The Philippines was on the tail end of a study by the Economist Intelligence Unit that measured the pre-school environments of 45 countries.
On a possible score of 100, PH scored a dismal 24.7 on quality, placing 43rd place. Among the criteria for quality that the EIU considered were student-teacher ratio in classrooms.
However, on the overall ranking on EIU's Starting Well Index, only Indonesia and India fared worse. The study, commissioned by Singapore-based philanthropic organization Lien Foundation, measured pre-school systems on social context, availability, affordability, and quality.
"Denmark and Sweden average about six children per teacher, whereas teachers in Ghana, India, and the Philippines must contend with 35 or more," EIU said,adding that although there is still debate on the optimal class size for children, "smaller classes are clearly less daunting for teachers."
The EIU also considered average pre-school teacher wages, which, it stressed, should be equal to that paid to primary- and secondary-school teachers. The existence of a pre-school curriculum as well as adequate training and standards for pre-school teachers were also considered. EIU noted that in countries that scored higher on the index, it is common to require teachers to have advanced degrees to teach pre-school.
PH affordable for preschool
PH fared better on affordability, placing 39th with a score of 24.8. In China, which was at the bottom with just 19 points, it is more expensive to send a child to pre-school than university, EIU said. This is because of the lack of public pre-schools and high prices of private ones.
Among the factors considered were the cost of a private pre-school, the existence of subsidies for underprivileged families, as well as subsidies for private pre-school providers serving underprivileged children.
The EIU study found, however, that even higher-income countries like the U.S. (24th), Canada (26th), and Singapore (29th) got lower scores than a lowr-income country like Chile (20th) and the Czech Republic (17th). EIU said pre-school is not always readily available or affordable even in countries with higher per capita incomes.
The Philippines also did better on availability, at 40th place with a score of 40.6. Included in this category were pre-school enrollment ratio, the existence of an early childhood development and promotion strategy, and the legal right to pre-school.
According to the DepEd, its Bureau of Elementary Education "has been implementing the Preschool Program since 1970."
"However, as of 2010, only 79 percent of the 2.4 million kindergarten children from both public and private schools had been reached. This shows the low readiness level of Grade 1 children and the high incidence of non-readers and dropouts prevailing until Grade 3," it said. The new curriculum is meant to address this low readiness according to the Kindergarten Education Act of 2011.
According to a government primer on the K to 12 program, around 2.3 million five-year-old children were expected to enter kindergarten in 2012, around 1.7 million of whom would do so in public schools.
Malnutrition and education
The Philippines placed 40th with a score of 60 on the social context category, which considered the prevalence of malnutrition, the under-five mortality rate, immunization rate, gender inequality, and adult literacy.
EIU stressed the importance of pre-school education, saying "high quality programs save society significant amounts of money over time."
"Early childhood contributes to creating the kinds of workforces that are going to be needed in the twenty-first century," it also said.
The Department of Education, which is implementing a new K to 12 program already has a curriculum guide, but a teacher's group has criticized the program as "ill prepared and ill conceived."
"The curriculum is not yet ready, funds are insufficient to cover the basic inputs such as shortages on teachers, classrooms, textbooks, chairs and sanitation facilities," Alliance of Concerned Teachers party-list said this month. Volunteers were also reportedly given allowances of just P3,000 to P6,000.
Critics of K to 12 including ACT and Senator Antonio Trillanes IV say DepEd has to resolve a shortage of classrooms and teachers first.
Philippine President Benigno Aquino on Tuesday announced a $1.8-billion military upgrade to help defend his country's maritime territory against "bullies", amid an ever-worsening dispute with China.