The first Cabinet appointment made by Junior is that of his running mate as Education Secretary. I wonder if this means he is prioritizing education, giving it the importance and clout it needs.

With no less than his Vice President on top of this major department, education is in a position to get the top level attention needed to address a lot of long pending issues and needs.

Never mind that Sara D has no exposure to the education sector. One of the best Secretary of Education was Raul Roco, and neither did he have previous exposure. Like Sara, Raul was essentially a lawyer and a politician.

The one important qualification of Sara is being a mother raising young children. She will have the kind of concerns mothers have about educating their children. Her political background will help harness needed resources from the President and from Congress.

The last campaign season showed the inability of trolls and other netizens to express themselves coherently and logically. That confirms international test results that placed Filipino students at the bottom of a long list of countries in reading, math, and science.

Aniceto Orbeta Jr., president of PIDS, the government think tank, told a recent forum the country should face its education issues “squarely” and ask for help from various stakeholders because “test scores are a problem of both schools and households.”

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BPO recruiters also often complain of their inability to hire enough job applicants to fill their requirements because our young people have inadequate skills, including an inability to communicate (writing, oral) well.

There are also high school teachers who complain that they get students who can’t do basic reading and math. Apparently, elementary teachers just pass on the problem to the next level by promoting students who should spend more time learning basics.

Unlike other countries with declining and aging populations, we have a growing population that is young, and theoretically can power the economy by working and consuming.

But if uneducated and lacking skills to hold jobs, this large young population will just be a burden as they add to the unemployment and underemployment problems. We may even lose our market leadership position in the BPO industry if our youth are not well trained for the digital age.

But this is getting ahead of ourselves. The problem of poorly educated youth starts even before they are born. Mothers from poverty-stricken households do not get prenatal care, such as vitamins and nutritious food so important at a time when the baby’s brain is undergoing development.

After the baby is born, the first three years are most important in terms of further brain development. That’s the time when the brain develops fast. Without proper food and nutrition, brain development is stunted and it is near impossible to catch up.

By the time the child enters kindergarten or grade one, his fate is more or less sealed. Making things worse, they go to school hungry.

My daughter, who did her practice teaching in a public school for her degree in child development, told me it is impossible to teach a roomful of about 60 pupils who are mostly hungry early in the morning,

That was also what the late Gina Lopez told me when she launched a school feeding program together with her educational television programs in public schools. You have to feed the tummy first, she said, before feeding the brain.

Maybe large corporations can help. Maybe Ayala can do a feeding program for schools in Quezon City where Vertis is. Megaworld can help in Libis and Taguig, and Villar’s property companies can help in Las Pinas or wherever they have developments.

A lot of civic organizations have done school building programs, so perhaps, proper classrooms are no longer a big problem. But I am not aware of any public or private initiative to train more teachers.

Public school teachers now earn more, in fact private school teachers move to public schools for better pay. But do we have enough teachers who can competently teach, for example, math and science?

The one time I was able to interview DepEd Secretary Liling Briones, she told me teacher competence is a concern. They are not able to get enough teachers who can competently teach math. I guess the good ones get pirated by headhunters from school districts in the US.

Getting enough competent math and science teachers is a problem even in a developed country like the United States. To address the gap, there is a volunteer corps of new college graduates who spend a year or two teaching in a public school before embarking on a career.

They call it Teach America. I have a grandniece, an honor graduate from the University of Chicago who is going to medical school soon. But she is currently teaching high school students math and science in a poor Texas neighborhood as part of Teach America.

Instead of ROTC, college students can choose to teach in a public school instead. Being exposed to how the other half lives will instill the kind of civic consciousness or ability to think of the common good among our youth.

Education is a big national problem, but it was not given the attention it deserved during the campaign. Indeed, we have no idea what Junior is thinking about education.

The one candidate who had a plan was Leni Robredo. Maybe Junior can take a look and pick those that interest him. Here are some of Leni’s plans, still taking the COVID pandemic into account:

Increase the number of community learning hubs in different parts of the country… with quick and fast internet connections in each hub; also, provide facilities and services such as computers and printers and one device per student;

Expand the coverage of school feeding programs in public primary and secondary schools.

Work with the LGUs, specially because they now have more funds with the Mandanas ruling.

They all sound like motherhood suggestions because we know all those were needed a long time ago. But we are still talking about them now and that’s sad.

So much to do. Sara will be busy.



Boo Chanco’s email address is Follow him on Twitter @boochanco

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