Freeman Cebu Business

Philippines PISA results: A wake-up call?

FULL DISCLOSURE - Fidel Abalos - The Freeman

VP Inday Sara resigned as DepEd Secretary earlier this week. Whether it was because of the very poor performance of our 15-year-old students in the PISA tests, we do not know.  However, the fact remains that the results (Programme for International Student Assessment or PISA tests) made headlines only this week when the truth is, as shown in OECD’s website, it was released on December 5, 2023. Whether politics is behind it, again, we do not know.

To understand the results and implications better, let’s take a look at what the program is all about. Actually, PISA “assesses the knowledge and skills of 15-year-old students in mathematics, reading and science.” “The tests explore how well students can solve complex problems, think critically and communicate effectively. This gives insights into how well education systems are preparing students for real life challenges and future success.” Then results are compared with other countries participating.

We started participating in PISA tests in 2018. Supposedly, our policy makers and educators in the country “can learn from other countries’ policies and practices.” Yes, there is too much to learn as we placed 63rd out of 64 participating countries.

Honestly, cellar-dwelling performances are not new to us. Lest we forget, in 2021, the World Bank released its findings that “Filipino students are not meeting the learning standards for their grade level.” Its study revealed that “80% of students do not know what they should know" for their level.

Moreover, we must not also forget that according to the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) 2019 by the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA), our Grade 4 students scored 297 in math and 249 in science, just enough to land 58th place among 58 countries that participated. Simply put, we were dead last. Another cellar-dwelling performance. If there is something to rejoice, it is because we’ve improved a notch higher. We are second from the bottom.

The question now is, could this be something that just happened or been lingering for decades? On this, let us all remember how we (the so-called professionals and already in the labor force) performed in the Global Opportunity Index (GOI) which was released in March, this year. To recall, our country was again associated with poor performances. We were 91st out of 130 countries included in the Global Opportunity Index (GOI). GOI is designed by the Milken Institute (MI) “to assist investors seeking opportunities outside their local markets, as well as countries intending to improve their business environments.” There are 100 indicators and these are classified into five categories: Business Perception, Economic Fundamentals, Financial Services, Institutional Framework, and International Standards and Policy.” The countries’ performances in the GOI have been used by investors in deciding where to put their money.

The fact is, the GOI, according to MI, “remains a strong predictor of capital movements 10 years after its inception.” That the “index alone explains 64.7 percent of the variation in per capita foreign direct investment (FDI) inflows and 51.7 percent of per capita portfolio inflows to countries across the world,” it added. Clearly, therefore, it means that a better index results in higher FDI and poorer performances mean it will come in trickles.

Indeed, on our education sector’s performance, the consequences could also spell trouble.  For one, its effects can last for years. Just imagine those who were in grade 4 in 2019 and the 15-year-olds now, whether they finish school (be it in senior high or college), will they be ready for the industries’ needs by then? If not, therefore, productivity suffers. Then, we won’t be surprised if we will become cellar-dwellers again in future global productivity surveys.

Moreover, we are known globally as exporter of labor. Prior to the pandemic and right after, we’ve been raking in billions a month in OFWs’ remittances. Known spenders, OFWs’ beneficiaries’ (spending) habits said enough to our economy which is 70% consumption driven.  However, if we cannot overhaul our education system, soon enough, we will be producing inferior graduates. Therefore, our labor exports will take a hit.

To reemphasize, having these poor performances (PISA tests, GOI, survey, WB’s report and TIMMS 2019) means continuing anemic inflows of FDIs and potential loss of dollar remittances in the future. So, where are we headed to?

So, is this a wake-up call? No, not at all. We are fully awake and aware, but did nothing about it.

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