NEW YORK — With a 543.2 billion pesos or $10.97 billion dollars in the national budget in 2017, the Philippine Department of Education Secretary Leonor Magtolis-Briones had this to say about those stereotypical images of Filipino students and teachers.
“The sight, for example, [of] children having classes under the mango tree, crossing by themselves rivers and brooks; poor, poor exploited suffering teachers, dilapidated classrooms… that is now a thing of the past,” she said. “But still the image lingers in the minds of many Filipinos, especially those who have been away for some time.”
With 27 million K-12 learners today, the Philippine Department of Education has the biggest allocated national budget among all executive departments in the Philippines.
That is 25% bigger than the previous school year under President Benigno Aquino III, at P433.38 billion. or $8.75 billion.
It means more school buildings, more funds to purchase new computers and instructional materials, and good news for the 674,000 teachers in the Philippines.
“Our public school teacher at level salary 1, the basic salary is 19,000 plus — plus benefits about 24,000 — plus performance – 2 kinds of performance bonuses…”
The Harvard University Alum, University of the Philippine Dean’s-Lister and Siliman University magna cum laude shared that, as an activist in her younger years, she worked hard to campaign for an education budget that honors the constitutional mandate of education for all.
“I spent most of my life as an activist, and in working for the advancement of the poor and the deprived… this is why alternative learning systems has a very special place in the Dept., and it’s well funded, well supported… we want to reach as many children as possible.”
Magtolis-Briones says President Duterte’s hands off approach to the education department empowers her to make independent and effective decisions that benefit students and teaches.
“He gave us the independence to implement his orders; he wanted me to make the decisions on various aspects of education.”
The challenge now is to keep in pace with the additional 1 million learners that joins the education system each year, as well as reach out to the out of school youth and pregnant teens in the Philippines. Briones says a number of young Filipinas get pregnant as early as ten years old.
Magtolis-Briones says, providing for the needs of the relocated students and teachers from war-torn Marawi City is also quite a challenge.
“Beyond the tents we need chairs, we need desks, we need school kits, and of course for the teachers, we need lipsticks… I understand one group has collected 5,000 pieces of lipstick – it’s important to feel good, look good at times of disaster.”
The secretary believes that the investment in education will come with an economic benefit, that Filipino high school graduates under the Dept. of Eds new curriculum should be able find work easier even with just a high school diploma.