Catching up with school

DEMAND AND SUPPLY - Boo Chanco - The Philippine Star

We had one of the world’s longest COVID lockdowns and it certainly affected the education of our young people. Isy Faingold, chief of education at the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in the Philippines, said that the Philippines was already facing a learning crisis before the pandemic.

In the US, the New York Times reported that nine-year-olds lost the equivalent of two decades of progress in math and reading, according to an authoritative national test. Fourth graders also recorded sweeping declines, particularly with eight-grade scores falling in 49 of 50 states.

I am not surprised. My daughter teaches in a public school in California and she was telling me how difficult it was to teach online. The worst part, she observed, was those who are economically disadvantaged suffered the most.

First is the availability of broadband connection. The poor cannot afford the kind of broadband quality necessary for online classes.

Then there is the low attention span of elementary children. My daughter could see it in her own son who tops his regular classes, but is so distracted when doing online classes.

The big concern is the absence of adult supervision while children are attending online classes. Parents are busy earning a living, and in some cases, are not educated enough to help their children.

An education professor from Stanford told the NYT that the poverty rate is very predictive of how much a pupil has lost during the time online classes were the norm. Despite spending roughly the same amount of time attending remote classes, students in the wealthier Cupertino district actually gained ground in math, while students in poorer Merced City fell behind.

A study cited by the NYT noted that the gap in learning grew between the highest-achieving students and low-performing students who struggle the most. In other words, the students who had the least ground to lose lost the most.

It is the same situation here. DepEd was simply unprepared for the shift. They rushed printed “learning modules” that were not very good.

In March, our senators questioned a report from DepEd that said 99 percent of public school students obtained a passing grade in the first quarter of the school year (October-December 2020).

Unbelievable! It is common knowledge that many students struggle with distance learning. Many do not even have the money to buy the load to have broadband connections. And many also did not have the proper gadgets to attend broadband classes.

A DepEd official was reported to have told the senators that, most likely, the teachers were being more considerate to their students during the pandemic. The passing grades only meant the learning deficiency problem was tossed to the teachers in the next higher grade, a practice in our public schools that predates COVID.

Before anything else, ROTC included, DepEd must put all its efforts towards recovering the learning losses from the COVID-19 pandemic. There is so much catching up to do even if the COVID lockdowns did not happen.

For instance, the results of the Southeast Asia Primary Learning Metrics in 2019, a regional learning assessment designed by and for Southeast Asian countries, revealed that only 10 percent of Grade 5 students in the Philippines met the minimum required standards in reading and only 17 percent in math.

Faingold, the UNICEF official, said the figures were “significantly low and an issue of concern.” The new numbers reconfirmed the results for the secondary level from the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) released in 2018, where the Philippines ranked last in reading and in math among 79 countries.

“This is related to another important finding from the PISA test on the growth mindset, which is defined as how the students perceive their intelligence if they think that the intelligence can grow or it is something fixed,” Faingold explained.

He pointed to a strong correlation between the PISA test results and the proportion of students in each country who think their intelligence can grow. The Philippines, unfortunately, was among the lowest in terms of the proportion of students who think their intelligence can grow.

Filipino students are correct to think they have problems growing their intelligence. Due to nutritional deprivation in early childhood, their ability to learn has been stunted. Hunger is a continuing problem here.

The national Social Weather Survey of Sept. 29 – Oct. 2 found that 11.3 percent of Filipino families or an estimated 2.9 million experienced involuntary hunger – being hungry and not having anything to eat – at least once in the past three months.

That is 1.3 points above the 10 percent (estimated 2.5 million families) in September 2021, and two points above the pre-pandemic annual average of 9.3 percent in 2019. Those with empty tummies will likely end up with empty brains. Their only hope is to be elected to Congress one day.

The COVID-19 pandemic and other disasters that hit the country worsened the learning crisis. There is increased inequality manifested by the high number of dropouts and a potential increase in teen pregnancies, child labor, and domestic violence, the UNICEF release pointed out.

A UNICEF study that followed a cohort of 3,400 children revealed that no student in the study had the necessary foundational skills required to understand the Grade 4 math curriculum. In terms of literacy, only 25 percent of Grade 4 students achieved the level of reading and understanding expected.

In addition, children from conflict-affected areas were, on average, two years behind their peers in the other groups and demonstrated lower levels of socio-emotional skills.

To recover from the learning losses, UNICEF recommends the RAPID framework, a set of global recommendations to Reach every child and keep them in school, Assess the learning levels regularly, Prioritize the foundational skills, Increase the efficiency of instruction, and Develop psychosocial health and wellbeing support.

So, focus on the essentials, VP Sara. Do ROTC later, after our young people can already read, write and count.



Boo Chanco’s email address is [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @boochanco


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