Using poverty reduction and access to quality healthcare and education as indicators of development, rather than economic growth, the Philippines went backwards over a decade when remittances tripled.  

An estimated one in seven Filipino workers works abroad. The Philippines is an important model not just because of the volume of nurses and teachers it sends abroad, but also because the government has built an extensive bureaucratic infrastructure to facilitate the export of workers.  

The country documents more than $1 billion per month in formal remittances. In the decade from 1998-2007, remittance flows into the Philippines nearly tripled (Schelzig, 2005). Although research shows that remittances improve the standard of living for the majority of families with migrant members, remittances alone have not been sufficient to spur broad-based development in the Philippines. In fact, there is evidence that the loss of nurses and teachers is hurting public health and education systems. The Migration Policy Institute indicates that these remittances would improve access to education and health in recipient households. However, since families with access to remittances can bypass broken public health and education systems, the enormous amount that workers send back is not a force to improve the quality of services in a nation’s public hospitals and schools for all.  


For example, the Asian Development Bank (ABD) presents a rather bleak analysis of poverty over time in the Philippines:

“The magnitude of income poverty in the Philippines worsened from 1985 to 2000… There were over four million more poor people in 2000 than there were in 1985” 


As for education, ADB identifies three main challenges in the Philippine education system: declining enrollment, poor quality, and increasing dropout rates. 

“Where children are able to access public elementary schools, the teacher-to-pupil ratio is high and has been growing steadily…Quality of teachers is another issue... English skills, traditionally one of the competitive advantages of the Philippines, have also deteriorated. A recent government study has shown that only one in five public high school teachers can be considered proficient in the English language.”

The Philippines has the highest teacher-to-student ratio in Asia and in the greater Manila area it is possible to see 100 students or more in a single class.  The common n assertion oft-asserted premise that the Philippines has a surplus of teachers is misleading.  The Philippines does not have a shortage of teachers in the country, but rather has a shortage of teaching positions in the school system due to inadequate funding and would thus need to hire more teachers to reduce class size and improve the quality of education.

More persuasive than the quantitative concerns about outward-migration of teachers are the qualitative issues.  The Philippines Overseas Employment Agency (POEA) is the primary government body responsible for facilitating labor export.  Even a report from this body suggests a negative impact from the recruitment they facilitate: 

“In Philippine education, brain drain is said to be evident in both the public and the private school system, though more felt in the former.  The fields most vulnerable are special education and elementary and secondary science and mathematics education… Those leaving for teaching jobs abroad are generally with better credentials. Finding suitable replacements for them is not easy.”

Philippines Overseas Employment Administration (POEA). 2006 National Manpower Summit: Overseas Employment, A Brief on the Migration of Teaching Professionals. POEA: 2006.


Schelzig, Karen. Poverty in the Philippines: Incomes, Assets, and Access. Hong Kong: Asian Development Bank (ADB), 2005.