Uneven education standards in the Philippines and other Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) are an obstacle to the Asean Economic Community's aim to integrate labor markets in the region, Fitch-owned BMI Research said in a new report.

This analysis was based on a BMI study that explored the impact of disparate levels of economic development and education on AEC Labor Mobility Plans, which seek to promote mobility for skilled workers in architecture, accounting, engineering, surveying, medicine, nursing, dentistry and tourism.

"Attempts to harmonize professional qualifications in a bid to obtain an integrated labor market as part of the AEC in Asean will be hindered by sharp education disparities across the region due to different levels of development and education quality," it said in the report.

Secondary education overlooked

The think tank pointed out that efforts to strengthen compulsory primary education have led to more developed education systems in Vietnam, Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, and the Philippines, which has in turn led to a considerable rise in literacy and numeracy rates as concerted government efforts to increase funding to the primary sector have paid dividends.

As a result, most of the populations of these countries have obtained a primary education, providing them with some basic skills needed to conduct economic activity.

"However, considerably less emphasis has been placed on secondary education, which has in turn undermined various efforts to strengthen the tertiary sector," it said.

BMI pointed out that the secondary education system is vital because it determines the quality of tertiary students. The failure to develop the secondary education sector could also undermine efforts to move up the value chain, and is likely to lead to a shortage of skilled labor to meet the needs of various industries.

Moving up the value chain is particularly critical for middle-income countries, as most of the economic gains obtained from having a basic literacy rate are largely exhausted once these countries reach that level, it said.

"In a bid to avoid falling into the middle-income trap, these countries have been seeking to develop their tertiary sectors [bypassing the secondary sector] to groom higher quality human capital, with limited results," it noted.

PH educational system

The think tank said a sharp disparity between rural and urban education is seen in the Philippines, where secondary school completion rates in Metro Manila were considerably higher than those of other more rural places such as Mindanao and Eastern Visayas.

As a result of one of the lowest education budgets in Asean, Filipino schools continue to suffer from a shortage of facilities, teachers, and education materials across the country, it said.

BMI explained that despite an overhaul of the education system in 2012, secondary education in the country continues to decline, with results for the local National Achievement Test (NAT) and National Career Assessment Examination (NCAE) showing that there has been a decline in the quality of Philippine education outcomes at the primary and secondary levels.

"The cohorts' performance in both the tests in 2014 was deemed excessively below the target mean score," it said.

Adding to the woes caused by the secondary education system, the think tank said that the development of the tertiary sector has been hindered by the high cost of a university education.

With universities receiving minimal support from the government, many have resorted to raising fees, pricing a degree out of range for most of the population, it said.

In addition, BMI found out that public universities in the Philippines often have poorly paid staff, leading to lower education quality.

It said the high cost of education has led to the proliferation of private schools that are poorly regulated, resulting in the issuance of degrees that are often not recognized internationally.

"These undermine the quality of tertiary education in the Philippines, resulting in the country only having a few universities that are internationally recognized," it said.

Brain drain

The think tank said failure to develop the previous two levels of education, and a lack of funding have led to varying standards of tertiary education across Asean, and as a result, the most highly-skilled workers, particularly from the Philippines often look outside their countries for work.

"Hence, we expect Asean's brain drain to continue to have a negative impact on the region's growth," it said.

BMI stressed that while the exact cost of brain drain in the region is difficult to quantify, the ongoing loss of skilled labor does not only represent the loss of the country's most skilled personnel, but has an impact on national development, including impeding research and development and constraining the development of national higher education systems.

For instance, it said the Philippine government's Labor Export Policy-which actively encourages the export of educated labor-has resulted in the neglect of domestic production and poor investment in infrastructure, agriculture, mining, export promotion, and social development due to the easy availability of funds from remittances.

"The country's brain drain is particularly acute in the Science and Technology sector, as the nation's most educated individuals are highly sought after overseas due to their linguistic and technical abilities," it concluded.

Source: Manila Time