PH lags behind regional peers in basic education spending – study

The Philippines has a lot of catching up to do when it comes of spending on basic education, particularly elementary and high school. (DG file)

While education spending per person in the Philippines has grown robustly over the past 25 years, its basic education spending levels still lag behind its regional and aspirational peers.

This contributes to the country’s poor performance in international standardized student assessments, according to a recent study of state think tank Philippine Institute for Development Studies (PIDS).

The PIDS study used the recent National Transfer Account estimates for the Philippines and countries around the world to uncover and describe trends in global education financing, with a particular focus on the Philippines as a case study.

The results showed that over the last 15 years, total education expenditures in the Philippines increased by 6.4 percent annually.

Moreover, education spending as a share of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) has also increased—from 5.8 percent in 2005 to 7.5 percent by 2019. The public sector spending on education likewise increased from 2.1 percent in 2005 to 3.1 percent of GDP in 2019.

“[The increase in public spending on education] is an important feat but still behind the 4- to 6-percent benchmark [set] by the Education 2030 Incheon Declaration,” PIDS Senior Research Fellow Michael Abrigo, author of the study, said.

Despite these increasing trends, the study showed that the Philippines’ public spending per student in the primary and secondary education levels lags behind those of other countries in the Asia-Pacific region.

According to Abrigo, while per-student public spending is strongly correlated with per capita income, “the Philippines spends only about 60 and 72 percent of Indonesia’s per-student public spending for primary and secondary levels, respectively, despite the Philippines’ per capita income being 84 percent of Indonesia.”

The study noted, however, that “greater education spending does not automatically lead to better schooling outcomes” and “greater resources may be needed to raise schooling quality, especially in resource-poor settings.”

Increasing resources, Abrigo explained, may be “difficult to achieve as per capita education spending is intimately linked with a country’s economic development and fertility levels”. Thus, he said the government might consider improving schooling quality by optimizing the translation of inputs to outputs.

“Raising education spending per capita may therefore entail more than rallying resources for the education sector but also ensuring that robust economic opportunities are available to improve average household incomes, as well as assisting households to achieve their desired fertility levels,” Abrigo explained.

Moreover, a more important challenge for the government is to identify and scale cost-effective education interventions that better translate resource inputs to desired education outcomes.

This story is based on the PIDS discussion paper titled “If You Pay Peanuts, You Get Monkeys? Education Spending and Schooling Quality in the Philippines”.