Shakedown in education system urgently needed

BIZLINKS - Rey Gamboa (The Philippine Star) - November 19, 2020 - 12:00am

Urgent change is contingent in the country’s educational system if graduates are to meet the growing demands of the labor market. We have to grow our human resource value – from being simply suppliers of labor for low paying jobs, to being pivotal and value-adding manpower – locally and globally.

Almost a year ago, the Department of Education (DepEd) released the depressing results of the 2018 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), where a test of some the country’s 15-year-olds from both public and private schools resulted in dismally low scores.

The ranking among the 79 participating countries found our students at the lowest levels in reading, science, and mathematics literacy. This meant that our high school graduates could read well, but had a poor grasp of what they were reading. Likewise, science and math theories may have been “learned,” but not their applications.

This is not just a problem for the DepEd, but also for the Commission of Higher Education (CHEd), the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA), the private education system, and the whole business sector.

If essential and deep learning has not been acquired at the basic education levels, the quality of students at higher levels, and even graduates now applying for jobs or already employed become suspect to some form of learning deficiency.

Reform initiatives

Before the world was rudely interrupted by the coronavirus pandemic, DepEd had responded to the PISA results with the launch of Sulong EduKalidad, a program that hinges on how it will transform basic education to respond to the demands of the 21st century.

Sulong EduKalidad calls for a review and update of the K to 12 curricula, an improvement of the current learning environment, an upgrade of teachers’ competencies, and the engagement of stakeholders for support and collaboration.

Any progress on Sulong EduKalidad, however, had to be set aside as DepEd focused on the more pressing problem of bringing students to a new-normal learning environment where health safety was the primary concern over quality education.

The same could be said of other learning institutions in the country – and across the globe for that matter. With the world now starting to learn how to live and survive in the pandemic, attention is returning to business that had been interrupted at the start of the year.

21st century skills

For the education sector, this signals the resumption of efforts to get students prepped up and ready to acquire 21st century skills, which definition has increasingly been clarified and updated in relation to the emerging fourth industrial revolution and everything that artificial intelligence brings.

Such skills include, but are not confined to, critical thinking, information synthetizing, information and communication technology (ICT) literacy, computer programming knowledge, ease of working in virtual workspaces, and an understanding of the global ecosystem.

The race among nations to equip people with the essential skills for the future has been going on for sometime now, but could still be considered in its infancy stage.

One good indication of which countries have been more successful could be the PISA results. The Chinese, for example, are weaving tests inspired by the PISA appraisals into their own learning environments to align with emerging human resource standards. The same is true for educational systems in countries that have become more receptive to demand for labor skill changes.


All these initiatives, however, can still be considered a part of an overall experimentation in the learning system, from basic education to the retraining of the work force, as the traditional ABCs of education are being questioned and abandoned.

For sure, in schools, the current school curriculum needs to be changed as teachers are being prepared to integrate new ways of learning. A good approach will be the adoption of several pilot pedagogies to be tested in the widest number of regions in the country.

The sooner there is conclusive evidence that learners are able to better use inquiry-based knowledge, information and communications technologies, solving skills utilizing creativity, and the ability to navigate diverse perspectives, the better for a more widespread dissemination.

During this era of experimentation, there will be mistakes, inconsistencies, and disparities during the rollout. Under more normal circumstances, perfecting new changes in the education of our youth can be done without worrying about time constraints. The demands of the 21st century, however, are already upon us.

Radically changing labor market

The task on hand is not just with the DepEd and basic education. Today’s teachers in technical learning and higher education, likewise, need to instill in their students the skills needed for the 21st century job market. In the same breadth, employers need to retool their work force to make them more agile.

In a radically changing global market, majority of Filipinos who now apply for jobs will be seen as friendly, dependable, and hard working – and only a few will be regarded as game-changers, innovators, or even leaders.

Even for our home-based businesses and sectors, we will need people who can think out of the box and quickly respond to changes and challenges. The Philippine economy can only grow as much as how well our local companies thrive.

In the end, the race is no longer about having more classrooms or teachers, or giving every student access to the internet. Everything will eventually percolate to how well we, as a nation of people, are able to think, to provide innovative solutions to problems, and to introduce groundbreaking changes that challenge current norms.

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