23 August 2007

It's also about accountability

My column for this week's issue of Vox Bikol.

THE ISSUE OF accountability, I think, is one of key important ingredients missing in the renewed debate on the state of education in the country.

This three-part series of the Inquirer here, here and here laid down all the numbers, capped by today's editorial that takes to task the DepEd bureaucracy for not getting the basics right. In the same breath, it called for a return to the basics, addressing the usual shortages in classrooms and teachers among them.

Sen. Edgardo Angara and the Inquirer editorial however failed to explore a crucial question: 15 years after the Angara-chaired EdCom released its findings, why can't the bureaucracy get its basics right? Or to borrow Angara's language, what prevents us from extracting "more efficiency and more productivity from both our education budget and our education department"?

Accountability, or the lack of it, I will submit is one of the answer.

Come to think of it, to whom is DepEd really accountable for its continuing failure to deliver the minimum education outcomes? The easy answer, of course, is the Filipino people. But HOW? Let us examine the options:

One probable answer is through the president: after all, the DepEd belongs to the Executive department which she or he heads. But has there been a case where an education secretary was fired for failing to deliver the required access and quality outcomes?

How about the Legislature? After all, they authorize the annual budget, including DepEd's, and the power of oversight necessarily goes along with it. But have there been instances where a sitting Education secretary was ever called to account for failing to deliver the same outcomes? Truth of the matter is, our legislators can't -- simply because they know they are equally guilty of scrimping on the education budget.

How about the Filipino people themselves? In theory, our electoral process allows them to directly exact accountability from an incumbent administration, especially a sitting president. But six years is too long a wait and to waste. Further, Philippine presidents cannot be reelected under our current system of government. And finally, the last presidential candidate to run on a solid education platform was the late Sen. Raul Roco and he failed in both attempts.

Clearly, it is very difficult to exact accountability on education outcomes at the national level alone. How much more if we do the same down the line -- from the bureau directors at the DepEd central office in Pasig, to the various regional directors all throughout the 17 or so administrative regions in the country, to the 187 provincial and city division superintendents, to the various district supervisors under them, and finally from each and every one of 40,000 or so school heads at the grassroots level?

Under a centrally managed system which is what we currently have, that is next to impossible. Why? Because the bureaucracy is so structured that they are only accountable to their superiors up the totem pole. The idea of a school head or a superintendent for that matter being accountable to the direct community they serve does not exist within the DepEd bureaucracy.

For instance, has there been a case where a school head was reassigned for failing to ensure that their students would get the 75% minimum proficiency level in national, regional or division tests? Or a superintendent being made to explain why his or her division failed to do the same?

The answer, of course, is no, there's none. Because the centralized structure and the insular attitudes within the department do not allow it or provide the incentive for doing so.

In this light, I believe it is about time that we bring the issue of accountability into the radar screen, and explore mechanisms of how local communities can be involved more meaningfully in exacting it from the various levels of the DepEd bureaucracy.