Attaining quality basic education needs a solid program
BIZLINKS - Rey Gamboa (The Philippine Star) - February 20, 2020 - 12:00am

The unequivocal truth that our basic education system is deteriorating should be seen as a crisis. Take the case of the National Achievement Tests; the mean percentage score taken in 2018 for Grade 6 levels was the weakest ever in history, even with all the money that the government had been allocating in recent years.

It may be stretching things a bit too far to say that the budget allocation for the Department of Education, responsible for managing the country’s basic education system, has never been enough. China, for example, which topped the 2018 Programme for the International Student Assessment (PISA) tests, spends roughly the same percentage of its gross domestic product on education as we do.

Traditionally, DepEd receives the lion’s share of the country’s budget allocation. This year alone, it gets more than P520 billion, about P20 billion more than it got last year. The added amount is supposed to go towards creating additional teaching positions, although ironically, DepEd still has about 60,000 vacancies to fill up.

Clearly, this is a case where education spending is not being translated to improve learning. More money seems to have been wasted if one takes into account the billions of pesos already spent by the government for the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program or 4Ps that was supposed to subsidize the cost of keeping children of poor families in school.

Our education officials had raised so much fuss about the K to 12 program as a means bringing to world standards the length of years of our basic education system’s secondary level. Such a move, however, seems meaningless.

Because the real problem is that we have failed to create a learning environment for our children the moment they enter nursery school to the time they graduate from high school, no matter if its under the old four-year term or today’s junior and senior high school system.

System overhaul

It’s true that we need great teachers to improve the basic reading, math and science comprehension of our youngsters, but before this can happen, a revamp of the way our teachers impart and inspire knowledge in their pupils must first be given attention.

According to a World Bank document published a year ago, but still relevant today, an education system needs three components to deliver the right kind of learning. First, teachers at all levels should be effective in facilitating learning; second, there should be improved technology for learning; and third, a strong management of schools and the education system has to be in place.

Of the three, the third should be prioritized. We must have a relevant educational policy where government is strongly committed to improving the educational system, and where a strong and effective system of governance will implement an agreed plan.

DepEd’s initiative launched at the end of last year to bring quality back to basic education through Sulong EduKalidad is a step in the right direction, but only if this will truly be able to overhaul the current educational system.

According to the World Bank, central ministries (in our case, the DepEd) must be able to attract the best experts who can design and implement evidence-based and country-specific programs. Stakeholder inputs will help, but in the end, the DepEd must be prepared to get professional help.

In overhauling the educational bureaucracy, the World Bank says that district or regional offices should have the capacity and the tools to monitor learning and support schools. At the school level, principals need to be trained and prepared to manage and lead schools, from planning the use of resources to supervising and nurturing their teachers.

Highly effective teaching

In a report prepared by leading Australian researchers commissioned by the Center on International Education Benchmarking (CIEB) of the US’s National Center on Education and the Economy (NCEE), the best-practice experiences of countries that performed well in the PISA tests were distilled.

The report detailed the way Finland, Japan, Shanghai, and Hong Kong drilled its teachers so that they would have a deeper understanding of what needs to be taught in elementary schools, as well as how young students learn and understand that content.

Four policies stood out. First, teacher candidates must have strong subject expertise. This specialization must be apparent when teachers start their own learning journeys, following through to the pursuit of their careers in either the public or private sector.

The study also points that even in the generalist systems of Japan and Finland, teachers are required to have a mastery of one or two subjects during teacher education, which would be the basis for building their own specializations while employed.

Having a complete understanding of the foundational context of a chosen subject is also a given for teachers. Finally, strict adherence to a mentoring system in schools must be followed, where new teachers draw practical learning from superiors and supported by quality textbooks and teaching materials.

For this to happen, regular assessments of teachers must be included. Only when we can be assured that our teachers are top-notch can we expect that the learning skills of their students will improve.

Technology as an enabler

Finally, we can never underscore the importance of technology as an enabler – not just in teaching students, but also teachers and parents. Technology offers new possibilities for all to seamlessly interact and therefore rapidly introduce change leading to quality learning.

Millions of students around the world are already seeing improved comprehension in reading and deduction skills in math and science from the effective use of technology, and we must not lose out on this.

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