Friday, July 06, 2007

RP as ASPAC educ hub?

By: Egay Serrano

The good news daw is that the Philippines is fast emerging as the newest educational hub in the Asia-Pacific region as a result of the continuing influx of foreign students in various schools of the country with 2006 Bureau of Immigration records showing more than 30,000 foreign students had secured special study permits and student visas.

The bad news is that according to former Education secretary Florencio “Butch” Abad, “half of the country’s student population is not even in school,” adding that the tragedy is manifested in the very fundamental problems of access, a high drop-out rate, and a very low reading proficiency.

Immigration Commissioner Marcelino Libanan said Koreans account for about 95 percent of the foreign students, mostly minors and teenagers enrolled in various private schools and learning centers throughout the country.

This is one bit of good news for Koreans who have discovered that tuition rates here in Manila are more affordable for them compared to the high cost of getting a good, English-based education in their own country. Aren’t we rejoicing on the wrong side of the issue?

While foreigners are taking advantage of the comparatively low tuition in the country’s privately-run schools, the grim reality remains that millions of Filipino students could not even afford to go to school.

Out of 10 students entering Grade 1, six will complete the elementary course, four will get through high school, and two will enter college, according to the Department of Education. “We do not know if the two who will enter college will get a degree or even a job,” says Alice Alafriz PaƱares, deputy director of the DepEd’s National Educators Academy of the Philippines.

To stem the drop-out rate among school children who come from poor families, the Department of Social Welfare and Development has come up with a band-aid approach, which is essentially what’s in place, in resolving the crisis in the country’s educational system.

Poor parents will soon have a very compelling reason to take their children to school everyday, says DSWD Secretary Esperanza Cabral since a child who logs perfect or at least 85 percent class attendance in a month will get P300 for the family; while a trip to the health center every month would add P500 to the household kitty.

The monetary incentives will be offered to families belonging to the “poorest of the poor,” in order to break the vicious cycle of poverty and illiteracy in the country, said Secretary Cabral in a press briefing on Thursday.

A family will receive the P300 monthly allowance for each child—either in elementary or high school—who is able to complete at least 17 school days in a month. At least three children per household could avail themselves of the program.

A family could make as much as P15,000 annually which, according to Cabral might, would serve as enough incentive for parents to keep their kids in school instead of enlisting them to work at home or in the fields.

For a long-term solution to be had, government and private sector should work together in addressing the decline in the quality of education, especially at the elementary and secondary levels; and resolving affordability of getting our youth to schools and the big disparity in educational achievements across social groups. For example, the socio-economically disadvantaged students have higher drop-out rates, especially in the elementary level.

Government should also allocate the highest proportion of its budget to education, while private sector and industry groups should help in correcting a large proportion of “mismatch” between training and actual jobs resulting in the existence of a large group of educated unemployed or underemployed.

We can only lay claim to being the education hub in this part of the world if we ourselves can educate our own people.

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