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Making PHL education system competitive

The Philippine educational system is currently facing a number of issues: Quality of education, not enough budget for the Department of Education, lack of facilities and teacher shortage in public schools, an alarming drop-out rate, affordability of higher education, and mismatch between educational training and actual jobs. These ailments are preventable, but they became worse through the years because of negligence and lack of commitment among our leaders to improve a failing education system.

Education Secretary Leonor “Liling” Mirasol Magtolis-Briones has been trying her best to improve our education system and make it globally competitive. In line with her vision of providing academic success for all students, she decided in 2018 that it’s time for the Philippines to participate in the Program for International Student Assessment or PISA. It was the first time that the country participated since PISA was first administered in 2000.

Many of us already know that the Philippines fared poorly in the 2018 round of the PISA, a triennial international assessment administered to 15-year-old learners, an age group near the end of their compulsory basic education. PISA assessments cover the three foundational domains of Reading Literacy, Mathematical Literacy, and Scientific Literacy. The DepEd provided an initial report on the country’s performance in PISA when the results were released in December 2019. This is accessible in the agency’s web site: https://www.deped.gov.ph/wpcontent/uploads/2019/12/PISA-2018-Philippine-National-Report.pdf.

Brickbats from all corners greeted our poor PISA showing. Some columnists described the “plummeting education standards as a national emergency.” This prompted Undersecretary Nepomuceno A. Malaluan to pen an article —The Challenge of Education Quality Is Being Addressed—in defense of DepEd. Malaluan pointed out that PISA participation was not imposed on us. “It was the deliberate decision of Secretary Briones to join PISA to signal DepEd’s determination to confront the challenge of quality in basic education, to find out how we measure against global standards, and to take advantage of an independent assessment designed and constantly updated by education experts. Most importantly, participation in PISA provides us with further evidence to support interventions to address education quality.”

Pounding on our PISA showing, critics also said that “education standards are plummeting due to the government’s lack of urgency and lackadaisical attitude towards uplifting our education standards, andthat education was never high on the Duterte administration’s list of priorities.”

Malaluan’s response: From a focus standpoint, Secretary Briones flagged quality as a key challenge for the education sector from the beginning of her term, based on the historically poor results in the National Achievement Test going further back than the previous administration. The first section of her vision and agenda document, “Quality, Accessible, Relevant, and Liberating Basic Education for All” published in November 2016, is titled “Our foremost task: Raise the quality of education.”

He added: “From a budget standpoint, in 2017 the DepEd budget increased to P568.4 billion from P433.4 billion in 2016. This 31.1-percent increase was higher than at any other year from the previous administration. The budget dip in 2019 to P531.6 billion, but this was because basic education had to contribute to the free tertiary education law. In other words, what was taken from the DepEd budget stayed within the education sector.”

Malaluan said during the Covid-19 period, all government agencies had to contribute finances to the Bayanihan initiatives. While DepEd contributed some P8.2 billion to Bayanihan 1, the Executive protected the education budget in Bayanihan 2 when DepEd became a net recipient of P4.3 billion. Thus, “the DepEd, under the leadership of Secretary Briones, has secured the lion’s share of the national budget amounting to more than P600 billion per year.”

Malaluan said the disruption of in-school learning delivery at a large scale has necessitated that we reach out to households and communities to be active partners in the learning process. We need to acknowledge that aside from teachers, our neighbors, community members, the media, scientists, and our leaders all have an effect on learning. There are no quick fixes to quality. Meeting the challenge will take time. It will require that we work together in a manner that is informed, deliberative, and responsible. As Secretary Briones keeps stressing, “the importance of education is not only the concern of educators but of the entire country.”

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