comes at a price, however, and tuition in the major private schools is beyond the reach of many Filipino families.

The economic typhoon caused by the pandemic forced over a million students  to drop out of basic education. The gadget and connectivity requirements for distance learning were burdens that parents who lost their livelihoods in the pandemic could not bear. In private schools, these expenses were on top of tuition and miscellaneous school fees. Private schools consequently saw a massive migration of students to the public school system where tuition is free.

Before the pandemic, 14,435 private schools were operating nationwide. How many will never reopen remains to be seen. In November 2020, even the 107-year-old College of the Holy Spirit announced it was shutting down after school year 2021-2022. Apart from competing with state-funded universal free education all the way to college, smaller private schools have also seen an exodus of their teachers to higher paying jobs in the public school system.

Even the resumption of face-to-face classes has not ended the woes of the private schools. Last month, the nonsectarian Kalayaan College, established by professors from the University of the Philippines, announced that it was “faced with no other options” but to shut down after 22 years due to plummeting enrollment.

Last Monday, students, their parents and teachers were stunned by the announcement of Colegio de San Lorenzo in Quezon City that it would no longer operate beginning this school year. This was after the school allowed enrollment until last Friday, accepting tuition payments and fees for books and uniforms. The Department of Education and Quezon City government have stepped in to help the displaced students, teachers and other school personnel.

There’s little that the national government can do to boost the viability of distressed private schools. But the government must step up to the plate in providing students in public schools the quality of education that people generally expect in private education. Free should not mean substandard quality.


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