Bernardo M. Villegas
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Profiting from Philippine Demographic Dividend (Part 1)

          Every positive assessment of the future economic prospects of the Philippines includes a reference to a “young, growing and English-speaking population.”  There is no doubt that the demographic dividend that is still being enjoyed by the Philippines is a most important competitive advantage in the face of increasing labor shortages, not only in the developed countries of the West, but also in a good number of East Asian countries that are suffering from very low fertility rates.  As an example, a recent report from Bloomberg was headlined “Singapore faces a grim labor future as population ages.”   The report stated that while Japan had the biggest slump in its workforce in Asia over the last decade or so, Singapore has the most to fear from an ageing population over the next two decades: “The city state will face a double whammy.  A shrinking workforce and slower progress than Asian neighbors in getting more people into the labor market.  According to a new study from Oxford Economics, Singapore’s labor supply—after accounting for changes to the participation rate—will shrink by 1.7 percentage points in the 10 years through 2026 and by 2.5 percentage points in the decade after that.  That’s the worst of a dozen economies in a report by Louis Kuijs, the Hong Kong-based head of Asia Economics of Oxford.”  A similar fate is faced by South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macau and the whole of mainland China where, despite a huge population, the work force will shrink in relation to the growing number of senior citizens. 

         The report also added that while Southeast Asian countries like the Philippines and Indonesia are still benefiting from younger and growing populations, they need to do more to boost productivity over time.  The Philippines, in particular, should make sure that its demographic dividend is not wasted because of its inability to improve its educational system, especially at the basic education level.  There are positive signs that the Duterte Administration is significantly increasing the share of social services, especially education, in the government budget.  There are other challenges in improving the quality of education that have to meet in the coming decades.  I have already written about the need to change the feudalistic mindset of parents and the youth who have a strong bias against technical education and are obsessed with college degrees that lead to nowhere in terms of employment opportunities.  Whereas there is a humongous shortage of construction workers, there is a surplus of those taking up business administration, health sciences and similar college courses.  There is also the need for the government to invest more in rural infrastructures so as to encourage the youth to stay in the farms which can be made more productive if there are more farm-to-market roads, irrigation systems, post-harvest facilities, and other services needed by the small farmer to eke out a decent living.

         Another very important problem that has to be addressed if we are to transform the so-called demographic dividend into a real economic asset is the very large drop-out rate in our school system at the basic education level.  I recently read a very insightful masteral thesis written by a highly experienced educator who has taught in both the public and private school systems.  Erik N. Santos recently obtained his Master of Arts in Education, with specialization in Educational Psychology, from the School of Education of the University of the Philippines.  The thesis was entitled “Motives, Barriers, and Motivation to Persist of Alternative Learning System Participants.”  Its findings include some very practical recommendations on how to help our out-of-school youth to persevere in completing whatever programs they start in the Alternative Learning System established by the Government to address the drop-out problem. 

         Mr. Santos started with the observation that the Philippines already failed to meet the United Nations’ previous Millennium Development Goals Education For All (EFA) to provide basic education for all children, youth and adults by the year 2015.  Despite the increasing budget allocation for education, the Philippines is still a long way off in achieving the current goals in education.  Almost 22 million students were enrolled in Elementary and Secondary Schools during the School Year 2012-2013.  Only 43% graduate from high school.  As of 2008, the Department of Education estimated that 40.95 million Filipinos have not completed basic education.  That’s a huge manpower resource that can be made more productive if helped to acquire more knowledge and skills through alternative learning systems.

         A significant number of these drop-outs failed to complete their basic education because of lack of interest.   At the same time, however, there is a considerable number of children and youth who are keenly interested to acquire more learning.  These include students who dropped out by force of circumstances (such as financial difficulties of their respective families), and others who never went to school.  These drop-outs have assumed adult responsibilities that make it difficult for them to resume or start formal schooling.  To meet the needs of these individuals, the Governance Act for Basic Education of 2001 established the Alternative Learning Systems (ALS) as a practical and parallel learning option to formal education to provide the out-of-school children (OOSC) and adults with basic education.  ALS encompasses both the non-formal and informal sources of knowledge and skills.  In 2004, the Bureau of Non-formal Education was renamed the Bureau of Alternative Learning System (BALS).

         Republic Act 10533 or the K to 12 Law of 2013 maintained the status of ALS as part of the basic education sector, reaffirming its nature as a “parallel learning system.”  DepEd Order NO. 52, which took effect on January 1, 2016, undertook a reorganization of the Department of Education, abolishing the BALS and placing the ALS program under the Bureau of Curriculum Development and Bureau of Learning Delivery.    The ALS has two programs:  Basic Literacy and Continuing Education.  The latter makes it possible for non-formal learners to join or re-enter the formal system through an equivalence scheme (Accreditation and Equivalence or A&E test) for the elementary or secondary level.  Instruction is by face-to-face delivery, combined with the use of self-paced, self-instructional, indigenous and integrated modules.  Attendance is checked but not required.  The ALS is thus a more suitable program for the informal and busy students to complete elementary and high school education, without having to attend daily classroom instruction as in the formal educational system. 

         It has been shown that those who finished the course, took, and passed the A&E test have significantly greater chances of finding a job and earning a higher salary.  Around 1.68 million learners enrolled in the ALS from 2000 to 2010, of which 77% completed the programs.  However, the average national passing rate for the A&E test for that decade was only 26%, although the actual passing rate was recently computed to be only 18%.  There is much to be desired in improving this laudable system, especially in addressing the psycho-social factors affecting the motivation of those who participate in one way or another in the ALS.  (To be continued).