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Cablegate: Once a Leader, Philippine Education Falls Behind

DE RUEHML #1890/01 2210630
O 080630Z AUG 08





E.O. 12958: N/A
SUBJECT: Once a Leader, Philippine Education Falls Behind

1. (SBU) Summary: The quality of education has deteriorated across
the Philippines. Inadequate budgets, supply shortages, meagerly
paid and poorly educated teachers, and lagging enrollments are
producing results that may jeopardize Philippine economic
competitiveness and lock Filipinos into poverty. Rapid population
growth and rising food and oil prices are intensifying these
challenges. International education indicators identified by the
Education for All and Millennium Development Goals show that the
Philippines significantly lags behinds its neighbors. Recent policy
initiatives and a larger budget are slowly bearing fruit, but may
not be enough to turn around an already decrepit education system.
End summary.


2. (SBU) Filipinos are keenly aware of the benefits of a quality
education. Soon after the Treaty of Paris transferred control of
the Philippines from Spain to the United States in 1898, nearly 1000
American volunteer teachers came to the Philippines on the U.S.S.
Sheridan and the U.S.S. Thomas. These "Thomasites" opened
neighborhood schools throughout the country, teaching a variety of
subjects. They were able to instill in Filipinos an appreciation
for the value of education. In 1946, when the Philippines became an
independent nation, the new government placed great emphasis on
education, with excellent results.

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3. (SBU) The current declining state of education reflects years of
neglect and the inability of appropriations to the sector to keep up
with the growing number of children. The proportion of the national
government budget spent on education has varied from a high of
31.53% in 1957-- when the Philippines had one of the best
educational systems in the region-- to a low of 7.61% in 1981.
Former President Corazon Aquino pumped up the budget to 15.5% in
1987 and instituted progressive education reforms. The National
Education Expenditure Accounts reports that the sector reached 20.6%
of the national government budget in 1997, but dropped again in 2001
to 17.4%, and down to only 12% today.

International Comparisons

4. (SBU) The 2008 World Competitiveness Yearbook ranked the
Philippines 52nd out of 55 industrialized and emerging nations in
education quality. It ranked 54th in secondary school enrollment,
and spent the second lowest percentage of public expenditure on
education. A recent UNESCO report ranked the Philippines 74th in
its Education Development Index, falling below Mongolia, 61st;
Vietnam, 65th; Indonesia, 58th; and China, 38th. Only 2.3% of the
Philippines' GDP is allocated for education, while international
standards urge that at least 6% of GDP is devoted to education

The Problem with Boys

5. (SBU) Gender parity remains a challenge; males are
under-enrolled at both the elementary and high school levels.
According to UNESCO, Filipino boys are more likely to repeat grades,
leave school at a younger age, enroll in shorter, less academic,
secondary programs, and face pressure to earn money for their family
as laborers. [Note: Child welfare experts told Embassy officers
that the vast majority of abandoned Filipino children are male
because females are considered more likely to care for their parents
in old age. End note.]

The Current System

6. (SBU) Philippine public education has only ten years before
college; six years of elementary and four years of high school.
Philippine Department of Education Director for Programming and
Planning, told Embassy officers that the short cycle is partly to
blame for poor student performance and that the Philippines is among
few countries on a 10-year cycle. The cycle is also problematic
because Philippine curriculum is based on U.S. standards with a
12-year school cycle.

Budget Increase and Policy Changes Show Some Results
--------------------------------------------- -------

7. (SBU) The Philippine government education budget increased by
$3.13 billion to $3.40 billion in 2007. The additional funds
targeted building and rehabilitating classrooms, increasing teacher
supply, and increasing the quality of texts and supplies. In 2007,
14,655 new classrooms were built and 10,583 repaired. A four-step
evaluation procedure was adopted to ensure that books were both
factually and conceptually correct. As a result of these changes

MANILA 00001890 002 OF 002

and a new procurement model for books, the cost of textbooks has
dropped from about $3 in 1998 to $0.70 today. The Philippines
receives funds for education from the private sector and
non-government partners of the Adopt-a-School Program. Other major
grants and budgetary support loans come from the World Bank, The
Japan Bank for International Cooperation, Asian Development Bank,
Australian Overseas Aid Program, USAID, United Nations Children's
Fund, United Nations Education Scientific, and Cultural
Organization, and the governments of Spain and Korea.

Education challenges

8. (SBU) Attracting qualified teachers is a major challenge; 16,390
additional teaching positions in public schools were created in
2007, but many remain vacant due to the lack of qualified teachers
and low wages. According to Philippine Institute for Development
Studies, the number of Bachelor of Science in Education graduates,
one of the main routes to becoming a teacher, is declining.
According to Philippine Education officials, a basic teacher's
salary starts at about $205 to $250 USD per month, which is barely
enough to support an individual, let alone support a family. In
addition, many teachers must personally provide classroom supplies
such as chalk.

9. (SBU) The National Statistical Coordination Board reports the
average net enrollment ratio at the elementary level has been
declining for years. The Department of Education is expanding its
Preschool Education Program to combat drop out rates and is
addressing malnutrition and poverty through the School Feeding
Program/Food for Schools Program, which provides elementary children
with rice and other foods for 120 days while in school. According
to the Department, these two programs were major determinant of the
5% increase in school attendance in 2007.


10. (SBU) The combination of rapid population growth, a poorly
performing economy, and a failing education system is increasing the
number of Filipino citizens poorly prepared to enter the skilled
workforce. While education may still be a path out of poverty, many
poor Filipinos today do not have the opportunity for a good
education, and the limited supply of those that do receive a quality
education is often wicked away by higher paying job opportunities
overseas. Increased emphasis on educational reform will be
essential to enabling the Philippines to maintain its economic
competitiveness and current standards of living.


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