25 September 2007

The Philippine Commission on Higher Education

Here are some things from Philippine law and the Web that may be of interest:

From Republic Act No. 7722, “An Act Creating the Commission on Higher Education,” the 1994 law that created and continues to govern CHED:

“SEC. 4. Composition of the Commission. - The Commission shall be composed of five (5) full-time members. During the transition period, which begins upon approval of this Act, the president may appoint the Secretary of Education, Culture and Sports as ex-officio chairman of the Commission for a maximum period of one (1) year. Thereafter, the President shall appoint a Chairman of the Commission and four (4) commissioners, who shall be holders of earned doctorate(s), who have been actively engaged in higher education for at least ten (10) years, and must not have been candidates for elective positions in the elections immediately preceding their appointment. They shall be academicians known for their high degree of professionalism and integrity who have distinguished themselves as authorities in their chosen fields of learning. The members of the Commission shall belong to different academic specializations.” (italics mine)

From the curriculum vitae of Romulo Neri, posted on the official website of the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA):

“Academic Background: MBA, Graduate School of Management, University of California in Los Angeles (UCLA), Major in Finance and International Management (1977-1979); BSBA, Major in Marketing, University of the Philippines (1966-1970).” No mention of an earned doctorate.

From a 2004 report on the website of the World Bank:

“The Estrada administration formally established the National Coordinating Council on Education (NCCE) through Executive Order No. 273, immediately following the PCER launching in 2000. The NCCE was supposed to fill up the policy vacuum resulting from the trifocalization of the education sector and was designed to coordinate and harmonize the cross-cutting education issues, formulate sectoral policies and priorities, and decide on the rational allocation of resources across different parts of the education system. To date, however, the NCCE remains inoperative. The formal convening of the body and constitution of its high-powered Technical Secretariat was not considered a priority of its first rotating Chair. Most of the actual coordination among education sub-sectors have occurred informally. No formal decisions binding on the whole education sector are made and issues are resolved by consensus or compromise, often independently of considerations of existing policy.

“Funding for the NCCE was supposed to be sourced from the General Appropriations Act but because of its non-operationalization, funding in subsequent years was not pursued. Consequently, the planning of the entire sector continues to be fragmented and the conduct of initiatives and resolution of issues that cut across the three levels are not undertaken efficiently. The determination of the growth rates of the appropriation for each level over a time period remains contentious because of the lack of agreed developmental bases for subsectoral allocation. As originally envisioned, one of the tasks of the NCCE was to convene the first National Congress on the State of Philippine Education by 2001 to assess the fulfillment of all program and policy recommendations of the EDCOM and PCER.

“The Professional Regulation Commission, which administers and enforces the regulatory policies of the national government, including the maintenance of professional standards, has not been modified or improved. Little progress has been made in terms of the accreditation system, given the complexity of the task due to the huge number and variety of existing higher education programs and institutions. Equivalency, as a cross-cutting issue, requires the participation of different agencies. So far, there is only one agreement for accreditation criteria and guidelines for technical training on industrial skills (except for information and communication technology). Thus, the goal of establishing mechanisms and regulations to facilitate the move from post-basic education and training to university education is far from complete.

“The establishment of the National Education Evaluation and Testing Service (NEETS), as recommended in the PESS and PCER reports, has not progressed in view of the non-operationalization of the NCCE. Considerable technical work has been undertaken on the planning for improved student assessment systems.”

From the website of CHED, we learn that, currently, CHED has a Board of Advisers, with the DepEd Secretary as Chair and the NEDA Director-General as Co-Chair. In other words, Neri has been advising CHED all these years anyway and need not be illegally appointed to chair it.

Now comes Executive Order 632, abolishing the NCCE and providing for the appointment of an “Education Czar.”

And you thought the Harry Potter saga was the ultimate in the incredible! (The Philippine Star, 2 August 2007)

The question going around the heads of all Philippine educators nowadays is this: how could she do it?

How could President Gloria Arroyo break the law so blatantly? How could she appoint, contrary to RA 7722, a non-doctorate holder to head CHED?

RA 7722 says, clearly and unequivocally, that the CHED commissioners should be “holders of earned doctorate(s), who have been actively engaged in higher education for at least ten (10) years, and … shall be academicians known for their high degree of professionalism and integrity who have distinguished themselves as authorities in their chosen fields of learning.”

Whether one is called a commissioner or an officer-in-charge is irrelevant. One cannot be in CHED without a doctorate, ten years’ experience, and international stature in a field of learning.

Far be it from me to take it upon myself to defend Arroyo, since she has plenty of media people to explain her actions to the citizens. In this particular case, however, it is pretty clear that she did not intend to break the law.

Arroyo thought that Romulo Neri had a doctorate!

To his credit, Neri himself has never pretended to have a doctorate. He has been in academe long enough to know that a doctorate is the minimum qualification for being an academician. (That word, by the way, is not a synonym of academic, since the latter refers to anyone teaching at the university level.) No one is questioning his ability to cut through the many problems of higher education. That is not the issue.

The issue is whether we are still a country of laws or not. The law is the law. If there is anyone that should be upholding the law, it should be the President of the Republic of the Philippines.

A doctorate holder herself, Arroyo fortunately has a way out of this mess. She can now claim that she honestly did not know that Neri is not qualified by law to be in CHED. As COCOPEA has recently stated, she should now choose someone else to be her point person in CHED.

COORDINATING DEPED, CHED, AND TESDA: Executive Order 632, entitled “Amending Executive Order No. 273 (series of 2000) and Mandating a Presidential Assistant to Assess, Plan and Monitor the Entire Educational System,” gives former CHED Commissioner Dr. Mona Dumlao-Valisno the following functions formerly assigned to the National Coordinating Council for Education: “to serve as the [point person] for trans-subsectoral consultations on cross-cutting policies and programs; to harmonize goals and objectives for the entire education system and to dovetail them to national development plans; to review existing and proposed programs and projects for tighter inter-subsector coordination; to set priorities for the education system and recommend corresponding financial requirements; to pursue and monitor implementation of the reforms proposed by the PCER; to establish, oversee and monitor the implementation of the National Educational Evaluation and Testing System and its operations; to designate and provide guidelines for Philippine representatives in international and national conferences/meetings with cross-cutting themes or concerns in education; and to convene a biennial National Congress on Education for the purpose of assessing, updating/upgrading and strengthening of the educational system and its components.”

I wish her well in this new challenge. She will need all her experience in the Department of Education and CHED to fulfil this mandate. As she herself requested me to do, I will write on each of the crucial tasks given to her. (The Philippine Star, 16 August 2007)

The reason the EDCOM-created National Coordinating Council for Education (NCCE) never got off the ground is something all managers know: if everyone is in charge, nobody is in charge. By making CHED, DepEd, and TESDA equal partners in education, the NCCE failed to take into account the hierarchical (some say, dictatorial) nature of Philippine government entities. Government people always look to the boss for directions.

For instance, when he was DepEd Secretary, Raul Roco convened a large group of school principals and told them pointblank, “I am now empowering you. You can decide on your own about matters that have to do with your teachers and your school buildings.” The principals then asked him in return, “Sir, can you put that down in a memo?”

Roco then went on to tell one of his favorite stories about the prisoner who had been in handcuffs while being taken to court. In court, the judge commanded the guards to remove the handcuffs. Even without the handcuffs, the prisoner kept his hands together, as though they were still in handcuffs.

The first function given to Presidential Assistant Mona Dumlao-Valisno by Executive Order 632 is “to serve as the [point person] for trans-subsectoral consultations on cross-cutting policies and programs.” Although management theorists might question how a staff function can have line authority, the order from President Arroyo is clear: Valisno can now, with Arroyo’s blessing, order CHED, DepEd, and TESDA around.

That is the only way to ensure that the three government bodies get their act together. Someone has to be on top, and since the President herself has no time to look personally into education, she has delegated her power to her Presidential Assistant for Education. (That, by the way, neatly solves the management issue of staff and line functions.)

Remember the title of Executive Order 632: “Mandating a Presidential Assistant to Assess, Plan and Monitor the Entire Educational System.” The executive order is the first step towards returning to the good old days when only one person was on top of the educational system. Since it is about time anyway to review EDCOM, Congress must now take the cue and see if trifocalization (as it is called in Philippine English), which seemed like a good idea at the time, has outlived its usefulness. (The Philippine Star, 23 August 2007)

To think that there is a quick fix to our educational problems is sheer insanity. The problems are so enormous that six years, let alone six months, will not be enough to put things in order.

The second of eight functions recently assigned through Executive Order 632 by President Arroyo to Presidential Assistant Mona Dumlao-Valisno, for example, is this: “to harmonize goals and objectives for the entire education system and to dovetail them to national development plans.”

Let us take just one area that needs harmonization – the curriculum. When DepEd changed the Basic Education Curriculum (BEC) in 2001, CHED went into denial.

Take just one subject area for which I was responsible – literature. In 1996, when I was with CHED’s Technical Panel for Humanities, Social Sciences, and Communication, I was able, together with my colleagues Edna Zapanta-Manlapaz and Cynthia Bautista, to convince then acting CHED Chair Valisno to revise the General Education Curriculum (GEC). I wrote the syllabi for the two required literature courses (Literatures of the Philippines and Literatures of the World). At that time, the syllabi were revolutionary, because most schools were teaching the theoretically flawed Philippine Literature in English and Panitikang Pilipino.
In 2001, I became Undersecretary for Programs and Projects at DepEd. I was placed in charge of revising the BEC. After much consultation with various stakeholders, the curriculum experts at DepEd added literary theory to the high school curriculum. This was not a new idea, since as early as 1987, literary criticism (an elementary form of literary theory) had already been introduced into the high school curriculum.

The two college courses thus became misplaced, even redundant, since according to both literary theory and educational practice, survey courses should be taken before and not after literary theory. In fact, survey courses on Philippine, Afro-Asian, Anglo-American, and World literatures had been in the high school curriculum for several years before the BEC revision.

When I quit DepEd and returned to CHED’s Technical Panel in 2002, I tried to convince CHED to revise the GEC to upgrade or reconceptualize the two literature courses, because they were mere repetitions of the high school subjects. CHED stonewalled. Although I was placed in charge of getting the heads of different Technical Panels together to revise the GEC, nothing came out of our meetings, not because we disagreed with each other, but because CHED’s ridiculous bureaucracy worked and still works against rational change.

That is just literature. Think of algebra. High school students take two years of algebra (sometimes three, if they take Advanced Algebra as an elective in Fourth Year). College students today are treated as though they never took algebra before in their lives. In many cases, the college course is even more elementary than the ones in high school!

Aside from the curriculum, there are the thorny issues of the medium of instruction, the distinction between education and training (are we preparing Filipinos to be telephone operators or entrepreneurs?), the role of the humanities in a technology-driven global economy, the role of human teachers in the increasingly digital classroom, the nature of ladderized courses, aptitude streaming, and of course, the mismatch between what employers demand and what schools supply.

Valisno will have her hands full just getting CHED to admit that DepEd is doing its job well and that TESDA is just as legitimate an educational body as it is! On the other hand, to get DepEd to stop talking about CHED matters (why is DepEd doing an aptitude exam when its responsibility stops after the student graduates from high school?) and TESDA to stop telling CHED what to do (how can a non-academically-inclined body tell scholars how to design a ladderized program?) will be just as difficult a task for Valisno! Frankly, this looks like Mission Impossible or an Ocean caper, but then, those movies did not end so badly, so who knows? After all, as every literature teacher knows, life always follows art. (The Philippine Star, 30 August 2007)

I received quite a number of reactions to my column about what I called the “illegal” posting of Romulo Neri at the Commission on Higher Education (CHED).

Many readers asked me why I was insisting on someone with an earned doctorate heading CHED, whether as Officer-in-Charge or Chair. Let me clarify that I am not the one insisting on the doctorate requirement. It is R.A. 7722, the law that created CHED, that says, very clearly, that “the President shall appoint a Chairman of the Commission and four (4) commissioners, who shall be holders of earned doctorate(s) [and] who have been actively engaged in higher education for at least ten (10) years.”

There are no ifs and buts about this. Whoever heads CHED must have an earned doctorate. Neri does not have an earned doctorate. Therefore, he cannot legally head CHED, whether we call him an OIC or a Chair. Therefore, his appointment is illegal.

If anyone wants to challenge this reading of the law, go to the nearest court and file a case. I may not be a lawyer (it’s my namesake that is), but I’ll bet anything that the appointment will be declared null and void ab initio. I will go further than this and say that, since the appointment is null and void, Neri is NOT the head of CHED and anything he does is not legally binding.

The issue is not whether you need a doctorate to head CHED. The law says that you do. You may not like what the law says, but it IS the law.

Some readers are alarmed at the restructuring that Neri is doing at CHED. His mandate, publicly announced by Malacañang, is merely to push the ladderized program that CHED had been rejecting, not to appoint or remove officials, especially career or CESO ones. I have unsolicited advice for those being eased out of their positions by the illegal “head.” Go to court! Since this is a question of law, only the courts can help you now.

A couple of readers asked why I am being so hard on Neri when another commissioner also has not complied with the law. Apparently, one commissioner has “not been engaged in higher education for at least ten years.” If that is true, then that commissioner should certainly be kicked out of there as fast as Neri.

One of the readers pointed out that this particular commissioner filed a curriculum vitae with CHED that did not show any experience in higher education, but subsequently obtained a certification for some university or other that she had! Now, that’s not my cup of tea, but if someone wants to be a detective, the commissioner’s curriculum vitae is a public document and can be accessed by anyone.

Several readers agreed with me that Neri should not be in CHED, but went further than I did. They said that the President has a penchant for not complying with the law. Again, that is not my cup of tea. I still believe that, in the case of Neri, she was misinformed by her staff.

In any case, Neri is not an “education czar” in charge of the entire educational system. As I have been painstakingly detailing these past few weeks, the one in charge is President Gloria Arroyo herself, and she has delegated her authority through E.O. 632 to Presidential Assistant for Education Mona Dumlao-Valisno.

Fortunately, Valisno is not alone in this gigantic task of getting everybody in education to work together. President Arroyo has just formed a Presidential Task Force on Education (consisting of the DepEd Secretary, the CHED Chair, the TESDA Chair, the Presidential Assistant for Education, and five representatives from the private sector). I say fortunately, because more heads are better than one, but on the other hand, too many cooks may spoil the broth. (This is one reason we always tell students not to use clichés; clichés tend to contradict each other!) (The Philippine Star, 6 September 2007)

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