Our education crisis: Why and what next?
First, allow me to provide some context for those who missed the first installment of this series.
The country is facing an educational crisis. In 2018,15-year-old Filipino students were ranked dead last in reading and second to the last in science and math among 79 nationalities in the rankings of the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA). In 2019, Filipino students ranked dead last again in math and science among 58 children in the assessment of Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS). It was the same outcome in the Southeast Asia Primary Learning Metrics (SEA-PLM).
In 2018, the DepEd conducted a National Achievement Test to assess student proficiencies in math, science, English, Filipino and Social Studies. With a passing score of 75 percent, the proficiency scores of grade 6 students were at 39.4 percent in problem solving, 39.3 percent in information literacy and 33.6 percent in critical thinking. As for grade 10 students, the scores were 47.5 percent in problem solving, 46.5 percent in information literacy and 42 percent in critical thinking.
One of the reasons for our poor learning outcomes is government’s low spending on education. Under the Duterte administration, education spending decreased from P22,979 per student in 2017 to P20,834 per student in 2020. A PISA study affirms that the Philippines must increase its spending by at least four times, to P80,000 per student, in order for our children to catch up to international levels. Merely doubling the budget to P40,000 will only increase proficiencies by 10 percent.
To increase the educational spending to the prescribed level may not be feasible given financial constraints. What then are our options?
First of all, parents and government officials must be made aware of the true proficiency levels of our students every year without DepEd’s window dressing. Only then can we truly appreciate the depth and breadth of the weaknesses in our educational system. I recommend that the National Achievement Test (NAT) be administered by a third party, whose report is submitted directly to the President and his/her social development cluster. The NAT offers a wealth of data to detect areas of strengths and weaknesses. Data analytics must be utilized to determine areas to focus on in succeeding school years. In addition, I recommend that we continue our participation in global assessment evaluations such as PISA and TIMSS.
As recommended by the Philippine Institute for Development Studies (PIDS), the DepEd must scale up the programs, which have proven to be effective such as its Peer Monitoring and Early Reading Remediation programs. In addition, the DepEd should carry out intensive reading courses early on in a child’s development to foster a greater appreciation for reading. More reading, less extra-curricular activities. There is a need to improve school libraries across the country as well.
New programs must be formulated to ensure that vulnerable children, especially in far-flung communities, get access to education so that they do not fall further behind.
Mother Tongue-Based Multilingual Education (MTB-MLE) has proven to be the most effective teaching method for those whose first language is neither Filipino or English. MTB-MLE must be amplified and better funded.
We must invest in High-Tough-High-Tech (HTHT) learning. Studies show that students learn faster in a digital environment. Unfortunately, only a small percentage of our student body is computer literate. This must change. The use of learning software and artificial intelligence allows customized learning at the exact level of students. It fosters greater understanding of the lessons, infuses a “fun factor” in learning and improves digital aptitudes.
We must invest in our teachers too. Not only is there a shortage of qualified teachers and guidance counselors across the country, their caliber has also been on a steady decline over the years. In fact, many teachers are fielded even without passing the board exams. Training programs of teachers must be improved and standards raised. Moreover, the DepEd must unload teachers of burdensome side duties that take away valuable instructional time with students. Paperwork and extracurricular activities must be minimized.
Higher education has eroded at the same rate as basic education. The quality of our colleges and universities are so poor that only three Philippine universities are counted in the Top 1000 learning institutions of the world. No surprise, two-thirds of all those that take professional examinations fail. This is indicative of the low caliber of our college graduates.
One of the reasons why higher learning has not improved is because foreign professors are constitutionally prohibited from being part of the regular faculty, especially in state universities. Such prohibition has deprived our schools of the infusion of new ideas, latest breakthroughs in the field, newest technologies and teaching methods. The 1987 Constitution has promoted educational inbreeding and it backfired.
An ecosystem conducive to research, invention and innovation must be created in every higher learning institution. Research and development must be promoted and rewarded. Bottlenecks to innovation must be eliminated and those who champion innovation must be recognized and financially compensated.
Government must also incentivize the study of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) among college students. The best way to do this is to form well-paying career paths for new graduates.
As always, the poor have the least access to higher education. Despite free tuition fees in state universities, access to higher education by the poor remains low. Just 17 percent of the bottom 10 percent attends higher education, compared to 49 percent of the richest 10 percent. Data suggest that free tuition in state universities does not solve the inequitable access. Direct grants and financial aid to children of poor families are more effective and sustainable.
The deed is done. Our leaders, past and present, have dropped the ball in education. For this, less Filipinos will be able to break out of poverty and the majority of our youth will continue to be at a disadvantage compared to their counterparts from more “intelligent” countries. We can only look to the future to improve our situation. We know what to do to fix our educational system. What we need is the political will. That said, let us support the presidential aspirant who himself/herself is an intellectual. One who acknowledges the educational crisis and one who will make it a priority.
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