Analysis by: Juan Miguel LuzOctober 28, 2020

In the first three weeks of the new school year (2020-2021), the enrolment numbers in basic education raise a number of serious questions. 

  • There is a sharp drop in private school enrolment.  As of September 7, private school enrolment was at 46.67% of the previous year.  Around 400,000+ students are reported by DepED to have transferred to public schools [Philippine Business for Education, October 26, 2020].
  • There has been a slight drop in the toral enrolment in public schools.
  • Around 2.8 million students did not enroll this academic year.

If such a large group of students have transferred from private schools to public, but the public school total enrolment only shows a slight drop, this means that a good number of students who should have enrolled in public schools, did not.

In the private schools, the lesser number of enrollees is way more than the reported number transferring to public schools.  Where have the rest gone?

There is a need to disaggregate the data to see who are not showing up or coming to school.


In private education, where have the students gone?  There are five possibilities:

(1)  Transferred to public schools (How many? What levels? In what regions, provinces, cities?)

(2)  Parents have decided to do home-schooling (How many children?)

(3)  Dropped out altogether (How many dropouts and at what level?)

(4)  Decided to take a gap year (for older students: What grade levels? How many?)

(5)  For very young children (5, 6 year olds), entry to Kindergarten or Grade 1 is delayed at least for this school year. 

In public education, if large numbers shifted from private to public, this masks the large number that may be dropping out of public schools or delaying entry to formal schooling.

  • How many public school kids have dropped out? 
  • How many kids not transitioning to junior high school from elementary?  From JHS to senior HS? 
  • How many kids were held back by parents from enrolling in K or Grade 1?
  • How many kids are doing ALS (alternative learning system)?


Children of different ages have different learning needs.  In this regard, basic education has five age-specific segments, each with their own major focus and learning objective(s).

  • Kindergarten (K) – Socialization skills
  • 1-3 (early primary) – Simple literacy and numeracy
  • 4-6 (late primary) – Functional literacy
  • 7-10 (junior high school) – Learning to think along disciplines
  • 11-12 (senior high school) – Aligning long-term interests with the world of work

Common to all levels is a foundational skill: Learning to Learn – How children develop an ability to teach themselves how to think and act whether in a formal school setting or informally. 


There are a number of longer-term implications for children depending on their age and grade level. 

For very young children (5, 6 year olds; Kindergarten or Grade 1), delayed entry to early schooling can have negative effects on learning.  World Bank data reveals that age entry matters: Starting and staying in school at the right age matters.  Students who fall behind in learning ability tend to be those who enter primary school late.  These are the ones more likely to repeat a grade later.

Starting primary school at the later age can have a negative effect on reading performance.  Poor reading performance can be a compounding problem for learning at the higher grade levels.

The negative marginal effect of grade repetition at the primary level is equivalent to more than a year’s worth of formal schooling (PISA 2018).

From the WB and PISA studies, students who fall behind track tend to come from a more socio-economically disadvantaged background.  Thus the inconvenient truth:  The socially disadvantaged are more likely to fall further behind and be more disadvantaged in succeeding generations.

All of the above raises red flags that the Education system needs to address before these worsen especially if this pandemic (and school lockdowns) are extended.  If so many children are not fully engaged in schooling, this situation cannot be allowed to extend without doing something about it.  The longer-term effects of drop-outism or absenteeism from school will be a major drag on adult productivity and economic growth in the long-term.


  1. Keep kids engaged in distance learning (make it more efficient).  We need to find ways to make distance learning less spotty and more efficient and effective.
  • For children in the primary levels, normality will be in face-to-face learning.  This is still the best way to teach reading and numeracy as foundational skills (both require “high touch”).  The sooner we can find safe ways to do this, we should, even if in a blended way.
  • Contact trace families with K-G1 age students not enrolled.  Why have they not enrolled?  Can more community-based schooling be arranged to get them started with early learning?
  • Contact trace older students not enrolled this school year: Why not enrolled? What are these kids doing?  What other pathways to learning can be opened to them?


J. M. Luz was former Head, School of Development Management (AIM) and Undersecretary, Department of Education. FEU Public Policy Center. (;