"It’s worth examining."
Two weeks ago, I moderated a dialogue between representatives of the Catholic Educational Association of the Philippines (CEAP) led by its president, Fr. Elmer G. Dizon of the Archdiocese of San Fernando (Pampanga) and officials of the Department of Education and the Commission on Higher Education headed by DepEd Secretary Leonor Briones and CHED Executive Director Atty. Cinderella Filipina Benitez-Jaro. The meeting was made possible through the efforts of House Majority Leader Ferdinand Martin G. Romualdez, who was also present through most part of the discussion.
The CEAP officials, representing more than 1,500 Catholic schools in the country, presented the growing challenges faced by the private education sector in the Philippines. They expressed concerns regarding the sustainability of the private education sector, including the increasing migration of private school teachers to the public school system and apparently skewed competition between private and public schools.
Despite the intensity of the issues raised by the CEAP officials, the meeting turned to be warm and congenial. Secretary Briones was quick to point out that she once served as president of Silliman University, a private university in Dumaguete City, and thus she fully understood the concerns of the private schools. In fact, to date, she mentioned that more than 1,000 private schools had already closed down due to dwindling resources and decreasing enrollment.
Listening to the friendly exchange of views between government and private education stakeholders validated my personal view that private education in the Philippines needs more attention and support than what it is getting at the moment. A prevailing secularist perspective in governance tends to oppose increase public funding for private, especially sectarian, schools, citing the often-misquoted principle of the separation of Church and State.
But it is surprisingly to note that in many strong democracies, including the United States, public funding is afforded to private schools, with the caveat that the subsidy is paid to the private or faith-based institutions that own and manage these private schools in consideration of the public service that they provide.
The state of private education in the country is worth examining. The role that private schools has played in the education of young Filipinos cannot be denied, and I daresay, indispensable, if we were to ensure the availability of quality education services.
There are two main reasons that I can think of why the government should ensure the sustainability of private educational institutions—cost efficiency of subsidizing private schools and the complementarity between public and private schools.
Simply put, it is far more cost efficient for government to subsidize private schools than construct and operate more public schools. In many cities and municipalities with growing student populations, it will be more affordable for the government to subsidize the enrollment of students in existing private schools than to establish new schools, construct new school buildings and hire additional teachers. Furthermore, with private schools already in place, the results of subsidizing private schools would be immediately available and the students can almost immediately avail of educational services. But instead of maximizing the opportunities and capabilities that private schools provide, in recent years, the subsidy provided to private schools have has been reduced significantly, In fact, seldom is it pointed out that while government schools are financed by public funds, private schools struggle to pay for their operations, relying significantly on income derived from income payments. With the dwindling enrollment in private schools, the logical outcome is almost inevitable.
What our public policymakers fail to consider is that neglecting our private schools is a missed opportunity for us in widening access to quality education. With these schools already in place, the more cost efficient course of action would simply to subsidize these private schools. In fact, there are several government subsidies already in place available to both students and teachers in public school. However, it seems that these subsidies are not, in themselves, enough to keep our private schools in operation. More than just subsidies such as vouchers for students and scholarship for teachers, it might be worth to consider performance-based soft loans or grants for private schools that will finance infrastructure projects or purchase equipment and learning materials. For example, if a particular private school can retain or increase its enrollment by a specific percentage, or meet a particular performance indicator such as the passage rate in the national assessment exams—the school can then qualify for a soft loan or grant, subject to certain conditions.
Worse, with subsidies being reduced significantly in recent years, private schools have had to raise their income, in most case this means increasing tuition fees. But that they can do only to an extent—or else they risk losing even more students to public schools.
Second, the country’s educational system must aim for stronger complementarity between public and private schools, thus ensuring diversity not only in pedagogical techniques but more importantly in terms of specific learning perspectives. The complementary roles of public and private schools is, of course, provided for by Article XIV, Sec 4 of the Constitution. Unfortunately, the modality of how this complementarity still warrants a clear-cut delineation, or at the very least, definition of roles. CEAP Past President Joel E. Tabora, S.J. defined in clear terms what complementarity means, “combining different things in such a way as to enhance or emphasize each other’s qualities. It could more simply be defined as supplying mutual needs or offsetting mutual lacks.” In the context of the relationship between private and public educational institutions, these means a co-enriching existence between them, with the end of providing educational services to young Filipinos.
The opposite appears to happen, though, much to the detriment of our private schools. Educational policies, especially the allocation of resources, seem to favor government school with limited opportunity available for private schools to cope with the demands of the revised curriculum and other learning requirements.
Unfortunately, this complementarity is often negatively perceived as competition between government and private schools, instead of both of them mutually enriching the teaching and learning capabilities, benefiting in the end the students of both school types. Until recently, government policy has appeared to favor supporting private schools insofar as it serves the purpose of facilitating access to education or alleviating the congestion in a number of government schools, without taking into consideration what private schools can and has actually contribute towards improving the quality of learning in our schools.
Government schools follow a standard curriculum, while private schools have a more pronounced space for innovation, creativity, flexibility, and cultural or ideological specialization—including religious education. This allows not only for greater diversity, but more importantly, in ensuring both learning content and methods that are even more adaptive, if not, responsive to shifting demands of both learners and later on, of the labor market.
The dialogue ended well, with Secretary Briones emphasizing her years of working with a private university. It was admitted that much is to be desired in terms of maximizing the role of private education, whether in terms of increasing subsidies or instituting grants or soft loans to private schools. It was also mentioned that education policies must balance interests of both public and private schools, including regulating the establishment of government schools in communities where there is already a private school. I think a window of opportunity has opened to private schools, one that would lead our education policymakers to review the roles that private schools play in our educational system.