Basic Education Report 2023: Challenges and prospects

Vice President and Education Secretary Sara Duterte PHOTO BY JOHN RYAN BALDEMOR

VICE President and Education Secretary Sara Duterte presented the Basic Education Report (BER) last Jan. 30, 2023, which basically lays out the agenda for her department. The report diagnoses the ills that plague the country's basic education system, which has since become a laggard in Southeast Asia.

Many of these problems were already there even before the arrival of Duterte. She faces a huge challenge — to plug holes and leaks in the system, and to realize the vision of human development that is intrinsic in education.

True to form, hardly had the YouTube video of the vice president's report been uploaded when the Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) started firing off its complaints. It said that teachers are trained to list objectives and standards in lesson plans, but the BER did not have “specific and time-bound” plans to address the problems of education.

ACT said the Education department should have targets on how it plans to fix the problems with the K to 12 curriculum as well as personnel shortages. Moreover, two out of three school buildings need repairs and there is a pressing need for guidance counselors in the schools, it said. Secretary Duterte herself admitted that K to 12 students being ready for work right after graduation remains “a promise” that is yet to be fulfilled.

However, a more careful reading of the BER will show that the department has thought of several plans to address the problems. Among them, Duterte said the DepEd would review the K to 12 curriculum and further train teachers to improve students' competencies in reading, science and mathematics.

We think it is not fair to blast the vice president for “the very late” review of the K to 12 curriculum. This review was begun in 2018 but was hobbled by the Covid-19 pandemic. Duterte said the DepEd's partial review of the senior high school program showed a congested curriculum, missing prerequisites for certain subjects and learning competencies that “catered to high cognitive demands.”

A more balanced view came from educator Dr. Carl Balita. The heart of the matter, he said, is to “put education at the center of the development policies of the State — guided by a national vision on education. It (the Second Congressional Commission on Education or Edcom 2) has laid out objectives related to investments in education, revisiting and harmonizing the ecosystem of the trifocalized education system, digital transformation, 21st century competencies of learners, and other education reforms benchmarking global practices.”

Think Thailand

How to put this into practice?

There is a need for a “superbody” to steer the ship of education in the context of human development. As we wrote in this space last week, the K to 12 program should be revisited. Its functional outcomes, curriculums and structures, including indigenous and special education, should be retooled. Some quarters have also proposed early childhood development and school-based interventions, since the child's development begins best in the first six years of life.

Teacher education and training development should also be standardized. Again, as we have said in this space, teachers' salaries should be raised to attract a better pool of teaching talent. There should also be a review of existing programs and thorough evaluation and scrutiny when it comes to opening new schools and programs.

Moreover, there is a need to have performance-based subsidies for private education institutions. We should also open our doors to transnational education, the way Malaysia and Singapore have welcomed satellite schools of British and American universities.

As the recent problems with the supply of onions, garlic and sugar have shown, we need to strengthen and integrate “agriculture” into the strengthened Steam (science, technology, engineering, arts, mathematics) education program as well as in techno-preneurial and agri-preneurial education.

Lastly, there is a need to unleash the potential of the local community colleges and universities for more locally relevant rural developmental areas like fisheries, agriculture, tourism, enterprise and technology development, and others that promote indigenous and culturally specific products and services.

“Think Thailand” is one easy way to go: Look at how a country poorer than us 20 years ago boosted its science and technology education, as well as its agriculture offerings. The result is a self-reliant country and a galloping economy, something that Filipinos can also aspire for.

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