Ignoring a crisis

DEMAND AND SUPPLY - Boo Chanco - The Philippine Star

If it is any comfort, although it shouldn’t be, the United States also seems to have a big problem with their public education system. They are producing generations of Americans who cannot compete with those in Europe and yes, in China.

Nicholas Kristof, a New York Times columnist, made this observation last week:

“In terms of our well-being at home and competitiveness abroad, the blunt truth is that America is lagging. In some respects, we are sliding toward mediocrity…

“Fifteen-year-olds in Russia, Poland, Latvia and many other countries are better at math than their American counterparts – perhaps a metric for where nations will stand in a generation or two.

“As for reading, one-fifth of American 15-year-olds can’t read at the level expected of a 10-year-old. How are those millions of Americans going to compete in a globalized economy?

“As I see it, the greatest threat to America’s future is less a surging China or a rogue Russia than it is our underperformance at home…

“More broadly, the United States has lost its lead in education overall and in investments in children. The World Bank Human Capital Project estimates that today’s American children will achieve only 70 percent of their potential productivity. That hurts them; it also hurts our nation.”

Kristof’s column may make our politicians, who have neglected the education of our children for decades, say that if the US can fail so badly at it, what can we expect here?

In the US as it is here, bad politics and bad leaders are responsible for the mess. But never mind the US. We have a problem here we need to address.

The Philippine Business for Education (PBEd) has some specific ideas on what we should do:

Increase education budgets – to arrest the declining budget in basic education and commit to invest in educational reforms. Also, to make our local governments prioritize education in their spending given the expected windfall from Mandanas implementation.

Education already has the largest budget. Throwing money at the problem may not solve it. But yes, more efficient and honest utilization of money already allocated is called for.

Implement Philippine Plan of Action for Nutrition; Support for pre-primary education – international assessments PISA, TIMSS, SEA-PLM all point that early childhood nutrition and attendance to pre-primary education correlate with higher educational outcomes in the early to higher grades.

This is important. Almost two decades ago, my daughter was doing her required practice teaching in a crowded elementary school in Diliman. She said the kids were going to school at 7 a.m. hungry. How can anyone effectively teach a roomful of over 50 kids who didn’t have breakfast, she wondered.

Stats in the Phl context: one out of three pre-primary children are stunted, 77.6 percent of five million (3.8 million) three to four year olds are not attending early childhood education, Kindergarten net enrollment rate in 2019-2020 is 63 percent.

That’s the other big problem. From birth to age five, a child’s brain develops more than at any other time in life. Early brain development has a lasting impact on a child’s ability to learn and succeed in school and life. That’s why good nutrition and pre-school education are so important.

Strengthen implementation of the mother tongue based-multilingual education (MTB-MLE) – MTB MLE, while adopted in the 2012 K-12 law, proved to be challenging to implement. K-3 teachers were assessed to have low instructional knowledge on MTB-MLE, instructional materials were inadequate (schools and teachers devised their own), and reading instruction time was lessened.

I can see why language could be a problem. But this isn’t a secret kept from our education policy makers.

Teacher quality is the most important factor in student achievement. PISA 2018 showed that students who expect to become teachers tend to be low achievers.

Hence, the need to attract high achiever students to the teaching provision through a scholarship program. PBEd initiated and has been able to file, through legislative sponsors, the Teacher Education Scholarship for Achievers Bill (TEACH Bill).

Teacher quality is a problem. Culturally, we have low regard for teachers, so parents often say the child with the least potential will just be a teacher. We have to change this attitude first. We should glamorize teachers, not lawyers.

Our current student assessments (NAT, BEA, ELLNA, NCAE) are done inconsistently, provide limited information to school or classroom-level curriculum and instruction reform… Student assessments are crucial for the continuous improvement of curriculum and instruction, but such is not in our case.

DepEd is even not keen to participate in international assessments because they already know we won’t do well.

Businessman Ramon del Rosario, who organized PBEd, lamented that “we have more than 7,000 schools with crumbling infrastructure, no electricity, and poor accessibility.

“Our malnourished schoolchildren consistently rank lowest in international assessments of science, mathematics, and reading competencies.

“Our teachers do not receive sufficient training even before they are deployed in schools. These problems worsened when the pandemic hit: 2.7 million students left school, millions more weren’t able to join online classes, and the economic toll of the crisis dragged millions of Filipinos further into unemployment and poverty.”

More troubling that this list of horrors, according to del Rosario, is that we are not as bothered as we should be.”

Indeed, the reaction of Education Sec Leonor Briones is pathetic. She demanded a public apology from the World Bank because in her view, the country was “insulted” and “shamed” by the World Bank education report. If the data are old, are there new ones that paint a better picture?

We have a national crisis as bad as it could be. It is not as headline grabbing as the drug war or the multi-billion-peso effort to end the communist insurgency, but probably more important than all of those.

Badly educated people with little hope for improving their lives feed into the drug and insurgency problems. As I pointed out last Monday, our fast-growing working age population won’t be able to power our economic growth without proper education.

The worst impact of ignoring this crisis will be felt some years from now and it will be too late.



Boo Chanco’s e-mail address is bchanco@gmail.com Follow him on Twitter @boochanco

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