Worse than we thought

DEMAND AND SUPPLY - Boo Chanco - The Philippine Star

Our crisis in education is apparently worse than we thought.  And there are very reasonable doubts our government will be able to do enough to make things better. It is not about lack of funds even if we are spending less than our neighboring peers on education as a percentage of GDP. In fact, it seems DepEd does not have the capacity to spend its budget, the largest among the departments. And what it manages to spend doesn’t get spent efficiently and is wasted on corruption.

I got this Viber message from a former Cabinet member about the briefing last week on EDCOM II findings (EDCOM II is a congressional commission tasked to review Philippine education, composed of congressmen and senators, and some of the most brilliant experts in education from the major schools, NGOs, gov’t, etc). And reading it makes you want to cry.

Grade 10 Filipinos scored LOWEST among all ASEAN countries, except Cambodia. 75 percent of our learners scored lower than Level 2 (Level 2 is minimum level of proficiency in math, science & reading).

Our BEST learners (including those from private schools) are comparable only to the average student in Malaysia, Brunei and Vietnam and equivalent to the WORST performers in Singapore.

Since 2012, only 27 textbooks have been procured for Grade 1 to Grade 10, despite substantial budget allocations (not talking about corruption but incompetence, a horrible failure to utilize the budget).

Comment ng presentor - “ayaw ng foreign-sourced books, they want locally produced na maraming mali. Bad enough, pero di bale na yung meron mali sana, at least meron nababasa ang bata, kesa sa wala.”

Note: From 2018-2022, P12.6 billion was allocated for textbook purchases, only P4.5 billion was obligated and only P952 million was actually disbursed.

EdCom II reported that 95 percent of Grade 4 participants in the 2019 Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study attended schools lacking learning materials in both subjects.

Between 2009 and 2023, only 33 percent passed the Licensure Exams for Teachers (LET) (elementary level), and 40  percent for secondary level teachers. Even worse info –between 2012 and 2022 77 HEI’s (Higher Education Institutions) offering BEEd (elementary ed) & 105 HEI’s offering BSEd (secondary ed) continued operations despite having CONSISTENTLY ZERO PASSING RATES in the LET.

We know the basic problems: nine out of 10 pupils aged 10 years old cannot read simple text. One root cause is that one out of three Filipino children under five years of age are undernourished or malnourished.

Undernourishment or malnourishment of children during the first 1,000 days of their existence (from the wombs of their mothers to two years of age) results in some brain damage so that, no matter how good the quality of education they receive during their childhood years, it will have limited effectiveness.

Then there is teacher quality. It is reasonable to wonder if our teachers can pass the PISA tests where our students scored among the lowest of our peer countries. Maybe that should be the starting point. Given the low rate of passing in the teacher licensure tests, let’s make teachers take the PISA test. Of course, all those HEIs offering teacher education degrees but unable to make any of their students pass the licensure tests should be closed down. Our problem, first and foremost, is figuring out how to drastically improve teacher training.

As usual, we are good at studying the problems. At EDCOM II, our education experts came up with a very comprehensive report on what’s wrong, as if we didn’t know. EdCom II has 27 priority recommendations and 40 action points. It gave historical context and documentation, detailed in 60 figures and 38 tables developed from official, national, and international sources.

The report connected current problems to those raised over 30 years ago by the first EDCOM. The list includes malnutrition among children and inadequate support for early childhood care and development, the medium of instruction in basic education, among others.

And yes, problems raised 30 years ago were unattended and actually got worse. Will it be different this time? Will the EDCOM II report be worth the paper used to publish it? I’m not holding my breath.

A very important lesson that should be quite obvious is the stupidity of throwing money at the education problem and thinking things will get better. A congresswoman wants to raise teacher salaries to P50,000 a month. Our public school teachers are now paid more than many private school teachers but here we are with the dismal results. Merit increases based on the test performance of students should be considered.

Passing new laws means little too. Congress has passed many well-meaning laws to improve our educational system and has given education the largest budget. But in the last 50 years, the crisis has persisted and, from the perspective of learning outcomes, has become worse.

Maybe the problem is too big for the humongous DepEd bureaucracy, now over a million bodies and counting. It’s time to decentralize to LGUs with the capacity and track record to manage K-12 education better.  The significant differences in economic conditions, culture, linguistic traditions, and other circumstances affecting the educational experiences of the youth from one region to another are good reasons for decentralization.

The cities in NCR have the capacity to handle this function better than DepEd. LGUs also have the Special Education Fund that property owners pay City Hall yearly.

I have an American friend married to a Filipina who decided to send all his sons to study in public school. Of course, we are talking of a Makati public school. One of the best legacies of Jojo Binay is investing money on education, from elementary to college.

Actually, some of the cities in Metro Manila have their own science high schools and colleges. And the products of these schools are not bad. The City of Manila even has two colleges, with the Pamantasan offering a medical degree. Going local is a quick first step toward a solution.

We have lost at least two generations of Filipinos because of bad education.  And VP/DepEd Sec Sara Duterte is clueless enough to be more interested in confidential funds to fight the insurgency...



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

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