Monday, May 08, 2006

A Ticket to a Better Education: Philippines Education Voucher Scheme

Philippines public schools have been riddled with high teacher-pupil ratios and poor infrastructure facilities. In spite of having the advantage of an English speaking population and an enviable literacy rate of about 93 per cent, they have been slower in building their knowledge economy status as compared to their Asian counterparts. This is largely attributed to the depreciating quality of public school education in Philippines. In the recent years to address the demand for good quality education, the supply of private education has increased. While public school education is free, private elementary and high school education in the Philippines can cost anywhere between 2000 to 5000 pesos per year. A large number of Filipino children who cannot afford better quality private education continue to slump with free public education.

To bridge this disparity in the quality of education between the haves and the have-nots, the government has proposed the Education Voucher Scheme. The scheme seeks to provide financial assistance to public elementary school graduates who desire to pursue their secondary education in private schools of their choice. The Department of Education has red-coded public schools that have a large intake of students but limited classroom size. These schools will be designated to identify 25 children each, who are in the top 50 per cent of the class and express a desire to change their school. The financial status of these children will have to be not more than the poverty threshold as defined by the government.

The scheme is intended to solve the problem of excess enrolment in public schools and thus better the quality of public education. The Department of Education in Philippines has earmarked 100,000 voucher grants for the scheme. This will be distributed across 4000 public elementary schools. The vouchers have an upper cap of 4000 pesos and beneficiaries will have to bear differences between the tuition fee of the selected school and the voucher grant.

The government is also ensuring that graduating beneficiaries make an informed choice. They will be given a list of private recognized schools to choose from. The list will also carry their respective fee structures. So as to not impinge on the liberties of private education providers, the beneficiaries will have to fulfill the criteria for selection in the private school on the basis of their grades and elementary school leaving report. If unaccepted they will have to seek out another private school. However, the scheme requires that consenting private schools allow the scheme committee to monitor the progress of voucher beneficiaries.

The Education Voucher Scheme does not specify the incentives for existing public elementary and high schools to improve performance and that may be its inherent flaw. Probably, the government hopes to address quality improvement in these schools through the subsequent fall in teacher-pupil ratios. However, as a first step in improving access to better quality education for its weaker sections, it stands out as a concerted and committed action.

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