11 June 2009

My paper on education in 2001

For the record, here is a paper I wrote in 2001 for a conference in China.

International Forum on Quality Education: Policy, Research, and Innovative Practices in Improving the Quality of Education, Beijing, China, 12-15 June 2001

A Paper by Dr. Isagani R. Cruz, Philippines

ABSTRACT: A model for democratizing quality can be derived from the two People Power Revolutions launched by the Filipino people against two corrupt presidents in 1986 and 2000. Essentially, the two revolutions worked because volunteer critical masses, remaining within broad constitutional frameworks, changed leaders through moral pressure and not through either elections or violence. This People Power Model of Quality harnesses the resources of civil society to eliminate corruption in the government education ministry, to improve access to basic education, and to ensure that education remains relevant to its customers, the latter defined as both students and future employers. The Philippine model includes the participation of professional organizations and civil society groups in the evaluation and distribution of textbooks and other instructional materials, the exercise of academic freedom on the secondary level by private schools, the non-marginalization of out-of-school youth through an accreditation and equivalency system, and the institutionalization of a wide base for curricular reform.


In February 1986, more than a million Filipinos gathered at the most widely-used highway in Metro Manila called EDSA (for Epifanio De los Santos Avenue, named after a 19th century scholar) to protest the continuing violations of human rights, the rape of the national economy (immortalized by the Guinness Book of World Records, which named Ferdinand Marcos the greatest thief of all time), and widespread cheating in just-concluded presidential elections. With only a handful of casualties, the non-violent event – quickly named the People Power Revolution of 1986 – forced President Marcos to step down and to flee to the United States.

In January 2001, more than a million Filipinos gathered again at EDSA to protest the lifestyle of President Joseph Ejercito Estrada, who had been impeached in the legislature for receiving payoffs from illegal gambling, depositing incredibly huge amounts of money in illegally disguised bank accounts, and violating various laws. Again, the non-violent demonstration of moral outrage forced President Estrada to step down.

The two modern-day revolutions had in common, among other things, a redefined view of democracy. In addition to – some say, instead of – the process of changing national leaders through elections, the two revolutions introduced a more dramatic and quicker way of presidential recall – voting with feet rather than with ballots. Moral pressure, rather than regular elections or armed struggle, was the tool for people to exercise their ownership of the democratic process. In effect, people took democracy into their own hands, using communications (printed newspapers in 1986 and cellular phone technology in 2001) to exercise political power.

The direct participation of civil society – as the various organized groups and disorganized individuals who joined the two revolutions are called – is the key to the national educational policy of the Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo administration. Instead of the traditional top-down decision-making process, the Arroyo educational policy involves empowering civil society to participate widely and crucially in the educational system. Following the spirit of the two EDSA Revolutions, the Arroyo educational policy involves civil society in all aspects of education, particularly in four key areas: textbook reform, curricular reform, management of private education, and nonformal education. In all these key areas, the Arroyo administration makes full and innovative use of information and communications technologies.


The Philippine basic educational system consists of one year of pre-school (sometimes more for affluent communities), six years of elementary school (usually seven for private schools), and four years of secondary or high school. There is a plan to add a fifth year to secondary school, called a pre-baccalaureate year, which will not be funded by government but will be shouldered by private higher educational institutions. On the elementary level, 89.4 % of schools are public and only 10.6 % are private. On the secondary level, 57.7 % are public and 42.3 % are private. In higher education, less than 20 % is public; higher education is essentially private education. The Philippine Constitution guarantees academic freedom to institutions of higher learning; there should, therefore, be theoretically little for government to do on the post-secondary level, although there exists a Commission for Higher Education (CHED), whose main mandated task is to fund educational innovations and to encourage quality through the identification of Centers of Excellence.

For management purposes, the Department of Education, Culture and Sports (DECS) is divided into a Central Office (based in Metro Manila), 16 Regions, Divisions under each Region, Districts under each Division, and 40,000 or so schools. In terms of share of the national budget, DECS has the largest share; this is constitutionally protected. But since the national budget is small, the actual absolute value of the money available to DECS for salaries, school building, textbook procurement, teacher training, and other necessary elements of public education is not very much. Public education receives added funding from local school boards, parent-teacher-community associations (PTCAs), and private business corporations.

As of SY 2000-2001, there were 17.9 M elementary and high school students in the Philippines. 15.8 M were in government or public schools, and 2.1 M were in private schools. The figures are not final yet for SY 2001-2002, because the academic year starts only in June in the Philippines, but it appears from media reports that there are now roughly 23 M elementary and high school students. The increase cannot be attributed entirely to the increased total population (now standing at 76 M, more than a third of school age). The new Secretary of Education, former Senator Raul S. Roco, instituted a policy of no collection of opening-day fees; previously, despite the constitutional mandate of free elementary and secondary education, schools collected various miscellaneous fees from students. This new policy clearly attracted school-age children whose main reason for not enrolling in school was money.

There are about half a million public school teachers (total for both elementary and high school levels), 441,000 on national government payroll. The reason that there is no exact figure for the number of teachers is the lack of a national management information system that encompasses both national government agencies, local government units, and private schools. Whatever the actual figure is, the shortage of teachers for public schools is over 38,000 for SY 2001-2002, a shortage that cannot be met by government due to fiscal limits.

The total ideal textbook requirement (one textbook per subject per student) for the public schools is more than 136 M. There are only 15 M textbooks already in the system, with only 64 M textbooks projected to be bought before the end of 2001. Given current budget estimates, there should be a 1:1 ratio for five basic subjects by SY 2002-2003, but this assumes that, first, the figures are accurate (which they are not) and second, that the school population does not increase significantly (and if the present educational policies work, it will). It is thus mathematically impossible for the Philippine government, even assuming a huge influx of money into the textbook procurement process, to provide textbooks for all subjects (even for all core subjects) for all students.

The shortage in classroom is still disturbing, but not as impossible to fill. As of SY 2001-2002, there is a shortage of about 8,500 classrooms. Fortunately, foreign funders are offering money for the building of classrooms, and in a year or two, the shortage should not be significant. There might be a problem with classrooms for secondary schools, if the cohort survival rate (currently standing at 67.21 % for elementary grades) improves, since there will then be about 30% more participation rate for secondary school in six years. Since it is ridiculous to plan on the basis of failure, we must assume that the Arroyo administration and future administrations will succeed in increasing the completion rate; in this worst-case (best-case?) scenario, there will be a crisis in secondary schoolrooms by 2007, a crisis brought about by success.

The solution to the increasing student population and subsequent proportional decrease in teachers, as well as to the gap between number of textbooks and number of students, lies obviously in innovating, rather than in catching up with the population. Information and communications technologies offer one way of working out of the box.

Textbook Reform

Before the Arroyo administration, textbooks before government procurement were evaluated by government curriculum experts. The Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism consistently reported that textbook procurement was one of the most corruption-prone areas of responsibility of DECS. Aside from internationally expected kickbacks from purchase costs, government officials in DECS were alleged to base their evaluation of the content of textbooks on the content of their pockets after talking to publishers or suppliers.

The Arroyo administration has eliminated corruption from the textbook evaluation and procurement process. Secretary Roco ordered the opening of bidding sessions to the media; by putting bidding on television, he was able to stop suppliers from talking to the bidding committee members. On the other end of the procurement process, in the past, several suppliers would bribe school officials to certify that deliveries of textbooks had been made, even if they had not been made. That source of corruption has also been eliminated through the People Power model. Civil society groups, particularly PTCAs, now monitor textbook deliveries in the 40,000 or so public schools in the country. Because parents, in particular, have a vested interest in having textbooks in the hands of children, suppliers now cannot have what used to be called “ghost deliveries.”

The textbook evaluation process, on the other hand, became free from corruption as an offshoot of its democratization. Textbooks are now evaluated not only by government experts (who are by necessity few and easily identifiable), but also by civil society and professional organizations (organized in volunteer Technical Panels), by higher-level government officials, and by the end-users themselves in a random process. To be approved for purchase by the government, a textbook now has to have the nod of several individuals, making it impossible for a single individual or even a single group of individuals to control the approval process. It is also now financially suicidal for suppliers to offer bribes to the evaluators, not only because there are now too many people to be bribed, but also because the suppliers do not know beforehand who exactly to bribe. In introducing a democratized process of textbook evaluation, the Arroyo government eliminated corruption in a traditionally corrupt department and allowed more minds to decide on which textbooks schoolchildren should use in classrooms.

Curricular Reform

Every previous political administration in the twentieth century changed the curriculum from the top. The typical process went this way: a Central Office high-level educational think tank thought up of a pet subject that should be learned by every Filipino child, then imposed that pet subject on all schoolchildren by inserting it into the curriculum. To break the cycle of mandated curricular change, the Arroyo administration is now instituting a system of wide ownership of curricular reform. The decentralized and decentered system is parallel to the textbook evaluation and procurement process.

First, the regions submit model lesson guides done by their teachers for publication by commercial publishers. Since no copyright can subsist in anything done by government, and since these lesson plans were done on government time by government people, publishers are free to print these lesson plans without paying royalties to anyone. That cuts publishing costs by 10 to 20 percent. Since there will be more than one publisher printing each set of lesson guides, the competition will cut the prices down to something teachers can afford. Once the lesson guides are on the open market, teachers can just mention the page number or lesson number of a book and that will be the lesson plan for the day. There will be no need for teachers to do original lesson plans anymore, which is something they do for an average of two to three hours a day. This removes one of the main excuses teachers have for not keeping up with the latest intellectual trends in their respective fields.

Now, what happens when teachers use the printed lesson guides in their classes? Naturally, they will find many of these lesson guides wanting. They will want to suggest improvements in the lesson guides. There is now a toll-free telephone line at the DECS Central Office that anyone in the Philippines can call collect. Teachers will then call in their suggestions, saying that lesson such-and-such in book so-and-so has to be revamped in this or that way. The reactions will be fed back to the publishers and to the Regional Directors. What will happen, then, is that there will be a continuous revision of the lesson guides; in other words, there will be a continuous revision, de facto, of the curriculum.

When all Philippine public schools have already been wired, which will be sooner rather than later, the teachers can use the DECS website to send in their suggestions. In fact, when DECS is fully online, teachers can just revise the textbooks and lesson guides themselves, because all these now printed materials will be online anyway. By removing the write protection and allowing everyone and anyone to revise online textbooks and lesson guides, there will emerge a truly connected virtual learning and teaching community.

Student groups have also been mobilized through focused group discussions, which basically ask them what they would change in the curriculum if they had to study all over again. Similarly, a number of parents from various regions have also been giving DECS feedback about the curriculum. The Technical Panels, of course, have had a lot to say about the prescribed minimum learning competencies. In the driver’s seat for all this incessant movement is, for convenience, the DECS Central Office, particularly the Bureau of Elementary Education, the Bureau of Secondary Education, the Bureau of Nonformal Education, and the Bureau of Physical Education and School Sports. The Regions, finally, suggest, as well as implement, changes in the curriculum.

The purpose of the entire system is simple, though ambitious: it is to ensure that curricular changes will occur only through spontaneous consensus, the very energy that drove both EDSA Revolutions. By increasing the participation of stakeholders in the curricular reform process, the curriculum is thus democratized and rationalized.

Management of Private Education

During the annual Educators Congress, the first under his administration, Secretary Roco gathered the heads of professional organizations of private schools and announced to them that, henceforth, DECS would encourage them to exercise academic freedom on the secondary level. That means, in effect, freeing the private schools from strict government supervision over matters of admission, curriculum, textbooks, languages of instruction, and so on. The move was both practical and theoretical. It was practical because DECS has too many public schools to worry about and hardly any time to devote to the few private schools operating on the elementary and secondary levels. It was theoretical because it is only in private schools, with their relative freedom from government bureaucracy and tradition, that educational innovation can take place. Without educational innovation and research, the educational system cannot and will not grow.

Mainstreaming Nonformal Education

A significant portion of the time and effort of DECS is spent on nonformal education. In the past, nonformal education was considered a poor cousin, or at least a distant cousin, of the formal school system. Because of the low cohort survival rate of the formal school system (49.76 % as of SY 2000-01), however, the actual population of school-age children served by nonformal education has become too large to be marginalized. An Accreditation and Equivalency system for children of high school age was in existence before the Arroyo administration; the Bureau of Nonformal Education launched in January, 1999, an Alternative Learning System, which succeeded in breaking the perception that learning is necessarily tied up with schooling. In fact, the Bureau was awarded the UNESCO NOMA Literary Prize in 2000 for its work in institutionalizing quality, integrity, and innovation in nonformal education.

What the Arroyo administration has done is to mainstream nonformal education. Lessons learned from the nonformal educational structure are fed into the formal educational structure, thus enriching both and moving towards true equivalency, rather than merely parallel efforts. Examples of such lessons are quality of the curriculum, the learning modules, the learning process, the delivery mechanism, the accreditation and equivalency system, and the management support system. These lessons focus on the need to expand learning into non-linguistic or non-verbal or even non-cognitive areas, particularly areas included in multiple intelligences. By removing the bias towards disciplines inherent in the formal school system, nonformal education has strengthened the need for functionality and competency-based learning, in areas such as Learning to Know, Learning to Do, Learning to Be, and Learning to Live Together. By proving that self-instruction is a valid way of learning, nonformal education has made those in the formal school system conceptualize nontraditional ways of teaching, particularly with the use of self-instruction modules using computers and the Net.

Information and Communication Technologies

The Second EDSA Revolution occurred primarily because a million Filipinos with cellphones started sending text messages to each other in the middle of the night to gather at EDSA. Technology was thus crucial to the success of the Revolution, because there was no quicker way to mobilize people in less than an hour to come together in a designated place. Previous to the start of the vigil at EDSA, the Internet had become a major player in raising the consciousness of Filipinos about the corruption in the Estrada household and government. Electronic mailing groups had been formed with members in the tens of thousands, thus making it possible to mobilize such groups on short notice.

The Arroyo administration recognizes the importance of ICT and has, in fact, named ICT as one of its core concerns. In public education, Secretary Roco has put in place a program for eventually equipping all public secondary schools with computers wired to the Net. Aside from getting government and private funding for computer laboratories, Secretary Roco has also set in motion a rapid teacher training program, ranging from simple computer literacy to computer online design. It is estimated that, upon the wiring of all 5,000 or so public secondary schools in the country, there will be enough computer-trained teachers and curriculum designers to plan and implement at least partial virtualization of secondary education.


These four areas of concern – textbook reform, curricular reform, management of private education, and mainstreaming of nonformal education – as supported by information and communications technologies are but a few of the several initiatives being undertaken by the four-month-old administration of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and Secretary Raul S. Roco. In four months, a lot has already been attempted, and modesty aside, done. Why are things being done in a hurry? Because, in the Philippines, we removed two sitting presidents, both of whom had enormous power and resiliency, in only four days each. The confidence we have built in our people because of our ability to mobilize and to change administrations in less than a week, less than the time it takes to count election returns in our country, is the very same confidence we bring to educational reform. The People Power Model of Educational Reform that has been outlined here is not being offered as a Best Practice, but in the Philippine context, it is a practice that works.

(Dr. Isagani R. Cruz is Undersecretary for Programs and Projects of the Department of Education, Culture and Sports of the Republic of the Philippines. He holds a Ph.D. from the University of Maryland and was a university professor and multi-awarded writer before he joined the Philippine government in 2001.)

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