Investing in people for a shared prosperity

In any business, you need capital. But if you’re running a country, start with human capital. It is no secret that education and health are integral to a country’s development and growth.

President-elect Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr., through Vice President-elect and incoming Department of Education secretary Sara Duterte, said that the K-to-12 curriculum needs to be reviewed. Indeed, Section 14 of Republic Act No. 10533 or the Enhanced Basic Education Act of 2013 provides for a midterm review by the end of school year 2014-2015. While not provided for by law, a review is still due, given that the students who underwent the full K-to-12 curriculum will graduate in 2025.

We need to be careful, however, with the questions this review will ask to move forward and not regress. First, we should ask if we have done enough to make it work. Have we invested enough resources and attention to make education more accessible, improve teacher quality and support, ensure children are not stunted; increase literacy and numeracy skills of students; and address job-skills mismatch? Notwithstanding the elephant in the room: How has the pandemic affected the effectiveness of the K-to-12 system?

Data show that the net enrollment rate in basic education, including the Alternative Learning System (ALS), during the pandemic, declined. Ironically, the ALS enrollment rate should have been the highest, given the economic and mobility situation of the country. Meanwhile, our teachers are overburdened with administrative tasks while doing their best not to leave any of their students behind.

Children are also not ready to learn. Stunting, which indicates chronic malnutrition, has been prevalent among 0-5-year-olds. For the past decade, three out of 10 children are stunted and are not ready to learn even before they start school. And once they start school, it is difficult for them to focus and understand their lessons. This will continue until they graduate or leave the school and training system. They did not learn the right skills and knowledge, affecting their employability and productivity. The cycle continues until it’s passed to the next generation. Development is hindered, and shared prosperity remains elusive.

But there is still hope as long as we put the right resources into the right interventions. For example, in a recently concluded project of the Philippine Business for Education (PBEd) and Accenture Philippines, the Kiddie Learning Train (KLT) proved that investing in early childhood education has high returns. KLT aims to remediate the learning losses of Grades 1-3 public school pupils in Metro Cebu. The project distributed tablets installed with a gamified learning app to 1,000 children and enlisted volunteer tutors with B.S. Education backgrounds to supplement modular learning.

Findings showed lowest scoring pupils in Grade 1 increased their reading scores by 122 percent after the intervention. The project also found out that those who attended at least one tutorial session scored 14 percent higher than those who did not. Lastly, it confirmed that undernutrition and low monthly family income negatively affect a child’s learning outcomes.

In another project of PBEd with the United States Agency for International Development, 62 percent of unemployed, out-of-school youth who underwent industry-led technical, vocational, and work-based training under YouthWorks PH got employed after finishing the program.

The private sector has implemented many successful programs, and the government needs to work closely with the private sector to scale up and make these interventions more sustainable.

The Second Congressional Commission on Education can be a venue to help find answers and innovative solutions to address the learning crisis and advance our education system. Aside from legislative solutions, the executive and local government units should also be proactive in putting more resources into education to generate growth and development. But solving education and nutrition problems should not be the end goal. Instead, it is an input to nation-building and a step toward shared prosperity.

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Diane Fajardo-Valencia is deputy executive director of PBEd, a nonprofit organization established by the country’s top CEOs. They advocate for an inclusive education system that enables all Filipinos to lead productive lives and contribute to national development.

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Business Matters is a project of the Makati Business Club ([email protected]).


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