Confronting mass stupidity

DEMAND AND SUPPLY - Boo Chanco - The Philippine Star

Mass stupidity, as my colleague Tony Lopez called it, is a national security threat. Tony interpreted the results of the 2022 PISA tests released last week in layman’s terms that leave no chance of misinterpretation or any bureaucratic attempt to finesse it.

“Filipino 15-year-olds are among the most stupid teeners on earth. They cannot count beyond the number 20. They cannot read. If they can read at all, they cannot understand what they read. And they don’t know science, the how and why of things.”

That sounds like a very real emergency to me. Unless we are able to quickly not just address it, but gain early improvements in our learning poverty level, the future for our beloved country is very bleak.

Just imagine that most of our young people, the ones expected to boost economic growth, are unable to compete for good paying jobs or even get entry level jobs because they find it difficult to read, write, and count. They will drag the economy down. That means poverty will worsen, there will be more hunger and discontent that will lead to civil unrest.

So, maybe VP/Sec. Sara is right that her job at DepEd involves national security. But not in the traditional way her mind thinks of it as a struggle with the communist rebels. Her mission is to make DepEd immensely more effective so that our people are not made ripe for rebellion because they are too stupid to qualify for jobs that will take them out of poverty.

It is also not right to blame the pandemic. In a speech before the Management Association of the Philippines, Senator Sherwin Gatchalian spoke of an education crisis within an education crisis. By this he meant that even before the COVID-19 pandemic, the Philippines by October 2019 had a poverty learning rate of 69.5 percent. With the pandemic and the ensuing school closures, the poverty learning rate had deteriorated to 90.9 percent.

The problem is worse than some may think. Yes, the private school students did better than the public-school students, but not by much. Statistician Peter Cayton tweeted that “the PISA study is really telling us the top 20 percent income bracket of the country is barely as good in math as the bottom 20 percent of Vietnam. In fact, the latter is estimated to be much smarter than average.”

In other words, rich kids outperformed kids from lower income families, but rich or poor, Filipino kids are way below the OECD average. It is mass stupidity, indeed.

Philippine Business for Education observed that “our education is in its worst state that puts us in a humanitarian crisis, and our learners are victims of this war… remaining at the 2022 bottom rankings in reading, math, and science proficiency similar to 2018. The state of education demands immediate attention, collective effort, and a commitment to improvement.

VP/Sec. Sara called the PISA test results an “uncomfortable truth.” At least she feels uncomfortable. That probably means she will work vigorously to fix it. And she has plenty to fix.

GMA News quotes Alex Sucalit Jr., DepEd senior education program specialist and PISA focal person, saying the recent PISA results might have shown that the Philippines is about five to six years behind as compared to other countries with higher scores.

GMA also quoted DepEd Undersecretary for curriculum and teaching Gina Gonong saying that the Philippines will still participate in the next PISA that will be conducted in 2025, but the DepEd is not expecting so much, as the new K-10 curriculum will not yet be fully implemented by then. We may only start being at par with other Southeast Asian countries by 2029 onwards, she said.

There is hope things will start to move for the better. DepEd has now recognized the problem is too big for it to handle alone. They seem to be positive about a suggestion in this column to work with the private sector, particularly the private schools.

DepEd launched last week a framework to decongest public schools and allow public school pupils to get the same quality of education provided in private schools. That’s probably using the voucher system.

Sen. Gatchalian also sponsored what he calls the Aral Bill. It picks up from a suggestion in this column for one-on-one tutorials for the laggards because remedial classes involving up to 40 pupils will not work.

The Senator said his measure aims to provide a national learning intervention program that will be grounded on systematic tutorial sessions. Under the bill, the program will cover essential learning competencies under the K to 12 curriculums, including language, mathematics, and science.

But Dr. Vic Limlingan, an economist active in education reforms, thinks it will still be a problem if the Aral program is lodged with the DepEd. He thinks devolving it to LGUs working through school boards may produce better outcomes. Limlingan explained that the management principle is to place the responsibility on another group so as to allow the present management (DepEd) to continue to focus on their primary responsibility, in this case basic education.

Besides, Dr. Limlingan said, the ARAL program calls for customized programs fitted to the learning levels of laggard students. The program calls for exploration of different learning catch-up programs, there is a need for a free market of ideas rather than a monolithic monopoly. The ARAL program calls for the involvement of the parents and the local governments in the implementation of the program, arguing again for its devolution.

Then Dr. Limlingan proposed that the business taipans get involved by using the educational development expertise of their human resources (HR) departments. HR departments can devise tests to evaluate the learning levels of the children of their employees. The next step would be to develop learning programs that would raise the learning levels in the areas of reading, writing, mathematics, and science.

That’s a good point. Children of employees are likely victims of this learning poverty. Charity can begin at home for the corporates. The success of their program to help the children of their employees would greatly increase morale and earn the gratitude of their employees.

Let’s go!


Boo Chanco’s email address is [email protected]. Follow himon X or Twitter @boochanco

vuukle comment



  • Latest
  • Trending
Are you sure you want to log out?

Philstar.com is one of the most vibrant, opinionated, discerning communities of readers on cyberspace. With your meaningful insights, help shape the stories that can shape the country. Sign up now!

Get Updated:

Signup for the News Round now

or sign in with