Updated April 24, 2009 12:00 AM
Once upon a time Asians came to the Philippines to avail themselves of top-quality education. Today, despite free, compulsory elementary and high school education, an estimated 5.2 million Filipinos are illiterate. The country also has one of the highest dropout rates in Asia, worse than the situation in Indonesia and even Vietnam.
These disheartening facts come from the Department of Education, whose officials want stronger literacy programs for both youths and adults. DepEd officials warn that the growing illiteracy rate would take its toll on the economy. Illiteracy and the slide in the quality of Philippine education are already taking their toll on national competitiveness, as shown in numerous international surveys.
Local executives must show leadership in improving the nation’s literacy level. A literacy mapping project undertaken by the Department of the Interior and Local Government among fifth and sixth class municipalities – the most economically backward in the country – showed that literacy programs were not making much impact. DILG officials observed that literacy programs were not given priority by certain local governments.
Education programs have rarely attracted politicians’ interest. Some politicians, believing that patronage thrives on poverty and poor education, deliberately shelve programs to raise literacy levels and improve the quality of education in their jurisdictions. In some underdeveloped areas, there are simply not enough funds for literacy programs.
But the problem cannot be left to fester. In the global economy, quality education is indispensable. Development is accelerated in countries that give priority to educating their citizens. Emerging economic powers including China and India are investing heavily in public education, providing their people with the tools they need to excel in a highly competitive global environment. Countries that do not treat education with the same urgency risk being left behind. In the Philippines, educators themselves are sounding the alarm. It would be folly to ignore the warning.