G-Watch Co-Organizes Webinar on Citizen Engagement in Education Governance

Government Watch (G-Watch) recently co-organized a webinar on citizen engagement in education governance on 14 June 2021, with theme E-skwela: Citizen Engagement Towards Responsive Education Governance. Apart from G-Watch, the organizers included the Student Council Alliance of the Philippines (SCAP), Bukluran UP System, and the Center for Youth Advocacy and Networking (CYAN).

The webinar was formally opened by CYAN’s Rafaela David, who kicked off the discussion by quoting a passage from book Educated, a memoir by Tara Westover, who was already 17 years old when she first entered a classroom, and eventually earned a PhD from Cambridge University. David highlighted the importance of education by saying that education enables choice which broadens individual and collective freedom.

Pasig City mayor Vico Sotto also gave his opening remarks. A member of the G-Watch Board, Sotto commended the collective effort to discuss education reforms, especially amid the pandemic. He also shared the challenges confronting Pasig in ensuring quality education for all and validated the need for citizens and civil society to take part in finding solutions in addressing the challenges.

Prof. Flora Arellano, President of the Civil Society Network for Education Reforms (E- Net Philippines) then began the main discussion by sharing their legislative lobby work that focuses on the education budget and the other initiatives that push the Department of Education (DepEd) to address issues of inclusion and equity in education access.

Amelia Mancera of G-Watch South Leyte also shared their experience on the ground as civil society validators of the DepEd Agency Procurement Compliance Performance Indicator (APCPI). APCPI is a monitoring, assessment and evaluation tool which “aims to determine, in a qualitative and quantitative manner, procurement strengths and weaknesses of agencies, and formulate a reasonable action plan to address identified areas for improvement.” G-Watch Southern Leyte has been serving as APCPI civil society validators for DepEd S. Leyte since 2015.  The case is an example of a civil society oversight of an accountability system of a government – in this case, DepEd’s procurement assessment. DepEd assesses their procurement system using APCPI and G-Watch validates the assessment done by DepEd offices. G-Watch initiated APCPI civil society validation in 2015 and envisioned it as an approach to sustain civil society accountability efforts in a way that is not too logistically exhausting on the part of civil society.

For her part, Lovelaine Basillote, Executive Director of Philippine Business for Education (PBEd), shared their effort to provide direct assistance to students in eventually gaining employment. She was followed by CYAN President Marlon Cornelio who discussed their initiative called ‘Education Budget Watch.’ Initially calling for greater education budget, the campaign eventually adopted a more flexible approach after realizing that the problem for most state universities is their chronic underspending. From national level engagements, Redempto Parafina, on the other hand, focused on the school-based engagements of the Affiliated Network for Social Accountability in East Asia and the Pacific (ANSA-EAP), sharing how ANSA-EAP’s CheckMySchool utilized existing school-based participatory mechanisms alongside an online platform to help resolve education issues and concerns.

Two speakers were asked to close the event. The first was SCAP’s Ken Paolo Gilo who emphasized the need for citizens’ engagement to achieve governance reforms in education.

The second was G-Watch Convenor-Director Joy Aceron who synthesized the discussion by raising three points. First, she said that the same challenges still exist, despite the fact that a wide array of civil society groups have been pursuing education reforms for decades. She then asked the following questions: What are the limitations in the work that we have done? What are the lessons from our engagements?

Second, citizens are demanding that the processes be made more inclusive and to “lower the barriers to participation.” Yet, the Philippines has the most exhaustive participatory processes. “Why are these not working,” she asked.

Third, the discussions reveal that civil society initiatives fill up the gaps that are left out in decision-making, and addresses the flaws in existing mechanisms. “But why are there such persisting governance gaps and issues in the first place,” Aceron asked. Aceron proposed that to answer this question civil society groups should begin looking at systemic and structural factors, including who set the agenda and who holds power. Exploring the question of power is important, she noted, since the education sector is vying with other priorities and agenda for scarce of resources. And that competition for resources is often resolved by those who holds power.

Aceron ended her remarks by reminding the participants that the reason for their gathering is to put some sense of urgency in addressing the problem of education crisis in the country, finding collective ways to ensure those who are in power are prioritizing education.

The event was the second installment of E-skwela Webinar Series. This series is part of the MultiplY-Ed or Youth-led, Multi-sectoral and Multi-level Approach to Monitoring Education in the Time of COVID19 Project, that hopes to secure transparency, accountability, and participation in education governance, and employ vertical integration by ensuring that social accountability mechanisms are put in place at various levels in the policy and decision-making processes.