Filipino students are simply cogs in the ‘low-cost’ corporate machine

The United Nations decided in September that primary and secondary education should be free. But the Philippines is heading in the opposite direction. The authorities are outsourcing secondary education to profit seeking corporations. Pay as you learn, seems to be the axiom. In a study commissioned by Education International, researcher Curtis Riep shows how the right to education is being sold out, leaving the faith of the countries’ teenagers at the mercy of the market.

In the world’s poorest nations so called “low fee” education comes at an ever rising cost for those who cannot afford it. Filipino officials claim that their country’s state coffers lack the funds to support a free quality secondary system. That claim holds no ground, according to the study.

In the Philippines, 40 percent of secondary schools, which accounts for 5,130 schools, are privately owned. These schools charge tuition fees which are promoted as being “low cost”. However, these fees are beyond the reach of most students from low-income homes.  Annual fees often exceeding $500 USD makes school inaccessible for the majority of poor families and their children, many of whom are forced to live off of one dollar a day.

In his study, Curtis Riep makes it clear that the government’s decision to farm out secondary education to the highest bidders is a strategic choice rather than one forced by financial constraints.  The move toward low-cost, for profit schools seems an economic plan to raise consumers rather than citizens and to ensure a future workforce flexible enough to meet the market needs for cheap labour.

Since 2009 the government’s allocation of funds to private school chains has increased to more than PHP 31 Billion, nearly $700 million USD, which Riep points out could have paid for 60 thousand more classrooms and accommodated roughly 3 million students.

Among the beneficiaries of government handouts, exposed in this research, are Pearson Plc and the Ayala Group, which back Affordable Private Education Centers, known as APECs. Ayala, which oversees a plethora of companies in the Philippines and around the world, has its hands in the curriculum of its low-fee for profit schools in order to produce workers with the skills suitable for its labour needs. Known as reverse-engineering the curriculum in its schools, APEC is set on creating a generation programmed “with specific skills, values, and knowledge that can be employed in the global labour market.” Free thinkers do not apply in APEC’s world.

By the end of 2016, APEC schools are setting their sights on accommodating 4,000 students, or clients, as they refer to them, in at least 50 schools over the next three years. In Manilla alone the number of low-fee for profit schools is set to double to 24 by the end of this year.

The Philippine government recently announced that it intends to implement grades 11 and 12. This is an important step for the country and its children. However, in order for these two years to properly provide benefit, the Philippine Government must commit more financial resources to the education system. Globally, it is recommended that governments invest 6 percent of GDP and 20 percent of the national budget to education. The Philippines continues to fall short of those targets with less than 3 percent going towards education.

With the government already claiming that it does not have the financial capacity to pay for secondary education, how does it plan to pay for another two years of mandatory education? Well, Riep’s work shows exactly how that can be accomplished through the private sector. And although Filipino President Benigno S. Aquino III says that another two years of school is needed to prepare more young people for high-level jobs, one needs to look at how many employers on the other end connect to the web of Ayala Group companies.

There is international consensus that for-profit education is not the way.  “All girls and boys complete free, equitable and quality primary and secondary education” is one of the main Sustainable Development Goals set by the UN General Assembly in September.  But instead of a free quality education, Filipino youth are being left to pay for the cheap version. Low-fee private education comes at a price that the Philippines, its teenagers and their future cannot afford. It is time that the Philippine government comes to its senses.

Read the full study (PDF – 877 KB)

Fred van Leeuwen is the General Secretary of Education International

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