But what is functional literacy? The NSO defines it as a higher level of literacy which includes not only reading and writing skills but also numerical and comprehension skills. In other words, one that is limited only to the basic knowledge of reading, writing and arithmetic.
Functional literacy was found to be higher in females by an average of 4.8 percentage points than in males. Significantly however, it was found that functional literacy arose in those areas that were economically well-off. In fact, the top six regions with average family income were found to have the highest functional literacy rates. They are: NCR (94.6%), CAR (85.4%), Calabarzon (90.4%), Ilocos (88.6%), Central Luzon (86.9%), and Cagayan Valley (84.4%).
ARMM had the lowest average family income and corollarily the country's lowest functional literacy rate as well at 62.9%. Areas with passable literacy rates (and low family income) were found in Eastern Visayas (76.7%), Zamboanga Peninsula (74.8%), Davao (77.8%), and Soccskasargen (77.1%).
Yet, by correlating the existence of literacy with economic well-being, one cannot but help allow some doubt to seep in. If 80% of Filipinos are functionally literate, does it follow that 80% of them are also economically well-off? Apparently, the NSO thinks so. But this goes against other statistical data by the Asian Development Bank, Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism, and the same NSO itself that there is a growing incidence of poverty in the country due in part to uncontrolled population growth.
Specifically, the Philippines was found to have one of the highest poverty incidence rates in Southeast Asia pegged at 15.5% with poor people living at less than one (1) U.S. Dollar a day or at Php 32.00 a day, which percentage is lower than Laos (39%) and Cambodia (34.1%) but higher than Vietnam (13.1%) and Indonesia (7.5 %). In other words, in the year 2004 around 40% of Filipinos were poor. That's 40% of approximately 80 million Filipino individuals, or thirty two million (32,000,000) people. In 1995 there were 4.36 million families who were poor. By 2000, the estimate was 5.14 million families or over 31.2 million people.
As of 2004, the NSO reports that the population of the Philippines is at approximately 80 million. About 57.6 million are adults aged 10 to 64 years old. Of this 57.6 million, 32 million live below the poverty level of Php 32.00 a day. Could we say that this impoverished 32 million are "functionally" literate? Not by a longshot if we follow the NSO theory that one's economic stature is determinative of one's level of literacy.
Philippine Star columnist, Jarius Bondoc, says it best:
"Poverty rates only reflect changes in relative prices not changes in underlying incomes or wealth. Considering this, the Philippines is an atoll of a high-income class, an island of a middle-income class, and a vast sea of low-income class. This has been the case since 1960 when the country had a 27 million population in 4.4 million families, as it was in 2000 when the country grew to 76.5 million (2.8 times) in 15.3 million families (3.5 times)" (Source: "40 Years of Failure" Gotcha column by Jarius Bondoc, Philippine Star, January 10, 2005).
Factoring even the rising cost of goods and services without any significant increase in individual and national income, compounded by a 26% unemployment rate, and the increasing rate of professional or "literate" Filipinos leaving the country as Overseas Foreign Workers (OFWs), it is indeed doubtful that there are 80% Filipinos who are economically well-off and corollarily, functionally literate. If we are to subscribe to this NSO theory that one's economic stature is determinative of one's level of literacy, then it follows that more Filipinos are actually illiterate or at least on the way to illiteracy.
The reality speaks for itself. Tuition fees in private schools nowadays have progressively soared such that many Filipinos have either stopped schooling or have reluctantly transferred to public schools. Only the economically well-off elite few can afford the high tuition of private schools.
The public school system is not faring any better either. KAAKBAY CDI (Citizens Development Initiative) a non-government cause-oriented organization announced that public education in the Philippines is in distress. Fewer than 1% of Filipino students are qualified for high school or college level education due to lack of resources and poor management of the public school system by the government. Worse, only 19 out of every 100 public school teachers were found competent to teach English. (Source: "Only 6 out of 100 Grade 6 Pupils ready for High School Study" by Sandy Araneta, The Philippine Star, August 17, 2005)
According further to KAAKBAY CDI, poverty in the Philippines has reached a point where education is no longer a right for all but a privilege for the few. Elementary and High School in the public school system was furtherfound to have failed in teaching the requisite competence an average citizen needs to know and ought to possess at a young age in order to become responsible, productive, and self-fulfilling human beings. To quote the article:
"Education as a way to equalize opportunity has become a myth, because while the rich have a variety of choices offered by private institutions, the poor have to make do with a public education system characterized by dilapitated school facilities, lack of materials and textbooks and technological incompetence." (Source: Ibid)
There is indeed some credence if we are to correlate one's economic stature with one's level of educational attainment. And in light of the country's present economic plight, it is hard to believe, much less conclude, that 80% of Filipinos are functionally literate. The reverse is probably true.
But just for the sake of argument, let's accept for the moment the NSO claim that most Filipinos are functionally literate. Is this any better?