If students fare bad, then we’re the failures
GOTCHA - Jarius Bondoc (The Philippine Star) - December 13, 2019 - 12:00am

“K-12” can’t be the culprit in Filipinos’ poorest scores among 79 countries in Reading, Mathematics, and Science. Last year’s tests were done on 15-year-olds worldwide. The Philippines adopted “Kindergarten-plus-12 Grades” only three years ago. Reading proficiency starts in Grades 1 to 3, says Love Basillote, executive director of Philippine Business for Education. If not honed then, students will be unable to cope in higher years. They will flunk other competencies.

Which is what happened to Filipino 9th Graders in the Program for International Student Assessment. More than 600,000 15-year-olds from 79 countries participated in the triennial test. Filipinos ranked lowest in Reading, below the Dominican Republic. They were second lowest in Mathematics and Science, outscoring this time the Dominican Republic. Filipinos averaged only 340 in Reading, 353 in Mathematics, and 357 in Science – all below the minimum proficiency level of at least 407, 420, and 410, respectively.

Four in five Filipinos could not comprehend the short, simple article they were made to read, Basillote notes. Conversely only one in five is thus able to construct new ideas from what he read. That will reflect in numbers skills and in understanding abstract concepts. From the Filipino youths’ scores they will be unproductive in daily life.

The sorry scores may be the result of years of neglect. Education Sec. Leonor Briones ordered the Philippine participation in the 2018 PISA precisely due to worrisome results of the annual National Achievement Tests. The PISA results will guide the Dept. of Education’s quality improvement, particularly of the curriculum, instructional facilities, teachers, and coordination with related sectors.

The last time the country took part in a global test was in 2003. Many East Asian and Pacific countries joined that test for 4th and 8th Graders by the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study. At the time the Philippines often was ranked economically high with Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand. Yet it scored lower than Cambodia in the TIMSS. Top scorers in the region were Japan, Korea, Singapore, Taiwan, China, Vietnam, and Hong Kong. Filipinos then scored less than 400, while those from rich countries averaged higher than the minimum 500-level.

Leaps have been made in Philippine education since then, World Bank chief education specialist Michael Crawford analyzed. One is K-12. The world has long held that students’ learning concentration is highest inside classrooms; so the longer they are held there, the better. Kindergarten-plus-12 Grades was hailed as a major departure from the Philippines’ previous meager 10-year curriculum, with no pre-schooling at all. Training and screening of principals became stricter. No more favoritism; they were required to take masters and doctorate programs. Another innovation was formalizing the bilingual instruction medium in Grades 1 and 2. Pupils are able to follow better if in their mother tongue, with early introduction to English.

But implementation gaps marred the new policies. Despite the adoption of bilingualism, teachers still lacked instruction aids, Basillote rues. The more creative among them crafted their own, and school districts merely copied. There was no massive production of materials for teaching of basics in Ilocano, Pangasinan, Pampango, Zambal, Bicolano, Bisaya, Waray, Ilonggo, Maguindanao, Maranao, Tausug, or Subanon. Most were only in Tagalog or English.

Teacher training remained poor. Only one in five passes the annual Licensure Exams for Teachers, Basillote laments. “The career path has always been, if you’re bad in Language or Science and cannot be a lawyer or engineer, then take up an Education course in college instead,” she expounds. It should be the other way around: only the best should enroll in BS Education, to in turn produce the best lawyers and engineers.

Education-related problems have remained. Of the poor PISA results, Sen. Francis Pangilinan and Health Sec. Francisco Duque suspect poor nutrition as a cause. “How can a student concentrate on lessons when his stomach is growling?” was the question posed about the poor showing in TIMSS-2013. Lack of iodine stunts brain development, experts said. Today the question varies a bit to include hygiene: “How can a pupil concentrate on lessons if his tooth is aching or her head is itching with lice?”

In that regard the government must devote more money to education, nutrition and health. Rich countries spend for education the equivalent of six percent of GDP. The Philippines does far less. Ironically Congress has enacted free college, but is hard put to fund it. And with grade and high schoolers below par in Reading, Mathematics and Science, there’s no point in college.

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The Philippines’ success in the 30th Southeast Asian Games will spur sports development. Our athletes performed against the best in more than 50 sports. The medal harvest – 149 gold, 117 silver, 120 bronze – inspire the millions of youths to specialize and excel. The names of our sportsmen will go down in history.

Heroic of all is surfer Roger Casugay. In the long board event he stopped mid-wave to save Indonesian competitor Arip Nurhidayat from drowning after an accidental fall. He showed what sporting is all about, that yes it’s for medal and glory but most of all for brotherhood. The grateful Indonesian President Joko Widodo tweeted: “Winning the competition and upholding sportsmanship is important, but humanity is above all.” Philippine President Rody Duterte reportedly is to confer state honors on Roger.

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Catch Sapol radio show, Saturdays, 8-10 a.m., DWIZ (882-AM).

Gotcha archives: www.philstar.com/columns/134276/gotcha

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