The hidden costs of education

By: Raphael A. Pangalangan - @inquirerdotnet - Columnist/Philippine Daily Inquirer | July 21,2022 - 08:00 AM

There is a hidden side to everything. Even policies, though well-intended, may yield unfortunate results.

Earlier this week, Vice President Sara Duterte, as the new chief of the Department of Education (DepEd), announced a no-uniform policy for the coming academic year. As Sara D. herself points out, this is nothing new. The state has long sought “to remove financial and non-financial obstacles to the […] schooling of schoolchildren.” DepEd Order No. 65, s. 2010 (and, before that, DO 45, s. 2008) thus provides that “[t]he wearing of a school uniform shall not be required in public schools.”

Now, that’s a policy I could get behind! After all, the right to education is measured not only in the number of books, teachers, or graduates, but also in terms of access to education a priori. UN bodies have repeatedly called on states to eliminate all barriers to schooling, whether in the form of costs for uniforms, books, supplies, lunches, or transportation. Together, these are referred to as the “hidden costs” of education.

But in that same breath, education is no stranger to unintended consequences. Stephen Dubner’s and Steven Levitt’s “Freakonomics” comes to mind. In Haifa, Israel, daycare centers encouraged parents to pick their kids up from school promptly. Their solution? The centers imposed a $3 fee for any parent arriving more than 10 minutes late. The effect? Late pickups increased from an average of eight per week per day care center to 20—more than double the original average. The policy backfired because it essentially ascribed a monetary value to what was once priceless: responsible parenting. With the new policy implemented, tardy parents were simply hiring a service, no different from a babysitter or yaya.

The phenomenon of countervailing effects is likewise seen in Philippine legal education. The quality of a law school is something meticulously measured and judiciously guarded. The barometer of choice is the percentage of bar passers, and until recently bar topnotchers, a school produces. This creates a tendency for lecturers to “teach to the test.” Classroom discussions are cheapened into rote regurgitations of the lex lata; thus stifling the analysts and artists within us—as if the law is not itself merely man-made creation.

Time and again, from preschool to grad school, ostensibly sound and well-meaning reforms are introduced simply to exchange one problem for another. Similarly, the phasing out of school uniforms runs the risk of worsening the already demanding economic impact of education because, one way or another—whether by a state imposition or societal expectation—a dress code will emerge. And as of writing, that dress code is imposed by no other than (you guessed it) the Department of Education itself.

You see, after DepEd first announced its no-uniform policy in 2008 through DO 45, s. 2008, a dilemma revealed itself: Did students have free reign to choose what to wear to school; sando, boxers, and all?

In a week’s time, DepEd released DO 46, s. 2008 entitled “Proper School Attire.” The order “suggests” a “polo shirt or T-shirt with sleeves” and “a minimum of prints,” and pants of any color for boys; and “dress, skirt and blouse, blouse and pants” for girls. But, despite the recommendatory tenor of the word “suggest,” the order concludes with a rather obligatory phrase: “for strict compliance.”

Some policies may do more harm than good, and it sounds to me that when DOs 45, 46, and 65 are taken together, we might just be doing away with uniforms in exchange for Uniqlo! But, on the other hand, it is said that the path to hell has been paved with good intentions. The challenge, therefore, is striking a balance to be sure that good intentions lead to good (and even better) results! To this end, perhaps it is best to return to the first principles.

In the days of yore in England, school uniforms were provided by “charity schools” for impoverished children. Note: The keyword here is “provided.” If the state truly seeks to maximize students’ access to education, it is not enough to remove uniform requirements, which would simply change the form of the economic investment while retaining and perhaps worsening the economic burden. Rather, the state must provide uniforms and stipends so that cost will never be a barrier to a child’s enjoyment of the fundamental right to education.


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TAGS: Cebu Daily News, cebu news, countervailing effects, Department of Education, DepEd, education, no-uniform policy, teach to the test

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