March to quality education
SKETCHES - Ana Marie Pamintuan (The Philippine Star) - February 24, 2020 - 12:00am

After the dismal ranking of 15-year-old Filipinos in the 2019 Program for International Student Assessment or PISA, now comes a report about the inability to read of some 70,000 elementary students in Bicol.

Department of Education officials have since refuted the report, and clarified that the Philippine Informal Reading Inventory or Phil-IRI is not a standardized nationwide test. Instead, DepEd Undersecretary Nepomuceno Malaluan explained, the Phil-IRI is a tool that public school teachers have been using since the 2011-2012 schoolyear, with wide personal discretion, to assess which of their students need more attention or assistance in learning.

Under Phil-IRI, which is administered at the start of the schoolyear, the student is graded on oral reading, silent reading and listening comprehension. Malaluan said the test aims to assess a student’s “independent, instructional and frustration level.”

DepEd officials led by Secretary Leonor Briones have also stressed that failure or a low score in Phil-IRI does not mean that a student is illiterate or is “no read, no write.”

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The basic literacy rate in this country, as measured by the Philippine Statistics Authority, is nearly 98 percent. Measuring learning skills and literacy can be tricky. Even the PISA results, where over 7,200 Filipino students ranked last among their counterparts from 78 other countries in reading comprehension and second to the last in math and science, are being challenged by those who note that it was administered in English and by computer rather than on pen and paper.

Countries can opt to have the test on pen and paper. The Philippines could have done this, considering that only about 30 percent of Filipino public school students enjoy access to computers – quite low, Malaluan notes, compared to several other Southeast Asian countries, although most Filipino youths can access the internet through cell phones.

But Malaluan explained that DepEd precisely wanted to determine the competencies of Filipino students in a global environment wherein much of the materials that people read are on digital platforms.

Malaluan told “The Chiefs” last week on Cignal TV’s One News channel that DepEd is taking into consideration such comments as the department ponders whether the country should participate in the next PISA in 2021. 

Countries ask for inclusion in the PISA, to assess student competencies that need enhancement. The results are used as guides for implementing education reforms. Countries can wait for the results of the reforms before participating again in the PISA to see if the measures worked.

This is what India is doing, Malaluan told us. The country ranked second to the last when it first participated in PISA in 2009. India then refrained from participating for the next decade as it implemented reforms in its education sector. For the first time since 2009, India will be participating in PISA again, in 2021 – to gauge the results of those reforms.

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As part of the responses to the PISA results, DepEd asked teachers to forward to the main office for collation the results of their Phil-IRI.

Education starts with the educators. Results of the standardized National Achievement Test that students in Years 6, 10 and 12 take, where many score poorly in math, science and English proficiency, also reflect the competencies of teachers.

So DepEd is reviving the National Educators Academy of the Philippines. Set up in 1985, NEAP was meant to be the principal institution for the development of a top-quality national teaching pool.

The NEAP, however, never took off, possibly because the unrest during the Marcos dictatorship that culminated in the 1986 people power revolt got in the way.

This summer, DepEd is rolling out a “standardized and integrated” training for teachers using the NEAP.

Malaluan explains that this is a change from the current practice of different DepEd bureaus across the country, which develop their own teacher training programs with no need for vetting by the main office.

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Another program under review is the experiment with the use of the mother tongue as the medium of instruction from grades one to three.

DepEd picked 19 of the most widely spoken dialects for use across the country for the Mother Tongue-Based Multilingual Education.

The problem, Malaluan notes, is that mother tongues in this country are not strictly geography-specific, except perhaps in Maguindanao where 90 percent of the people speak the mother dialect.

So a child in Cebu may speak Chabacano or some other Visayan dialect at home rather than Cebuano. It is not uncommon, Malaluan notes, for what is believed to be the mother tongue in a particular area to be like a foreign language to certain pupils. So both the mother tongue and the subjects where it is the medium of instruction become difficult to learn.

Since the PISA results came out, Briones has so far presented during two Cabinet meetings the measures being implemented by DepEd to improve the quality of public education.

Malaluan notes that DepEd officials are “almost evenly split down the middle” on whether to participate in next year’s PISA. He can’t say if President Duterte will have the last word on it. What was clear at the Cabinet meetings, Malaluan told us, was that the Cabinet would support whatever decision would be reached on the issue by DepEd and Briones.

Last year’s PISA focused on English proficiency among 15-year-old students. Next year’s test will focus on mathematical skills – another weak area for Filipino students. Just how weak will be good to know, but it may be too soon to gauge the impact of reforms that are being rolled out to address the deficiencies highlighted in the 2019 PISA.

Those reforms reflect a shift from the previous focus on providing universal access to education, which Malaluan says has been pretty much achieved, to improving the quality.

“This march to quality requires a national effort,” Malaluan said.

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SNAIL MAIL: I’ve just received letters at the office by snail mail, some postmarked as far back as August 2019. No wonder postal services are in the ICU. One letter is from the Commission on Human Rights, postmarked 10/10/2019, clarifying that the film documentary “On the President’s Orders” did not premiere before the CHR, contrary to a STAR report on 29 Sept. 2019. Sorry for my failure to reply.

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