education in the Philippines

[OPINION] Who is missing from EDCOM 2? The voices of teachers, students, and parents

Rene Luis Tadle

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[OPINION] Who is missing from EDCOM 2? The voices of teachers, students, and parents

Alejandro Edoria/Rappler

'It is worth noting that countries known for their high-quality education, such as the Nordic countries, Japan, Singapore, and South Korea actively engage and include teachers' unions in their educational policymaking bodies'

Education in the Philippines is unquestionably in crisis, a fact widely acknowledged. The formation of the Second Congressional Commission on Education (EDCOM 2) after more than 30 years marks a long-awaited step toward addressing this pressing issue. Republic Act 11899 mandates EDCOM 2 to review and assess the state of Philippine education and to recommend innovative and targeted policy reforms. As organized groups of education workers from private institutions, we acknowledge the unique importance of this moment. We understand that our active participation as well as student-centered structures are crucial for achieving transformative change in education.

EDCOM 2 holds significant power and will profoundly affect education workers, young people, and families for generations. Active engagement of all stakeholders in private schools is indispensable. Parents and students expect quality education, safe environments, academic success, and future career paths. They also rely on the government’s regulatory role to ensure that private schools meet these expectations. Education workers also demand fair pay, better working conditions, tenure protection, academic freedom, freedom of association and collective bargaining rights, and financial transparency and accountability from private educational institutions. EDCOM 2 presents a crucial opportunity for stakeholders to advocate for laws and policies that address these pressing issues. 

While EDCOM 2 has only recently begun its work, we notice some causes for concern. RA 11899 mandates the composition of the EDCOM 2 advisory council, and as announced by the Commission, it includes university administrators, members from the business sector, local government officials, civil society organization representatives, and some officials of government educational agencies. However, it is alarming that representatives of education workers, students, and parents — the very people most impacted by education policies — are excluded from the advisory council.

The absence of education workers, students, and parents’ representatives in the advisory council is a serious concern, similar to the negative consequences we experienced when the government imposed major educational reform without our participation in policy and decision-making. For instance, despite being deeply unpopular, the rushed implementation of the K-12 Law in 2014 is a clear example. Interestingly, the 34 organizations and over 400 individuals who challenged its constitutionality in the Supreme Court (COTESCUP vs. Secretary of Education) have anticipated the problems that have plagued the implementation of the K-12 Law over the past 10 years.

Unfortunately, the Supreme Court ruled against the petitioners, reiterating that it is a valid exercise of police power for the government to regulate education by adopting the K-12 Basic Education Program. The Court clarified, however, that it does not have the authority to examine the wisdom or propriety of legislative enactments (COTESCUP vs. Secretary of Education).

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In hindsight, the past 10 years have starkly exposed the law’s lack of wisdom and prudence. Even the original proponents of this educational reform have conceded its failures. Recently, former president and current House Representative Gloria Macapagal Arroyo has filed a bill to replace the K-12 Law, pointing out that the current program has failed to deliver on its promise of providing graduates with employment advantages and placing an additional burden on parents and students.

Thus, for EDCOM 2 to be effective, it must ensure equitable participation in education policymaking. The Commission should consider expanding its team of experts, consultants, and advisers beyond the usual groups and individuals who peddled the Enhanced Basic Education Act of 2013 (RA 10533), known as K-12, over 10 years ago. While the participation of these groups remains valuable — hopefully, they have learned from past mistakes and committed to not repeating them — EDCOM 2 must include organized groups representing teachers, students, and parents previously ignored in policymaking. Such involvement must be genuine, foster equitable power distributions, and not be tokenistic for mere compliance, public image, and artificial consultation.

If EDCOM 2 excludes these critical sectors, it will overlook and neglect pressing issues that require the attention of the Commission for it to fulfill its mandate. For example, we lament the lack of emphasis and omission of the working conditions of educational workers in private education from EDCOM 2’s priority areas and its research agenda for Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) when there is undeniable evidence that emphasizes how working conditions of educational workers have a bearing on the quality of learning and educational outcomes. EDCOM 2 must be explicit in centering education workers, students, and parents in its commitments and actions to ensure these stakeholders are involved in all research and policymaking processes. Failing to do so would result in overlooking and neglecting crucial issues that affect the learning process.

While Senator Sherwin Gatchalian and Congressman Roman Romulo have extensive experience running the education committees of the Senate and House of Representatives, they must be aware that they do not have a first-hand understanding of the challenges teachers face in the classrooms and the working environment that affects learning outcomes. It is worth noting that countries known for their high-quality education, such as the Nordic countries, Japan, Singapore, and South Korea actively engage and include teachers’ unions in their educational policymaking bodies.

Furthermore, EDCOM 2 must be cautious of business interests, covertly prioritizing their agenda over the importance of education as a public good. When the Aquino government introduced K-12, many private educational institutions were opposed and doubtful that the law would achieve its objectives. However, when the Department of Education promised increased access to vouchers for private institutions, the opposition to the law suddenly became muted.

Additionally, EDCOM 2 and the public should remain vigilant against bureaucratic capture. Bureaucratic capture happens when industries or individuals excessively influence government agencies or regulatory bodies that should be regulating them. Political influence, inadequate funding for regulatory agencies, the revolving door phenomenon, or successful entrenchment of industry insiders in policymaking bodies can lead to bureaucratic capture. Indeed, bureaucratic capture prevails in a country where the sense of propriety and decency is often disregarded.

Many owners and administrators of private educational institutions have the resources, power, and connections that privilege them in the education reform arena. Thus, it is no surprise that organized groups representing private educational institutions have successfully shaped educational policies in their favor, advocating for more deregulation and increased government subsidies through the voucher system. The latest figure from the National Statistics Office indicates that government subsidies to private educational institutions increased by 350% from P1 billion in 2010 to P4.5 billion in 2020.

The Commission’s primary goal should be to promote the welfare of the marginalized and uphold the common good. Competing interests will inevitably arise in any substantial reform, and EDCOM 2 must strike a balance. It must remain steadfast in upholding the common good and social justice principles and resisting the influence of special interests or individuals with greater power and privilege. By prioritizing equity, recognizing the importance of firsthand experience, addressing the real problems faced by all concerned parties in education, and ensuring the common good takes precedence over business interests, EDCOM 2 can pave the way for meaningful and impactful educational reforms in the Philippines.

Ultimately, the success of EDCOM 2 hinges on active participation from all stakeholders. Education workers must reclaim their seats at the policymaking table alongside parents and students, collaborating to improve salaries and benefits, learning outcomes, and educational relevance. –

Rene Luis Tadle is a faculty member of the Philosophy Department of the Faculty of Arts and Letters, University of Santo Tomas, and a lead convener and President of the Council of Teachers and Staff of Colleges and Universities (CoTeSCUP). Currently, he is a member of the Board of the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA), representing the labor sector.

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