Education has become a cruel joke in the Philippines

TO THE QUICK - Jerry Tundag (The Freeman) - October 23, 2020 - 12:00am

When the Philippines implemented the K to 12 program, which raised the number of years of basic education from 10 to 12 plus kindergarten, the overriding compulsion to do so had been that the country was the only nation in Asia and one of only three in the world that did not have a 12-year basic education curriculum.

Warnings, entreaties, and protests that the educational system was not ready at the time to implement the K to 12 program fell on deaf ears. It did not matter that classrooms were terribly short, no teachers were qualified, teaching materials were unavailable, parents were financially unprepared, and colleges faced the prospect of enduring two years without freshmen and sophomore enrollees.

All that mattered to then president Noynoy Aquino and then education secretary Armin Luistro was that they did not want the Philippines to appear as a laggard country that had been left behind by the rest of the world. Never mind if nobody really learns anything so long as the Philippines can now claim to have kept up with the rest of the world. "Bahala nang maging tanga talaga, basta't hindi lang mag mukhang tanga."

And now comes the COVID-19 pandemic, where everything is dangerous, unhealthy, unstable, uncertain, untested, where everyone is unprepared, unqualified, and ill-equipped. The prudent thing would have been to let pass a year of schooling in favor of health security, financial stability, resource availability, better preparedness, and overall conduciveness to learning.

But education secretary Leonor Briones would have nothing short of having classes regardless of the consequences of the known and expected shortcomings. To Briones, classes must go on because the Philippines cannot afford to be left behind the other countries that have chosen to resume their own classes. She forgot we placed last in reading comprehension in better, non-COVID, times.

To Briones, it does not matter if learning is less than ideal and falls far short of minimum standards for as long as the Philippines keeps in step with all the others. And if we produce idiots, at least they are idiots with degrees. Ironically for an agency that is supposed to put a premium on substance, the DepEd is more attuned toward projecting appearance.

Briones herself emphasized this preference toward throwing caution to the winds when, asked to comment on the matter of preparedness, she snapped that Lapu-Lapu himself had not prepared for his encounter with Magellan, a pretty convoluted logic, if you ask me, especially for an education secretary. And now it is our students who are reaping the whirlwind as a result.

Not a day passes that no issue or error is discovered in the modules and distance learning materials being forced to keep classes going. The worst part is that DepEd is not owning up the mistakes. Washing its hands, it says the faulty items did not pass its scrutiny. DepEd better shape up because we have eagle-eyed spotters in parents who are doing the actual answering and studying. Education has become a cruel joke in the Philippines.

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