An F for Philippine education

QWERTYMAN - Jose Dalisay - The Philippine Star

An important document that’s been showing up in the inboxes and on the desks of both government and private-sector policymakers these past couple of weeks leaves no room in its title for misinterpretation: “Miseducation: The Failed System of Philippine Eduation.” Released last month by the Second Congressional Commission on Education or Edcom II, the report covers just the first year of the commission’s comprehensive review of the state of Philippine education. But the scenario it presents is so grim that, in the words of one of its crafters, “If this were Singapore, they would be declaring a national emergency.”

But then again, that may be the whole point. We are no Singapore – and indeed one of the report’s most damning and embarrassing findings is that “our best learners are comparable only to the average student in Malaysia, Thailand, Brunei and Vietnam, and correspond to the worst performers in Singapore.”

Edcom II picks up from where its predecessor left off more than three decades ago, when Edcom I was set up under the leadership of then senator Edgardo J. Angara to undertake a similar review. In July 2022, RA 11899 created Edcom II to find ways of harnessing the educational sector “with the end in view of making the Philippines globally competitive in both education and labor markets” over the next three years. Edcom II was also charged with drafting the necessary laws to make this happen. It’s just begun its work, with in-depth studies and assessments of our educational system from the ground up, but its early findings already show how difficult the road ahead will be toward the global competitiveness the commission was set up for.

I’ll just quote a few observations from a summary of the highlights of the nearly 400-page full report:

In terms of the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) undertaken by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in 2018 and 2022, “Grade 10 Filipinos scored lowest among all ASEAN countries in Math, Reading and Science, besting only Cambodia, with more than 75 percent of our learners scoring lower than Level 2, or the minimum level of proficiency in Math, Reading and Science.” This was the same survey that showed our best learners barely catching up with Singapore’s laggards.

“The proficiency level of our children across social class, rural and urban residence, gender, language at home, type of school and early childhood center attendance is dismally low.” This means that our deficiencies cut across the social and economic spectrum and can’t be put down to just a question of money.

To underscore the global crisis in education (yes, it isn’t just us), the World Bank and UNESCO have come up with the concept of “learning poverty,” which they define as a child’s inability to read and understand a simple text by age 10. Among some Asian countries recently surveyed for learning poverty, Singapore and South Korea scored the lowest at 3; China came in at 18, India at 56 and the Philippines was highest at 91.

And for those who insistently argue that the problem with our education is that we don’t use English enough, and early enough, Vietnam, which uses Vietnamese as its medium of instruction in the primary grades, has consistently outscored us in nearly all indices, as have Malaysia and other countries that rely on their own languages to move ahead.

A good part of the report dwells on how important it is for government to intervene as early as possible in our children’s growth and development, to prime them for a proper education. Edcom II looked into the problem of “stunting,” a measure of childhood maldevelopment, most easily seen when children are too short for their age, because of malnutrition or poor health. This has implications for the child’s ability to learn.

“The Philippines has one of the highest prevalence of stunting under-five in the world at 26.7 percent, greater than the global average of 22.3 percent. Policies are in place, but implementation has been fragmented, coverage remains low and targeting of interventions has been weak.” (For example, more than 98 percent or 4.5 million children 2-3 years old are not covered by the DSWD’s supplementary feeding program.)

Here’s another eye-popping revelation: “Since 2012, only 27 textbooks have been procured for Grade 1 to Grade 10, despite  substantial budget allocations. DepEd’s budget utilization data show that from 2018 to 2022 alone, a total of P12.6 billion has been allocated to textbooks and other instructional materials, but only P4.5 billion (35.3 percent) has been obligated and P952 million (7.5 percent) has been disbursed.” Not to mention the fact that many of these textbooks are riddled with errors!

Higher education presents its own host of problems and challenges. “Higher education participation is high given our income level,” the report notes. However, “Access to ‘quality’ higher education narrowed in the last decade… Most beneficiaries of the tertiary education subsidy were not the poorest… Between 2018 and 2022, the proportion of the poorest of the poor [in higher education] declined markedly, from 74 percent to 31 percent.”

A key part of the problem is the quality of our teachers, who themselves are poorly educated. “Between 2009 and 2023, the average passing rate in the licensure examinations for elementary (33 percent) and secondary (40 percent) has been dismally low, when compared to passing rates in other professions. Worse, between 2012 and 2022,
77 HEIs offering BEEd and 105 HEIs offering BSEd continued operations despite having consistently zero passing rates in the LET.”

Our supervisory agencies themselves need to be properly staffed. “The staffing levels in CHED and TESDA have not kept pace with the growing responsibilities of the agencies and the increased investments in education from both the public and private sectors. CHED’s budget increased by 633 percent from 2013 to 2023, but the agency’s staffing complement only increased by 22.7 percent, from 543 to 666 within the same period.”

The money’s clearly there, but it’s not being spent where it should be. “Budget allocated to education is increasing, but there is a tertiary tilt despite profound gaps in basic education… While government investments have increased substantially, the bulk of the additional resources went to higher education –which is typically regressive. From 2015 to 2019 per capita spending surged from P13,206 to P29,507. Meanwhile, profound gaps remain in Early Childhood Care and Development and basic education… 30–70 percent of the school MOOE budget is spent on utility bills alone, which leaves meager funds available for improvement projects and initiatives that could address local needs and support better learning.”

We could go on and on – and the full report (downloadable at https://edcom2.gov.ph/) does. But you get the picture: Philippine education gets an F. The question is, will our national leadership recognize this as the national emergency that it clearly is, and respond accordingly?

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Email me at [email protected] and visit my blog at www.penmanila.ph.

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