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Monsod: Universal primary education a faraway reality

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PASIG CITY, METRO MANILA — The Department of Education aims to achieve universal primary education for all by 2015, a goal that is just four years away.

But the reality seems to be starkly dimmer from the point of view of an economist who says that under the current budgetary trend by the government, these goals will be extremely long, if not nearly impossible.

It is not just any economist who paints a sad future for the Philippines' basic education programs. Solita "Winnie" Monsod, perhaps the country's most popular economist, said that she believes that given the current situation, achieving universal primary education will be reached in 2074 — a little over half a century.

During a presentation, Monsod showed the results of a study wherein the Philippines' progress in the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) set by the United Nations, is rated as "low probability."

Even last year's MDG report by the National Statistical Coordination Board (NSCB) showed similar, if not the same results.

The probability is from the baseline statistical data from 1991 for enrollment and graduation in basic education. This data is then compared with the more recent data, which in this case is the year 2008.

The success rate is based on the percentage increase from 1991 and 2008, assuming statistics from population growth and inflation rate.

Based on Monsod's presentation, the enrollment rate for students in 2008 is set at 85.1 percent — the same percentage 17 years ago. Likewise, the elementary school completion rate from 2008 is 73.3 percent, barely double digit from 1991 figures which was at 66.5 percent.

Therefore, this pace points to the chances of achieving universal primary education at 2079. As Monsod sadly argued, "we'll all be long since dead".

But Monsod does have a more positive outlook — albeit a very expensive one — for the Philippines to achieve its 2015 goals for the country's basic education system.

Based budgetary requirements, basic education allocation should be set at 381 billion pesos but that is only for the year 2012. The following years are just slightly cheaper: 307.9 billion pesos in 2013, 325.5 billion pesos for 2014, and 340 billion pesos for 2015.

In comparison, the current budget appropriation for the DepEd in 2011 is pegged at 192 billion pesos. Just a little over half of what is needed for the MDG for basic education to be reached.

While Monsod's presentation felt bleak, she did have some positive notes on how the country can still achieve basic education programs. She pointed to the success of the conditional cash transfer (CCT) as one factor in ensuring that children in poor families go to and stay in school.

The CCT's goal is to give poor families monthly allowances provided that they maintain certain conditions, one of which is to keep all their children in school at least 85 percent of the time.

Monsod said this enforces that parents encourage school participation among their children, which mirrors the DepEd's own goals of giving all children basic education.

During the discussion, Monsod also emphasized on another possible source for budget for the education system, which is to increase "sin taxes" or the amount of tax paid for the purchase of tobacco sale.

A fiery Monsod said that tax losses to tobacco are amounting to billions of pesos, which is money that could have been used for education.

Monsod, who is among the signatories of a call to increase sin taxes, said that government also spends billions of pesos — some say P43 billion — for health care of those suffering from tobacco consumption.

"No one is paying attention to the money and lives lost to cigarette consumption. And we're even paying for it. If we set additional taxes, there will be a stark decrease in tobacco consumption and even a higher percentage of revenue from sale. We'd be able to put that in education," Monsod said.

In her final statements, Monsod said that she still believes that the education system needs reform and a lot of money to achieve its goals. She pointed to the media to help in making people realize the need to help each other in achieving these goals by encouraging the public to participate in discourse regarding the necessary changes in education and tax reforms.

"If we have a properly informed public, we'll do a lot more," she said.

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