DepEd in denial

THE CORNER ORACLE - Andrew J. Masigan - The Philippine Star

Education Secretary Leonor Briones cried foul over the publication of a World Bank report saying that more than 80 percent of Filipino students don’t meet the standards for their grade level. Briones claimed that the World Bank failed to follow protocol in that it should have informed her office first before publishing its findings. She also said the report was based on 2018 data. To this, she demanded a public apology.

Three global rating agencies on education – Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) and the Southeast Asia Primary Learning Metrics (SEA-PLM) – all tell the same story. The thee attest that educational standards in the Philippines are indeed at such a low level that our youth will be unable to compete with their global peers when they enter the workforce. Although the data used by the World Bank is three years old, it does not negate the fact that our educational standards are among the lowest in the world.

Let’s get one thing straight. The assessment of the World Bank is not an insult to Filipinos but an eye opener on the educational crisis we face. Blame should not be deflected on the World Bank on grounds of national pride. Rather, Briones must own up to her department’s shortcomings and do better. If this were the private sector, leaders who deny failures and play the blame game are branded toxic and not tolerated. What more in government where more is at stake. How can the DepEd resolve its problems if its severity is not even acknowledged by its leader? DepEd reeks of poor leadership and a whole generation of Filipino youth will pay the price for it.

The Philippine Business for Education (PBEd) recently appraised the state of Filipino education today. Facts and figures were presented by PBED’s Marco de los Reyes. Again, the results corroborate the World Bank report.

Data from DepEd itself show that Grade 3 students were more proficient in English and Filipino in 2013 than they were in 2019. Among grade 5 students, UNICEF data show that proficiency in reading among Filipino children is only at 10 percent (versus 82 percent in Vietnam and 58 percent in Malaysia); writing proficiency is at 2 percent (versus 32 percent in Vietnam and 11 percent in Malaysia); while math proficiency is at 17 percent (versus 92 percent in Vietnam and 64 percent in Malaysia). On a regional perspective, Filipino grade 5 students are third to the last in intelligence, only besting Laos and Myanmar, albeit by a small margin. It is as shameful as it is alarming.

Among junior high school students, the DepEd’s national achievement scores reveal that only 1 percent of Filipino students are proficient in math, 3 percent in English, 1 percent in science, 13 percent in Filipino and 10 percent in social studies. No surprise, international assessments conclude that senior high school students from the Philippines with 12 years of schooling are only at grade 6 level per international standards.

These findings are validated by the 2018 PISA audit. The OECD-sponsored study evaluated 600,000 15-year-old students from 79 countries. The Philippines participated in 2018, for which 7,233 Filipino students from 18 public and private schools were evaluated. In reading, or the ability of students to extract information from a moderately long text, Filipino children were dead last among 79 nationalities evaluated. None of our students were able to comprehend lengthy narratives, deal with abstract concepts or make distinctions between fact and opinion. In math, or the ability to interpret how simple situations can be represented mathematically (e.g. comparing prices between 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.

As if our situation is not scandalous enough, a further deterioration in standards was noted as a result of the pandemic. Since March 2020, a million children dropped out of school.

The DepEd talked about migrating to an online learning platform but this has not been so successful. Among public schools, only 2 percent conducted classes online, 8.7 percent did blended learning while 87.4 percent relied on printed modules. The low numbers of online and blended learning are due to the fact that 34,500 public schools do not have internet connection. Five thousand of them don’t have electricity.

More distressing is our youth’s state of mental health. Due to home isolation for more than a year, children have become increasingly demotivated (for study and play), disengaged, depressed and many have developed nervous tics.

Where did it all go wrong? The following are some of the “cracks” in our education system.

Since the 2012 Universal Kindergarten Law and the 2013 K-to-12 Law, there has not been any new legislation in this administration to improve educational standards, at least none that I am aware of.

Although annual spending per student tripled during the past administration – from P7,876 per student in 2010 to P22,067 in 2017 – it has declined since then. Spending per student this year stands at only P20,834 per student.

Net enrollment rates are at only 72.6 percent – in other words, one out of every four children of kinder age is not in school. Malnutrition remains a problem with 1 out of 3 students being a victim of stunted development while one of five is underweight.

The lack of textbook is yet another issue. Around 27 percent of students have no textbooks and must share with one or more classmates. Exacerbating matters is that 66 percent of teachers are not capacitated to teach in the mother tongue.

Left unattended, these “cracks” will widen and result in even poorer learning outcomes across all levels.

There is no denying that Philippine education has spiraled to crisis levels. Thus, education must be at the top of the national agenda.

Our youth are in such an intellectual disadvantage that they are destined to be the manual laborers of the world unless something is done. The economic growth we look forward to on the back of our demographic sweet spot will be wasted away by poor education.

Disappointingly, Malacañang supported Briones’ call for an apology and so did the Department of Finance. I expected as much from the Palace but not from the DOF. This attitude is precisely why the country has plummeted in practically all developmental indices since 2016, the itemization of which I will provide in a future piece.

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Email: andrew_rs6@yahoo.com. Follow him on Facebook @Andrew J. Masigan

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