Education Act of 1982: 28 years of a failed social experiment

On Sept. 11, 1982, then-president and dictator Ferdinand Marcos celebrated his 65th birthday by, among others, signing Batas Pambansa 232 or the Education Act of 1982. This is one of the dictator’s worst “legacies” which continue to haunt the nation to this day.

No thanks to this law, we have the following profiles of the Philippine educational system:

  • The sad state of elementary and secondary level education. (Source: DepEd)
  • Private schools dominate the tertiary level while the number of state colleges and universities are continuously being cut down by government. (Source: CHED)
  • The tragedy of Philippine education, a 2009 privilege speed of Rep. Mong Palatino (Source: Kabataan Partylist)
  • As Cost of Education Rises, Dropout Rates Among Filipino Youths Soar (Source: Bulatlat, May 2009)
  • A Philippine youth situationer in 2005 (Source: Rep. Mong Palatino via An Ordinary Person)
  • A look into the education system in 2007 (Source: NSCB)

For close to 28 years now, this law has provides private and public schools the license for imposing tuition fee increases purportedly to raise the quality of education.

28 years is more than enough a time for this failed experiment in private sector-dominated education — a number of private schools who have gone addicted to tuition fee increases have shut down and even more are turning out to be mere diploma mills whose graduates are below caliber.

If the claims that teachers got 70 percent of the tuition hikes and 20 percent went to upgrade of facilities were true, the Philippines would have the best educational system by now.

In international surveys, only three private universities usually land among the world’s top 1,000 higher educational institutions. The passing rates of many colleges and universities in state licensure examinations are not getting any better.   More teachers are fleeing the country to become domestic workers abroad or to practice their profession there.

Worse, 28 years is more than enough time for state colleges and universities to mistakenly imbibe this thinking that high quality education means high costs — and that students should be burdened by it.

Along the way, post-Marcos governments reinforced this thinking by encouraging and compelling state schools to commercialize their assets and operations to make up for the cuts in annual appropriations for these supposedly state-run educational institutions. (The state appears to abandon state schools financially but still makes full use of them as apparatuses for social control, for spreading its political, economic and cultural ideas among the country’s educated class and to produce new technocrats to run government and businesses.)

Many have made claims about what ails the educational system. Some say it is because tuition fees are too low or too cheap (thus justifying even more tuition fee increases even in state schools). Others say it is because of our nation’s teachers (who should have benefited immensely – theoretically at least – from the rampage of tuition fee increases since 1982 as well as state scholarships).  Still, others claim either corruption or lack of political will (!), with the latter referring to the inability to rein in on corruption in the Department of Education.

The common problem among these ideas is the refusal to assess the current and longstanding policy encapsulized in Batas Pambansa 232 or the Education Act of 1982, as well as other laws such as the Higher Education Modernization Act. That policy is the full deregulation of tuition fees as the ticket to attaining greatness in the education field. Of course, this has likewise infected the state education sector with similar misconceptions.

As a first logical step, Marcos’ Education Act of 1982 must be repealed.

Private schools which dominate the secondary and tertiary education levels must then be held to account for the money they extort from students and for the increases they impose annually or each time they deem fit. If and when the government repeals Batas Pambansa 232, all tuition fee increases should pass strict requirements: a mandatory consultation process with students, parents, faculty and school staff who have the power to thumb down any fee hike proposal; and a mandatory audit of previous hikes whether it actually went to intended beneficiaries.

State schools meanwhile should be maintained and be given sizable increases in their annual appropriations, with the money coming from savings from corruption AND the rechanneling of huge amounts that up to now go to unproductive expenditures such as defense spending, presidential trips and debt service. If the government could pamper cadets of the Philippine Military Academy, students of state schools should demand nothing less.

I don’t know if we could classify these twin suggestions as radical but they are demanded by the circumstances we have been caught in for the past 28 years. We just obviously need to reverse those flawed policies of rampaging tuition fee increases and decreasing appropriations for state schools.

Of course, as we confront and correct the commercialized nature of the Philippine educational system, we must also strive to transform it from being colonial and repressive.  It must be replaced by a system that’s amply supported financially by the people through the government, upholds the rights and welfare of the people whether inside or outside the campus, and produces citizens imbued with nationalism and not colonial mentality as well as a sense of entrepreneurship and industry.

This is my contribution to the Blog Action Day on Education today, March 29, 2010.