The Problem of Rural Education in the Philippines

Note: The following post is from March 2, 2010.  I posted it on my original blog,, and is, for some reason, popular among people doing research on education in the Philippines.  In the hopes of directing some of that traffic toward this site, I am re-posting it here.

In this journal, I have discussed the relationship between education, poverty alleviation, and economic development. The link is critical and the three are self-reinforcing.  Education (and the premier prep courses for the EA exam in particular) creates greater opportunities for the youth, who go on to work decent jobs in cities like Bacolod, Manila, and Cebu.  The children remit money back to the parents, who spend on home improvements and the tuition fees for the younger siblings.  College-educated individuals are much less likely to end up impoverished (about 1 in 44).  Trade schools also create opportunities, with only one in 10 people with post-secondary degrees living below the poverty line.  Unfortunately, the ratios drop precipitously after that.  One in three high school graduates and half of elementary school grads are impoverished.  Here are the sobering education statistics:

The long-term outlook for poverty reduction doesn’t look good either, unfortunately. We all know that there is a very strong link between education (or lack of education) and poverty—two-thirds of our poor families have household heads whose highest educational attainment is at most Grade 6. Well, the education statistics (all from the NSCB ) tell a very sad tale: elementary school net participation rates (NPR)—the proportion of the number of enrollees 7-12 years old to population 7-12 years old—have plummeted from 95 percent in school year (SY) 1997-98 to 74 percent in 2005-2006, as have high school NPRs.

Cohort survival rates (CSR) have also dropped: Out of every 100 children who enter Grade 1, only 63 will reach Grade 6, down from 69 children in 1997-1998. In high school, CSR have dropped even more: from 71 to 55. Which means, of course, that school dropout rates have increased. Which is one of the reasons why, in 2005-2006, for the first time in 35 years, total enrollment decreased in both elementary and high school: although private school enrollment increased, public school enrollment went down more.

The correlation is not difficult to see, but fixing the problem presents a challenge for several reasons.  According to some observers, the Department of Education Culture and Sports (DECS) in the Philippines is one of the most corrupt government entities in the country.  It has a budget equal to 12% of spending, but is riddled with graft from procurement (buying textbooks and other supplies), grease money, and bribes for just about any sort of movement within the bureaucracy.  The impact on the education system is detrimental:

Embezzlement, nepotism, influence peddling, fraud and other types of corruption also flourish. Corruption has become so institutionalized that payoffs have become the lubricant that makes the education bureaucracy run smoothly. The result: an entire generation of Filipino students robbed of their right to a good education.

This corruption leads to poor allocation of resources.  Teachers are underpaid and treated poorly.  In 2005, the Philippine government spent just $138 per student, compared to $852 in Thailand, another developing country in Southeast Asia.  But graft and corruption are not the only issues.  Poverty is a vicious cycle that leads traps generations of families.

About 80% of the Filipino poor live in the rural areas of the country.  These are towns located deep in the mountains and the rice fields.  The population density in the rural parts of the country is low, and there is a corresponding deficiency in schools and classrooms.  Public school is free, but families still cannot afford to send their children for a complicated network of reasons.  In this editorial for the Pinoy Press, one author delineates the key issue:

With around 65 million Filipinos or about 80 percent of the population trying to survive on P96 ($2) or less per day, how can a family afford the school uniforms, the transportation to and from school, the expenses for school supplies and projects, the miscellaneous expenses, and the food for the studying sibling? More than this, with the worsening unemployment problem and poverty situation, each member of the family is being expected to contribute to the family income. Most, if not all, out-of-school children are on the streets begging, selling cigarettes, candies, garlands, and assorted foodstuffs or things, or doing odd jobs.

Beyond the selling goods on the street, children in farming families are expected to work in the fields during harvest time.  In agriculture-based communities where farming is the primary livelihood, having children around to help with the work means more income for the family.  In a recent trip to Valladolid, someone told me that children are paid 15 pesos for a day’s work in the blistering heat.  They are pulled from school for two or three months at a time and are irreparably disadvantaged compared with their classmates.  So, they may have to repeat the grade, only to be pulled out of school again next year.

Transportation is another big problem.  Kids walk 2-3 kilometers or more to and from school every day.  They have to cross rivers and climb hills with their bookbags.  The ones that can afford it take a tricycle, but that is a luxury.  Schools are sometimes too far for the most remote communities to practically access.  So the families can’t afford to pay and the children are pulled from school.

It seems like an intractable problem.  Corruption in the education bureaucracy and a lack of resources make delivering a high-quality education to all Filipinos a challenge.  Microfinance is one way to help.  With the assistance of microcredit loans, women can pay for the education of their children – to purchase uniforms, textbooks, lunches, and rides to school.  Also, by creating another source of income other than farming, the children do not have to come help the family work the fields.  When I talk to NWTF clients about their dreams, they unfailingly say they hope for their children to “finish their studies.” History has shown that it is an achievable goal.  But real systemic change needs to come from above.  As long as corruption and bureaucracy paralyzes the system, the goal of delivering a decent education to children – which pays dividends to the country in the long run – will remain out of reach.

For the rural poor, non-profits exist to help in the mission of education.  While looking up pictures for this post, I came across a Filipino organization called the Gamot Cogon (“Grass Roots”) Institute:

The Gamot Cogon Institute (a non-stock, non-profit organization) is an Iloilo-based cultural institution working to transform society through human development approaches including education and training. GCI also prototypes or demonstrates alternative approaches to education, agriculture, health, and full human development.

Very cool stuff.

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6 thoughts on “The Problem of Rural Education in the Philippines

  1. Josh Post author

    almost marked you as spam…

    i actually do think that. i think i told you that. i want to know what YOU think about this holiday tuition ban in kenya.

  2. Business Development

    I liked the track you’ve attached at the bottom of your post. Your post reminded me of similar problems in the rural villages of India. Corruption and poverty go hand in hand. However, you do see non-profits work for the betterment of as many individuals as possible. The younger generation in India now is very involved in causes that matter. But I feel that significant change will occur only when the young and progressive take a more active role in politics.

  3. james williams

    Sent by a friend with many years in education and knowledge of the Philippines:

    Want to add a few factors to the poverty dilemma as it’s related to
    education in the Philippines.

    Rapid population growth
    Capital flight
    Brain drain

    All these factors enhance or feed on one another. One causes an
    increase in the others.

    We are fortunate to have been born into a totally different situation.

    It’s unfortunate for the rural populace to be faced with a no-win
    scenario as discussed in the article. The article reinforces the true
    nature of this beast- inequality within Philippine society and the
    rural and urban segments. With 10 million registered Filipino
    citizens working abroad, bringing home foreign currency, the burden of
    the central government to take responsibility for basic assistance and
    financing for health,, education, and safety.

    And the reality connects with the article. With no money coming from
    abroad via remittances from relatives and family members, there is no
    opportunity for education and wellness to lift any family members out
    of poverty. There’s little opportunity for upward mobility. Those
    fortunate to be on the receiving end of remittances, kids can get
    private school education, which in turn will prepare them for
    opportunities to work abroad; further advancing the opportunities for
    the next generation.

    For many decades, the American military basis brought in as much as
    40% of the country’s foreign exchange. Generations of families who
    had high paying jobs on the bases sent their kids to private schools
    or abroad, which in turn secured the parent’s and grandparents
    retirement security. The money spent by military members during off
    duty and in relationships went directly to the common person. A
    simple bar-fine had changed the lives’ of many young, uneducated girls
    from the provinces. From this relationship, marriage and immigration
    to other western countries followed, which again lead to the lifting
    out of the poverty circle those who otherwise had little chance.

    But in 1992, in the aftermath of Mt. Pinatubo eruption, with its
    $billion dollar damages to both basis, coupled with greed among the
    Philippine National Assembly in not reasonably negotiating with the
    U.S. on lease renewal, the rug (economic pie) was pulled out from
    under the feet of hundreds of thousands, and millions of Filipinos who
    had been benefiting directly and indirectly.

    Another detriment to education happened in the early 90s. when the
    government mandated that Tagalog would be the language of instruction
    in the public school. This was to unify the country under one
    language. However, the wealthy families could still send their kids to
    private schools with English language at the language of instruction.
    Better education, and especially with sound English language usage
    skills, makes it much easier to access opportunity abroad.

    The wealthy and elite who control the country’s means of capital, care
    little about the common citizen. Poor, uneducated masses from the
    rural provinces ensure a steady flow of cheap labor, willing to work
    at any wage and with little or no other benefits like health coverage,
    allowances. etc. Multi-nationals extract profits, and wealthy
    Filipinos invest in real-estate in Hawaii and California are examples
    of capital flight (capital flight).

    The poor farmers, or landless farm peasants see a need to have several
    children in the expectation that one, or two, three will survive to
    adulthood, prosperous enough to pool their resources in support of the
    parents/grandparents in retirement years. So, poor families producing
    children who are destined to be locked into the poverty ring, is a
    cycle with less and less avenues of escape when compared to previous

  4. Blaze

    Josh, great insights. I feel corruption lies at the root of the problem, but the current administration seems in the midst of “change initiatives” to bring public trust and confidence back into the system. And they appear to be making progress. Hope all these efforts won’t be in vain as we move forward transitioning the country to the next generation. We need more people like you to bring change.

  5. Brandon Q. Scott

    You all seem pretty judgemental of public and private schooling to me. Trying to say your children have stopped fighting due to the fact that they are now homeschooled seems pretty ludicruous. The only reason they probably fought with each other to begin with was to get your, their parent’s, attention. Now that they have it all day every day, they’ve stopped fighting, not because of the quality of their education or because they said ‘God’ at school. I highly doubt anyone from any school was suspended or sent home for wearing a cross or saying God unless it was said in a deliberately rude and/or condescending manner to a peer. Im not saying homeschooling is bad, although i myself have never been homeschooled, I do think it may work for many people. But, don’t you think, as a result of homeschooling, you and your children may not be as much a part of your community as you would like? To add to that, taking your kids out of public schools due to peer pressure and alcohol is probably not the smartest idea either, because eventually, they wil be out in the real world all on their own, without you telling them what is right and what is wrong, so is it not better to instil in them those beliefs. Iit is better to teach them what is wrong and right and to act on their own beliefs and noone else’s. Just my opinion. Im sure you’ll have a field day botching it up and making it sound misinformed and whatever else you want it to sound like. Have fun!

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