By Jaime Aristotle B. Alip, Ph. D. | 07:22 PM July 27, 2021
July started with a bang for the Philippine education sector with the publication of a World Bank (WB) report lamenting that Filipino students do not meet learning standards.
Education Secretary Leonor Briones immediately took WB to task, stating that the report lacked historical context and failed to include corrective measures by the government. Groups advocating reforms chided the Department of Education (DepEd), reiterating the need for improvement in our educational system.
The WB has apologized and removed the publication from its website, but the debate on issues plaguing Philippine education rages on.
Beyond the issue of education quality, however, lies an even deeper problem: inequality and access. Out-of-school youths (OSYs) continue to increase, particularly at this time when inequities are aggravated by the Covid-9 pandemic.
DepEd data show that close to 4 million students were not able to enroll last school year. The good news is that last June, DepEd reported that 4.5 million learners registered early for SY 2021-2022, achieving a 99% turnout compared to last year’s figure. Nevertheless, in a country with high poverty incidence and where income inequality correlates with educational inequality, all efforts must be extended to ensure access to education.
Poverty, like a tree, has many roots. By ensuring education for all, we can cut down one of the root causes of poverty in the country.
Education and Poverty
According to UNESCO, if all students in low-income countries had just basic reading skills, an estimated 171 million people could escape extreme poverty. If all adults completed secondary education, we could cut the global poverty rate by more than half.
Education directly correlates with many solutions to poverty, including economic growth, reduced income inequality, reduced infant and maternal deaths, reduced stunting, reduced vulnerability to HIV and AIDS, reduced violence at home and in society. For this reason, UN has made education as the fourth Sustainable Development Goal.
SDG 4 of the 2030 Agenda aims to “ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.”
Inequity and Access to Education
In the Philippines, unemployment is high, inflation is high and there is a huge income inequality.
The Labor Force Survey of the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) in May 2021 places the country’s unemployment rate at 7.7%. This translates to 3.73 million unemployed individuals who are 15 years old and above.
In June, inflation was at 4.1%, much higher than the 2.5% level last year, which reflects the continuing rise in the prices of goods and services.
The poorest 20% Filipinos own less than 5% of the country’s total income, based on data from the Family Income and Expenditure Survey (FIES). This is unfortunate, as studies have shown that income equality directly correlates with educational inequality. Education defines living standards: lack of education of the household head limits the earning potential of the household.
Many Filipinos lack access to education. Apart from DepEd’s report that more than 3 million were not able to enroll last year, the latest PSA data on OSY places them at 3.53 million in 2017.
Financial concerns, or the high cost of education, was among the most common reasons given for not attending school. Around 50% of OSYs belong to families whose income fall within the bottom 30% of the population.
The PSA also reported that Filipinos are most deprived in education. This is based on the 2018 Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI), which serves to complement the income-based measure of poverty. Out of 13 indicators, educational attainment consistently had the highest incidence of deprivation among families.
Breaking Inter-generational Poverty
Grassroots organizations, microfinance institutions (MFIs), NGOs, and others working with the poor are aware of this sad reality. The Center for Agriculture and Rural Development (CARD) saw firsthand how socially-and economically marginalized families yearn for their children to finish school, hoping for better things for their progeny. CARD has been providing much-needed financial services to the poor for more than three decades, but as our understanding of our clients grew, so did our services because we had to respond to their needs.
Since our aim is to break inter-generational poverty, we wanted to make education accessible to our members’ children. In 2011, I was talking to my friend and mentor, Dr. Washington SyCip, who is known for his philanthropy and advocacies of poverty alleviation and quality education for all. Both of us believed that education is the pathway to breaking the poverty cycle, so we conceptualized a program that would help children of poor families to at least finish elementary. With his help, CARD started the “Zero Drop-out Program,” which is a microloan facility offered to support children’s school expenses. Its objective is to encourage members to continuously send their children to school, by providing support without depriving them of funds needed for their basic necessities.
Over the years, the elementary student-beneficiaries graduated to high school, thus, the program extended its support to high school and senior high school students, consistent with the advocacy of zeroing the school dropouts. This program has assisted 1,220,476 students so far.
Gradually, CARD ventured into providing affordable education. Initially, we only had a training unit for our personnel. Then, we began training our members on financial literacy and microenterprise development. Later on, MFIs and other organizations approached us, and so, in 2000, we formally established the CARD Training Center in Bay, Laguna. This was transformed into the CARD MRI Development Institute (CMDI) in 2005. CMDI now has facilities in Baguio, Pasay, and Masbate, as well as a campus in Tagum, Davao.
As of June 2021, CMDI has trained 1,237,897 under the Credit with Education (CwE) training program. This is a training program on health, business, microinsurance, disaster preparedness, and credit discipline – skills needed by our members, mostly rural poor women, to help them become change agents in their communities.
In line with the goal of providing affordable education, CMDI now offers Senior High School, TESDA-accredited courses and baccalaureate programs. Being a practitioner-led and practice-based learning institution, CMDI’s focus is on business courses, entrepreneurship, microfinance, and information management. It strives to make educational opportunities accessible to the poor by accepting DepEd vouchers and offering scholarships. CMDI has granted 15,761 educational scholarships to poor and deserving students, especially the children of CARD’s members. It has already graduated 9,783 scholars.
CARD MRI has also partnered with PHINMA Education, which caters to first-generation college students who would otherwise not be able to afford private education.
Its Laguna Network, which includes Rizal College of Laguna and Union College of Laguna, offer Flex and RAD learning programs on Criminology, Accounting, Business Administration, and Education. They also provide scholarships to qualified students. CARD MRI encourages its members and their children to study in PHINMA schools to avail of these scholarships. The partnership also allows PHINMA students to benefit from CARD MRI’s loan programs, internships, and employment opportunities.
Education matters. It is often referred to as the great equalizer, because it offers doors to skills, jobs and resources that a family needs to not just survive but thrive. It is my fervent hope that there will be more providers of affordable, quality education for our marginalized youth. After all, investing in their education is investing in our country’s future.
Dr. Jaime Aristotle B. Alip is a poverty eradication advocate, with more than 35 years of experience in microfinance and social development. He is the founder of the Center for Agriculture and Rural Development Mutually Reinforcing Institutions (CARD MRI), a group of 23 organizations that provide social development services to 7.4 million economically disadvantaged Filipinos nationwide and insuring more than 28 million lives. CARD’s innovative financial and enterprise development services targeting the poor has won many accolades, including the Ramon Magsaysay Award for Public Service in 2008, and for Dr. Alip, the prestigious Ramon V. del Rosario Award for Nation Building in 2019. Dr. Alip is an alumnus of the Harvard Business School, the Southeast Asia Interdisciplinary Development Institute, and the University of the Philippines.