Development issues and education
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Development issues and education 发展问题和教育
The Philippines: Development issues and education
“Ang sa taong karunungan kayamanan di manakaw”
[Learning is a wealth that cannot be stolen]
Tagalog Proverb, quoted in Cortes 1980, 145
This essay aims to consider the major development problems faced by the Philippines today and
discuss how these impact on, and have been influenced by, educational policy and provision. It will
begin by providing background information on the Philippines, before proceeding to introduce the
education system, both formal and non-formal. After brief discussion of the difficulties of
prioritising development problems, the relationships between them and different understandings of
the term ‘development’, four major issues will be considered: Corruption, Inequality, Conflict and
Unemployment/Underemployment. Within each it will discuss the relationship between the problem
and education in the Philippines. It will conclude with a brief summary and some comments on the
role of education in the Philippines.
Located in South East Asia, the Philippines is an archipelago made up of 7,107 islands of which
eleven account for over 90 per cent of the total area and are inhabited by the majority of the
population of over 82 million (BBC 2007; World Guide 2005). These come from over 40 ethnic
groups who use more than 80 dialects (Cortes 1980, 147). The Philippines has a long and colourful
history and because of its strategic positioning on oceanic trade routes has been occupied by the
Spanish, Americans and Japanese. Clearly this has had significant influence. Alongside Filipino
(largely based on the Tagalog dialect), English is an official language, while Catholicism is by far
the most widely practiced religion (83 per cent). Other religions include Islam (5 per cent) and
Protestant Christianity, including independent Filipino churches (5 per cent) (World Guide 2005).
For administrative purposes the country is divided into twelve regions, which are in turn sub-divided
into 73 provinces. Rapid population growth and rural-to-urban migration has led to over 60 per cent
of the population now living in towns or cities. Manila, the capital, has over 10,000,000 occupants.
Major industries in the Philippines include electronics assembly, garments, footwear,
pharmaceuticals, chemicals, wood products, food processing, petroleum refining and fishing (World
Fact Book). Until recent years agriculture was the main occupation of the labour force, but recent
growth in the service sector has made this the most common (at almost 50 per cent) (ibid).
The Philippines has struggled with natural disasters, including earthquakes, volcano eruptions,
typhoons and mud slides. It also faces problems related to pollution and deforestation, particularly
with regard to food production. National debt is a huge problem; “Debt service for 2002 was 24 per
cent of the National Government Budget, not including principal payments. Indebtedness has been
increasing steadily since 1981. Government borrowing in the last two and a half years of the
Macapagal-Arroyo Government has broken all records and Filipinos now owe about USD 726 per
capita” (Serrano 2004). According to UNESCO’s definition of living on less than two dollars a day,
47 per cent of the population live in poverty (UNESCO 2004).
The respect given to education by Filipinos is made clear in a Tagalog Proverb cited by Cortes,
translated as “Learning is a wealth that cannot be stolen” (Cortes 1980, 145). This hunger for
learning, and the recognition that “families will make any sacrifice to get their children to
school…they’ll move heaven and earth to achieve it” (Doyle 2005), go some way towards
explaining the great successes the Philippines has achieved in literacy and school enrolment.
Illiteracy has fallen rapidly: from 79.8 per cent in 1903 to 27.9 per cent in 1960 (Cortes 1980, 148).
According to UNESCO (2004), literacy rates are currently over 90 per for adults (aged 15+) and
close to 98 per cent for youth. Tan and Leonor (1985, 124) observed that “Philippine educational
experience after the Second World War has been notable for …the fast growth of enrolment at all
levels”. By 2004, 97 per cent of children completed a full course of primary schooling, while 67 per
cent of girls and 56 per cent of boys attended secondary school (UNESCO 2004), although this rosy
picture masks issues concerning quality and inequality that will be discussed later.
The Philippine educational system has been heavily influenced by the colonial history of the
country. Until the Spanish conquest (initiated in 1521), education “consisted mainly of the young
learning indigenous Filipino tribal customs and vocations through informal instruction and
observation” (Cortes 1980, 145). As in most colonial countries, education (alongside religion) was
used as a tool for controlling and profiting from its people and resources. Schools were not formally
set up until 1863, and even then had the main function of teaching religion to an elite few. The use of
Spanish as the language of instruction and the huge geographical disparity caused by the difficulties
associated with travelling across mountains and islands led to further educational inequality. As we
shall see later this is not a purely historical problem.
Education collapsed during the revolution of 1896, but was quickly reintroduced by the new colonial
power. Under the US the educational system became patterned after the American one: the medium
of instruction became English and textbooks, resources, curricula and even some teachers were
imported. Since the eventual independence of the Philippines in 1946 “Philippine education has
undergone a long, slow process of weaning itself away from its strong American orientation…in the
process, the educational system has moved towards a more Philippine-based and more practical
approach to learning” (Cortes 1980, 177). One result is that, since the new constitution of 1987,
both English and Filipino are official languages of instruction, with Filipino commonly used in
private schools at all levels and in all schools from higher primary level onward.
Today, the education system is the responsibility of the Department of Education (commonly
referred to as the DeptED). Historically, the government has focused its resources on primary level
education, resulting in the “essentially private character of post-primary schools” (Tan and Leonor
1985, 124). This continues today, with nearly 60 per cent of government spending on education
going to the primary level (UNESCO 2004). As a direct consequence of this, 90 per cent of primary
enrolments are in public institutions, compared to around 30 per cent and less than 20 per cent for
secondary and tertiary levels respectively (Clark 2004). Many of these private institutions are
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