It’s doable: 200,000 new classrooms in two years.

That is what the Management Association of the Philippines (MAP) is asserting in a press conference at the Manila Peninsula last June 28. In response to President Benigno Aquino III’s clarion call for “Matuwid Na Daan,” the organization announced its submission to PNoy of a detailed proposal aimed toward solving the country’s education crisis, among others.

“I think when we talk of competitiveness, we would all agree that the highest return on investment is investing on human resources; hence, education,” shares Former Secretary Jesli A. Lapus, chairman of the MAP Education Task Force. “The MAP position paper talks of the nagging issue of acute classroom shortages, and it’s the obligation of the state to provide access to education for everyone who is of school age,” he says.

State of the Nation
The good news is that the 2011 budget of the Department of Education (DepEd) is at a record high. “This year it’s P192 billion, which is 57 percent more than the P122 billion budget five years ago,” discloses Lapus.

The stark truth, however, is that classroom shortage is not only looming, it’s felt—especially after the continuous onslaught of natural calamities hitting the country. And the bad news is that only P8 billion is allotted to producing 10,000 new classrooms—“the historical decade-long maximum limit of the DepEd,” explains Lapus—which is now a mere yearstoken in the face of a rapidly rising demand.

“The annual demand for new classrooms is more like 100,000 now,” informs Lapus, citing the growing population as among the factors driving the demand. “The population growth rate is now at 2.04 percent, showing an increase of 1.9 million in 2010. Some are even saying that the real figure is now 104 million,” he adds.

There is also the official implementation of the K+12 program to consider, which Lapus asserts is vital in decreasing the country’s education dropout rate (now at 20 percent at the grade-3 level). “While well-to-do children have the advantage of 2 to 3 years of preschool, the vast majority of Filipino children go straight to grade one without the necessary early childhood development programs,” Lapus asserts, “and that social injustice has long been something the Philippines is internationally criticized for.”

Bridging the Education Gap
MAP asserts that it is imperative to urgently address the huge demand to finally put an end to permanent and accumulating classroom backlogs. “By employing innovative and multi-sectoral approaches, it is possible to frontload the construction of 200,000 new classrooms from 2012 to 2013,” says Lapus.

One such approach is Public-Private Partnerships (PPP). “Education is a societal concern, and it cannot be solved by the government alone—we all must do our share,” says MAP President Architect Felino “Jun” Palafox, disclosing that the private sector is actually in a very liquid position.

“There is P1.9 trillion in time deposits parked with the Bangko Sentral waiting to be invested—and we believe that given the right return on investment and assurance of lease payments and installments, the private sector is ready to invest.”

Tapping into private sector funds is one solution, but in order to mobilize the estimated P80 billion needed to finance the projected target, extraordinary measures are required to secure the funds. Among MAP’s recommendations include fully utilizing the Special Education Fund (SEF), which is half of the current Real Estate Tax—and that just breached P30 billion.“We don’t see the LGUs building so many classrooms, do we? The SEF is rising but 23 percent of it is underutilized,” Palafox informs. “We’re proposing the SEF be used as collateral, and half of it (P7.5B) set aside as payment for loans for seven years. With this approach, P40B can immediately be frontloaded,” he shares.

The more controversial solution involves the pork barrel. “If only 30 percent of the pork barrel of every legislator is allotted for classroom construction, instead of them queuing with the limited DepEd budget, around P25 billion per year can be used for classroom construction,” informs Lapus, adding that it’s in a legislator’s mandate to look at education. “If we utilize 30 percent of the pork barrel, that’s equivalent to the total capacity of the DepEd per annum,” he adds.

By adopting out-of-the-box measures that effectively tap and pool existing and available public and private funds, MAP believes the Aquino administration can achieve what has never been achieved before. “We strongly believe these recommendations are worth pursuing and we urge the President to support this so the concerned agencies can flesh out the details and mechanics of implementation,” says Palafox. “We also hope that the President will find this Public-Private Sector initiative practical, realistic and implementable.”

Published in the July 11, 2011 issue of the Manila Bulletin Business Agenda.