Bernardo-M.-Villegas-125

Human Side Of Economics

ANDREW EBRAHIM-UNSPLASH

(Part 3)

In a recent document issued by the Philippine Business for Education (PBEd) entitled “Shared Prosperity Through A People-Centered Agenda for Nutrition and Education,” the first item of five in the Agenda stated that all children must be able to access quality pre-Kindergarten to Grade 3 education and development programs. This statement clearly proceeds from the basic premise that quality education is a human right of every person born to Philippine society.

It is the duty of the State to guarantee that no child in the Philippines will be denied access to quality education irrespective of the incomes of his or her parents. If Vice-President Sara Duterte gets her request for an additional P100 billion on top of the approved 2023 Department of Education Budget of more than P700 billion, we have to make sure that the first use of this additional P100 billion will be to supplement whatever is lacking in ensuring that this first item in the PBEd agenda is actually realized: that no child from 0 to nine years old is deprived of a quality education. This also means that no child, until he or she reaches the age of 1,000 days from the womb of the mother, should be denied sufficient nutrition to avoid damage to the brain caused by undernourishment.

In discussing the ongoing education crisis, it is important to recall what is the mandate in the Philippine Constitution of 1987 about the human right to education. We should remind ourselves that the Constitution provides in Article XIV, Section 1 that “the State shall protect the right of all citizens to quality education at all levels and shall take appropriate steps to make such education accessible to all.” As regards free education, there is reference only to basic education as Section 2 of the same article provides that the State shall establish and maintain a system of free public education in the elementary and high school levels. The same section also states that “without limiting the natural right of parents to rear their children, elementary education for all children is compulsory for all children of school age.”

These provisions have very clear implications for the annual budget for education. Whatever is needed to comply with providing free education at the elementary and high school level (which now includes senior high school) must be given the highest priority, before providing for tertiary education.

As regards tertiary education, there is a lot of leeway for private enterprise (profit or non-profit) to engage in post-secondary education through the establishment of either academic universities or technical institutes, without precluding state-sponsored universities and other forms of post-secondary education. To address the egalitarian objective of making these institutions accessible to the economically underprivileged, the Constitution provides, under Section 2 (3) of Article XIV, that the State shall “establish and maintain a system of scholarship grants, student loan programs, subsidies, and other incentives which shall be available to deserving students in both public and private schools, especially to the underprivileged.”

Very relevant to the clamor today, as recently raised by the members of the Philippine Business for Education, for our educational officials to give less emphasis to degree programs and more to the instant upgrading of skills to match the pressing needs of the business sector, the Constitution provides under Section 2 (5) of the same Article that “the State shall encourage non-formal, informal, and indigenous learning systems, as well as self-learning, independent, and out-of-school study programs particularly those that respond to community needs… and to provide adult citizens, the disabled, and out-of-school youth with training in civics, vocational efficiency, and other skills.”

From these selected provisions of the Philippine Constitution, I conclude that before we factor in the utilitarian dimension of education — which relates the standard for the quality of education to employability or the need to provide the economy with the appropriate human resources to attain the goals of sustainable and equitable economic development — we must first consider that education is first and foremost oriented towards making every Filipino thoroughly human, i.e., able to do critical thinking, effective communication, and have the ability to relate one human discipline to another. Being useful to society in some occupation or another is only a secondary objective of education. That is why, we have to think of the education given in pre-Kindergarten and in the subsequent K to 12 years as a fundamental right of a Filipino as a human being, and only secondarily as a productive member of the labor force.

The primacy of the objective of integral human development of every Filipino, over and above the contribution that he or she can make to economic development, must be kept in mind.

This reminder is especially important because, understandably, in creating the Second Congressional Commission on Education (EDCOM II) last July 2022, our lawmakers had the utilitarian or pragmatic goal of education in mind, that of being globally competitive in the development of our human resources. To quote, Senator Sherwin Gatchalian, Chairperson of the Senate Committee on Basic Education, Arts and Culture and co-chair of the Commission, said: “This national assessment will recommend transformative, concrete, and targeted reforms to make the Philippines globally competitive in both education and labor markets. It will also recommend specific, targeted, and timebound solutions to enable education agencies to improve their performance vis-à-vis measurable indicators and deliver accessible, and inclusive and quality education that is at par with world standards.”

The private sector has been clearer about the ultimate purpose of investing more in education: to allow Filipinos to lead comfortable and productive lives. In a joint statement of the Philippine Business for Social Progress (PBSP), the Makati Business Club (MBC) and the Management Association of the Philippines (MAP), the following preamble appears: “We, leaders of business and private sector, share with the Filipino people a vision of prosperity that is equitable and sustainable. We envision a prosperous nation that benefits all. For decades, our human capital has been neglected. One in every three children aged five and below is stunted. Nine out of 10 learners are not able to meet minimum reading skills. Focusing on Nutrition and Education will increase human capital. It will drive economic growth and development, and will allow Filipinos to lead comfortable and productive lives.”

I am not hairsplitting when I distinguish between education towards integral human development and education towards producing productive human capital. Although focusing on the first will always redound to the fulfilment of the second, it is important that those involved in at least the first 10 years of basic education will give the highest priority to human development, whatever occupational choices will be made by the youth in their future lives. Everyone has to be equipped with what makes every person human: critical thinking skills, effective communication, and the ability to relate one discipline to another. These are the characteristics that distinguish humans from machines or animals. These are the skills that form the foundation, not only for the occupation or profession chosen by each one, but for lifelong learning, which is even more vital today because of the vertiginous change in knowledge and technology in the so-called Industrial Revolution 4.0.

 

Bernardo M. Villegas has a Ph.D. in Economics from Harvard, is professor emeritus at the University of Asia and the Pacific, and a visiting professor at the IESE Business School in Barcelona, Spain. He was a member of the 1986 Constitutional Commission.

bernardo.villegas@uap.asia