In a speech before the Management Association of the Philippines, Senator Sherwin Gatchalian spoke of an education crisis within an education crisis. By this he meant that even before the COVID-19 pandemic, the Philippines by October 2019 had a poverty learning rate of 69.5%. With the pandemic and the ensuing school closures, the poverty learning rate had deteriorated to 90.9%.
In response to this learning loss, Senator Sherwin Gatchalian had filed a bill entitled, “An Act Establishing an Academic Recovery and Accessible Learning Program, Appropriating Funds Therefor, and For Other Purposes” or ARAL Bill.
The measure aims to provide a national learning intervention program which will be grounded on systematic tutorial sessions, well-designed intervention plans and learning resources, and effective and accessible delivery modes for tutors and learners, among others.
Under the bill, the program will cover essential learning competencies under the K to 12 curriculum, including the subjects of language, mathematics, and science. Reading and numeracy will be prioritized under the proposed ARAL Program.
The Department of Education (DepEd) will coordinate with the Commission on Higher Education, Technical Education and Skills Development Authority, Department of Information and Communications Technology, and the Department of the Interior and Local Government for the program’s implementation.
In the interest of contributing to the discussion on the features of the bill, we are presenting our observations and proposals.
Our first observation is that the implementation of the bill is lodged primarily in the DepEd. We propose that this be lodged in the local government school boards.
First of all, when a crisis or huge problem arises, the management principle is to place the responsibility on another group so as to allow the present management to continue to focus on their primary responsibility, in this case basic education. This was the principle followed with respect to the National Power Corp. (Napocor). Faced with a staggering debt burden, Napocor was not given the responsibility for solving this crisis even as a new management team took over Napocor. Instead, the government created the Power Sector Assets and Liabilities Management Corp. (PSALM) to assume the bad assets and the huge liabilities of the Napocor, thus allowing Napocor to focus on its primary mission of expanding and deepening electricity coverage in the Philippines.
Secondly, unlike the existing education courses presently offered by DepEd, the ARAL Program calls for customized programs fitted to the learning levels of laggard students. This argues for the devolution of the implementation of the program to the local school boards. Moreover, as the program calls for exploration of different learning catch-up programs, there is need for a free market of ideas rather than a monolithic monopoly. The ARAL Program calls for the involvement of the parents and the local governments in the implementation of the program, arguing again for its devolution.
Lastly, we propose that the private sector be invited to be an active partner of the ARAL Program. There is a precedent for this. During the COVID-19 crisis, when vaccines against the disease were becoming available, the government was slow in importing the vaccines due to bureaucratic hurdles and indecision; the private sector took the lead.
More specifically, the business taipans took the initiative of importing the vaccines for the benefit of their employees. They were in a strong position to do so, as they had access to expert medical advice through the hospitals and medical clinics within their organizations.
We suggest that the business taipans can again take the lead in dealing with this crisis. In this case, they have access to educational development expertise through the human resources (HR) departments within their organization.
They could instruct their HR departments to first devise tests to evaluate the learning levels of the children of their employees. Once such tests have been designed and conducted, the next step would be to develop learning programs that would raise the learning levels in the areas of reading, writing, mathematics and science.
From the blooms of these thousand initiatives of the private sector, would arise the most effective programs for evaluation and learning. From this menu of learning alternatives, local school boards could choose what is most appropriate for the students within their school district. Furthermore, they could schedule special courses to which these programs could be delivered.
Our confidence in the viability of such an approach is based on personal experience. As the then Chairman of Guagua National Colleges (GNC) in Pampanga, we saw the rise of call centers in the Clark Economic Zone. These call centers started recruiting our graduates. In response, we met with their officials to thank them for employing our graduates and to explore further areas of partnership.
The officials informed us that with respect with GNC, as with other schools, only around 5% of our graduates met their English-speaking standards. However, they had developed special programs which could be given over an eight-week period so that the acceptance level of our graduates could rise to 15%. Moreover, they offered to conduct these special programs for free. Faced with such a munificent offer, we agreed. The eight-week course was offered at the tail end of the senior year of our students or right before graduation. The call center officials delivered on their promise and the acceptance rate of our graduates rose to 30%.
We believe that the program succeeded because the call centers were greatly motivated. They would benefit from its success in terms of more and better employees. Our school also benefitted as we provided more employment opportunities for our graduates.
We believe that the programs of the private sector will succeed as the employers will also be greatly motivated. The success of their program of helping the children of their employees would greatly increase morale and earn the gratitude of their employees.
Dr. Victor S. Limlingan is a retired professor of AIM and a fellow of the Foundation for Economic Freedom. He is presently chairman of Cristina Research Foundation, a public policy adviser and Regina Capital Development Corp., a member of the Philippine Stock Exchange.