By Bianca Angelica D. Añago and Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza, Reporters

EDUCATION in the Philippines is “in serious crisis,” according to the Philippine Business for Education (PBEd), and this affects not just the young generation’s future but also the nation’s economic growth prospects.

“We are seeing declining access and quality of education, affecting the learning outcomes and future prospects of our youth and our country,”  PBEd Chairman Ramon R. del Rosario, Jr. said in a webinar on Monday.

PBEd cited the findings of the Programme for International Student Assessment in 2018, which indicated that 72% of 15-year-old Filipinos are low achievers in the subjects of Reading, Math, and Science.

The disruption to education caused by the coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated this situation, said the education advocacy group founded by the country’s top business leaders.   

Department of Education (DepEd) data show 1.1 million students did not enroll for schoolyear 2020-2021, while 1,179 private schools closed last year.

Parents tried to cope with the switch to online classes, which meant spending more for education.

In a survey by Samahan ng Nagkakaisang Pamilya ng Pantawid, a group of conditional cash transfer beneficiaries, more than 9,000 parent-respondents said they spent 40% more because of distance learning.   

However, this increase in spending did not seem to result to better education for children, PBEd said, citing a 2021 Pulse Asia survey showing that one out of four parents think their children were not learning in the remote setup.

With all these, PBEd said education should be treated as a key issue in the 2022 national elections, and urged government to increase its budget for the sector.

PBEd also recommended to involve private companies in enhancing the complementarity between public and private education by providing work-based training for students.

The group also called for the passage of the Jobs Next Bill that seeks to train over seven million Filipinos in five years for future in-demand jobs.

“We might not feel its immediate impact now, but we stand to suffer long-term ramifications of inaction and poor learning. We deserve better; our people deserve so much more,” Mr. Del Rosario said.

Meanwhile Education Secretary Leonor M. Briones demanded a public apology from World Bank for releasing a report indicating that 80% of Filipino students fall below the minimum proficiency levels, saying the international agency did not consider the reforms currently being undertaken by the Philippine government.

Ms. Briones told a televised news briefing Monday that the World Bank report that found that most Filipino children “do not know what they should know in school” was based on outdated assessment.

Ms. Briones also lamented that the Washington-based agency, which has been a development partner of the Philippine Education department since the 1980s, failed to give the government an advance copy of its report, which used three global assessments from 2018 to 2019.

The World Bank should apologize in public “since the country was insulted, was shamed,” she said.

The education chief said the World Bank has sent her a letter, a “personal apology,” but this is not enough as it was the country, not her, who was hit by the report.    

The Education minister noted that the report used a 2018 assessment program with “old data.” She added that a lot of developments have happened since 2019.

Ms. Briones also said the World Bank cannot solely blame the Philippines when there is a shortcoming in the country’s learning system, noting that improving the education sector involves partners, including the lending institution itself.

“We have long been partners with World Bank since 1981,” she said in Filipino, “We have taken a lot of loans from World Bank to improve education. So, they are partners, they are part of the situation here in the Philippines.”

She noted that the multilateral lender has lent the Philippines about $700 million since 1981.

On the other hand, ACT Teachers Party-list Rep. France L. Castro said “our youth could have received better quality education and would not have performed poorly in international assessments” if the government had been providing enough funds for facilities and improving teachers’ pay.

“The Department of Education’s incompetence immensely impacts teachers and students’ performance,” Ms. Castro said in a statement. “Among the outputs of DepEd’s incompetence and haphazard implementation of so-called education reform is the curriculum congestion, which compromises adequate teaching time and students’ deeper understanding.”

Ms. Castro also said prioritizing the welfare of teachers will improve their performance, which in turn will help Filipino students get higher quality education and score better in international assessments.