Literacy rate in the Philippines has improved a lot over the last few years- from 72 percent in 1960 to 94 percent in 1990. This is attributed to the increase in both the number of schools built and the level of enrollment in these schools.

The number of schools grew rapidly in all three levels - elementary, secondary, and tertiary. From the mid-1960s up to the early 1990, there was an increase of 58 percent in the elementary schools and 362 percent in the tertiary schools. For the same period, enrollment in all three levels also rose by 120 percent. More than 90 percent of the elementary schools and 60 percent of the secondary schools are publicly owned. However, only 28 percent of the tertiary schools are publicly owned.

A big percentage of tertiary-level students enroll in and finish commerce and business management courses. Table 1 shows the distribution of courses taken, based on School Year 1990-1991. Note that the difference between the number of enrollees in the commerce and business courses and in the engineering and technology courses may be small - 29.2 percent for commerce and business and 20.3 percent for engineering and technology. However, the gap widens in terms of the number of graduates for the said courses.

No. % No. %
Arts and Sciences 196,711 14.6 29,961 13.6
Teacher Training & Education 242,828 18.0 34,279 15.5
Engineering & Technology 273,408 20.3 32,402 14.7
Medical and Health - related Programs 176,252 13.1 34,868 15.8
Commerce/Business Management 392,958 29.2 79,827 36.1
Agriculture, Forestry, Fishery,
and Veterinary Medicine
43,458 3.2 7,390 3.3
Law 20,405 1.5 2,111 1.0
Religion / Theology 1,695 0.1 209 0.1
TOTAL 1,347,715 100.0 221,047 100.0

On gender distribution, female students have very high representation in all three levels. At the elementary level, male and female students are almost equally represented. But female enrollment exceeds that of the male at the secondary and tertiary levels . Also, boys have higher rates of failures, dropouts, and repetition in both elementary and secondary levels.

Aside from the numbers presented above, which are impressive, there is also a need to look closely and resolve the following important issues: 1) quality of education 2) affordability of education 3) goverment budget for education; and 4) education mismatch.

  1. Quality - There was a decline in the quality of the Philippine education, especially at the elementary and secondary levels. For example, the results of standard tests conducted among elementary and high school students, as well as in the National College of Entrance Examination for college students, were way below the target mean score.
  2. Affordability - There is also a big disparity in educational achievements across social groups. For example, the socioeconomically disadvantaged students have higher dropout rates, especially in the elementary level. And most of the freshmen students at the tertiary level come from relatively well-off families.
  3. Budget - The Philippine Constitution has mandated the goverment to allocate the highest proportion of its budget to education. However, the Philippines still has one of the lowest budget allocations to education among the ASEAN countries.
  4. Mismatch - There is a large proportion of "mismatch" between training and actual jobs. This is the major problem at the tertiary level and it is also the cause of the existence of a large group of educated unemployed or underemployed.
The following are some of the reforms proposed:
  1. Upgrade the teachers' salary scale. Teachers have been underpaid; thus there is very little incentive for most of them to take up advanced trainings.
  2. Amend the current system of budgeting for education across regions, which is based on participation rates and units costs. This clearly favors the more developed regions. There is a need to provide more allocation to lagging regions to narrow the disparity across regions.
  3. Stop the current practice of subsidizing state universities and colleges to enhance access. This may not be the best way to promote equity. An expanded scholarship program, giving more focus and priority to the poor, maybe more equitable.
  4. Get all the leaders in business and industry to become actively involved in higher education; this is aimed at addressing the mismatch problem. In addition, carry out a selective admission policy, i.e., installing mechanisms to reduce enrollment in oversubscribed courses and promoting enrollment in undersubscribed ones.
  5. Develop a rationalized apprenticeship program with heavy inputs from the private sector. Furthermore, transfer the control of technical training to industry groups which are more attuned to the needs of business and industry.