The state of Filipino education and a shout out to DepEd
THE CORNER ORACLE - Andrew J. Masigan (The Philippine Star) - January 15, 2020 - 12:00am

Earlier this month, President Duterte signed the P4.1-trillion national budget of which 36.5 percent was allocated to social development programs including education. P39 billion was appropriated for universal access to tertiary education, P36 billion was allocated to upgrade basic education facilities and P692 billion was allocated to the DepEd, Commission on Higher Education (CHED) and state universities and colleges. This amount is greater than that appropriated for infrastructure.

While the allocation on education is substantial, we should ask ourselves if it is enough and if we are spending it wisely.  How does the Filipino youth compare with their peers abroad in terms of reading, math and science? How prepared are they for the future?

Every three years, the Programme of International Student Assessment (PISA) evaluates 600,000 15-year-old students from 79 countries. The Philippines participated for the first time in 2018 for which 7,233 Filipino students from 187 public and private schools were evaluated. The results were appalling.

In reading, or the ability of students to identify the main idea of a moderately long text and extract information from it, Filipino children were dead last among 79 nationalities evaluated. Students from the Dominican Republic and Kosovo scored better. None of our students were able to comprehend lengthy texts, deal with abstract concepts or make distinctions between fact and opinion.

As expected, the PISA assessment was topped by children from China, Singapore, Hong Kong and Canada. Students from these countries aced the math and science evaluations too.

In math, or the ability to interpret how simple situations can be represented mathematically (eg. comparing prices from different currencies), Filipino students were second to the last among all nationalities.

In science, or the ability to recognize basic scientific principles, Filipino students were at 71st position out of 79 countries, at par with Panama. Less than one percent of Filipino students were at the level of their counterparts from Singapore.

The rankings suggest that the Filipino youth are among the least learned and future-ready on the planet.

This dovetails with another ranking that assessed the talents of working professionals.  According to the Institute of Management Development (IMD) World Talent Report, the Filipino workforce is only the 49th most talented out of 63 nationalities evaluated. The Philippines’ standing in workforce talent is seen to deteriorate further as the present crop of students graduate to the workforce.

What were the contributing factors to the poor performance of Filipino students in the PISA assessment?

It was noted that expenditure per student by the Philippines government was lowest among 79 nations. Indeed, there is a direct correlation between spending per student and their performance.

Moreover, school principals in the Philippines reported an acute shortage of teaching materials and facilities. While the greater majority of teachers possess licenses from the Professional Regulation Commission, only a handful have a masters degree.

It was also noted that 94 percent of Filipino children spoke a language other than English at home. This tells us that our proficiency in English has eroded. It is another competitive advantage we are losing.

Students from well-off families who attend private school scored 88 points higher in reading than public school students. However, our private school pupils, supposedly our best and brightest, are only at the same level in reading as students in Uruguay (ranked 48th overall). In math, they are at par with students from Morocco (ranked 73rd). In science, they are at the level as Indonesia (ranked 72nd). In other words, even our private schools pupils are in the lower 10 percent in terms of quality standards.

Sixty-five percent of Filipino students reported being bullied regularly. Being able to study in an environment where students feel safe and protected is crucial to productivity.

No surprise, 29 percent of Filipino students are regularly absent and 61 percent are regularly late.  Frequently bullied students are more likely to skip class.

This is a clear indication that Filipino schools have poor disciplinary programs. It is a case of being too lenient. The need for stricter behavioral programs cannot be over emphasized.

As far as our student mental health is concerned, a quarter of Filipino students admitted to being lonely at school compared to the global average. Eight percent said they were always feeling sad. Suicides are on the rise and left unaddressed by the authorities.

Most worrying is that only 31 percent of Filipino students believe they can improve if they work hard. The rest believe that they are consigned to their level of intelligence. Filipino students registered only half the determination to improve than their counterparts abroad.

All these tells us that our education system is in a very poor state and in desperate need of reform. The K to 12 program was just the start of a long process of reform. Evidently, the DepEd and CHED under this administration have failed to follow through.

The DepEd says it will improve basic education by implementing aggressive reforms in four key areas: (1) K to 12 review and updating, (2) Improvement of learning facilities, (3) Teachers and school heads’ upskilling and reskilling through a transformed professional development program; and (4) engagement of all stakeholders for support and collaboration. 

An increase of budget, alone, will not solve the situation, neither will the “aggressive reforms” the DepEd is talking about. Our education system needs an overhaul – and this has to be accompanied by setting a long term vision; adopting more ambitious standards; giving bias to the sciences and engineering in our curriculums; improving disciplinary programs; establishing accountabilities among schools; encouraging innovation and creativity; using resources more effectively; working on student motivation and maintaining a global and future orientation.

The much talked about demographic sweet spot that the Philippines is said to benefit from will mean nothing if our workforce is ill-equipped to face the challenges of tomorrow’s world. As it is, the country already faces a talent deficit which will persist for 10 years. This should serve as a wake up call for the DepEd.

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