HAS private education become a problematic business proposition?
The Covid-19 pandemic has adversely impacted on all aspects of our social being. Enterprises, among other segments in the socio-economic sector, limp under the weight of dwindling fans and customer base. The private school sector is one of those that have been hit hard by the public health calamity. Many private schools can hardly cope with their day-to-day operations that require mounting costs in situations where revenues are unable to match them. They are undergoing tests that have become too tough to hurdle.
The Department of Education says that, as of September 2020, “more than 800 private schools in the Philippines, offering basic education, will not operate this academic year, affecting tens of thousands of learners and teachers…” A month earlier, in August 2020, DepEd reported that 440 private schools were closing down for the incoming school year.
Various DepEd data further show that “the closures affect 58,327 learners and 4,488 teachers.”
“Most of the schools ceasing operations come from Central Luzon with 141 institutions, followed by Calabarzon with 136 and Metro Manila with 126.
“While [the] majority of the schools cited ‘no or low enrollment’ as their reasons for temporary closure, DepEd undersecretary Jesus Mateo said some of the private institutions could not comply with the department’s requirements on distance learning.”
More than two million learners have enrolled in private schools nationwide, or 48 percent from last year’s total number of private school students, DepEd data further show. “So far, over 398,000 private school students have transferred to public schools, mainly due to the Covid-19 pandemic’s effect on the income of families.”
Around 16 percent of K to 12 enrolment is absorbed by private schools with the rest of enrollments going to public schools. Such is the magnitude of the burden private schools share with the government in providing education for the country’s young population.
If it were all about making money from the business of guiding the young to become worthy members of the human family, true stewards of the environment and deserving of their divine origin, the numbers of private schools flunking it could be much larger.
But it is not all about profit, thankfully. Some exist to justify the legacy of a philanthropy, a movement or an idea. Some promote religious doctrines. And still others exist, especially in the provinces, with the parallel goal of name recall in the service of political hegemony.
For these mission-driven private schools, breaking even at the financial bottom line would be enough to keep themselves going. During ideal times, private learning institutions do command a market base not only because they produce basketball heroes, but more importantly, because of their significant contributions to the country’s overall academic and cultural growth. Their alumni fuel generations after generations of believers and fans.
Private schools are also perceived to have a “branding” edge” over public schools. The Manila Times in its Sept. 12, 2020 editorial said, “Private schools have flourished in the Philippines for many of the same reasons they are a popular choice in other countries. Private schools are widely seen as a superior alternative to the perceived shortcomings of public schools, including overcrowded classrooms, poor facilities and lower quality educational materials and content. Private schools also confer a certain ‘prestige dividend’ on their students. Fairly or not, a private-school education (provided, of course, that the student has performed well) is perceived as an advantage in accessing better opportunities for higher education or employment.”
Apart from the pandemic, other factors conspire to send private schools to the brink of financial struggles with some of them now treading on the irreversible path of doom. In Metro Manila, for example, population and vehicular density as well as the unrelenting rise in value of real estate properties pushes the opportunity costs for maintaining the financial viability of these schools at hard-to-ignore levels. The guess is that converting some of them to parking lots would offer even bigger financial rewards. Then, think of prospects when they get supplanted by high-rise condominium towers.
The College of Holy Spirit of Manila has been reported as one of the schools that will cease operations in the near future. “Government policies (on K-12); free tuition in state colleges and universities, local universities and colleges, and state-run technical and vocational institutions; and the significant increase in public school teachers’ salaries compared to their private school counterparts,” have been cited as working against its continued existence. This Catholic school has been in operation since 1913; right in the heart of the city and just a short distance from where the official residence of the Philippine president is located.
Given these financially stressful times for private schools, the government may do well to look closely at their plight. Government, after all, remains responsible for the education of the 16 percent of our school age population that are currently being served by private schools.