“PHL lags in global education survey,” read BusinessWorld’s front page banner story on Dec. 5. A one-fourth page graph showed the latest results of the education survey by Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), conducted by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).
The country was shamefully at rock-bottom, as the OECD-PISA graph showed the Philippines as 79th of 79 countries in the overall results for the status of secondary education. The PISA study, started in 2000, bases its findings on the triennial survey administered through a two-hour computer-based test given to 600,000 15-year-old students of participating countries. The test is in countries’ medium of instruction which, for the Philippines, is English.
The Philippines is the last among the 79 participating countries in reading, with an average of 340 points — pathetically lower than the global average of 487. Four of out of five Filipino students are at Level 2, or “low performers,” which for the OECD means that these students possess a proficiency that is “too low to enable them to participate effectively and productively in everyday life.” The Philippines had “one of the largest shares of low performers among all PISA-participating countries” in reading, the OECD said in its report.
The country’s average score in math was 353 versus the global average of 489, and was the second lowest score in the subject. In science, the Philippines had an average score of 357, much lower than the global average of 489 and the second lowest among the 79 countries in the survey. Chinese students topped the overall assessment with a score of 555 in reading, 591 in math, and 590 in science.
Department of Education Secretary Leonor M. Briones was quick to react. It is actually to her credit that the country bravely joined PISA just in 2018, ready for the objective evaluation by a respected outside authority on where we are at in the formation and preparation of our youth for participative and inclusive economic development. Briones said that “By participating in PISA, we will be able to establish our baseline in relation to global standards, and benchmark the effectiveness of our reforms moving forward… The PISA results, along with our own assessments and studies, will aid in policy formulation, planning and programming.”
An e-mail from firstname.lastname@example.org emphasized that “The shift of focus from access to quality is part of the Department’s Quality Basic Education reform plan and a step towards globalizing the quality of Philippine basic education.” The “Sulong Edukalidad” campaign focuses on four main areas: updating the K-12 program and curriculum initiated in the term of President Benigno S.C. Aquino by Briones’ predecessor, then DepEd Secretary Bro. Armin Luistro; improving the physical facilities of schools, including laboratories and computers; training the DepEd’s 900,000+ teachers and school heads; and getting the involvement of local governments, parents and alumni associations, NGOs, the private sector and other partners.
“Education already takes the lion’s share of the government’s budget each year, as provided for by the 1987 Constitution,” economist JC Punongbayan noted in Rappler on Dec. 4. Yet he cautioned, “But for the proposed 2020 budget, the Duterte government is pushing for disturbing budget cuts in both basic and higher education.” In the 2018 PISA report, government spending per student was lowest in the Philippines among all participating countries. The Philippines, it said, spent 90% less than what was the average OECD expenditure for education.
But it could probably be that it is not money that holds back the proper handling and feeding of our education programs. There is free primary, secondary, and even selected college-level education provided by law. Yes, the money is there, but can be better managed. Is money still the underhanded mover for action and results in education? How long have we taken for granted that corruption can exist in education — the most pervading and most extended of all government activities, duties, and responsibilities — and the least subjected to monitoring and controlling? At the higher levels and in descending order, those who make “kupit” (petty stealing up to technical malversation and onto high crime) can get away in impunity and permissiveness in ascending order to the ubiquitous “rank-has-its-privileges” of the powers that be. A close friend who was Undersecretary of Education during the Martial Law era said that millions of pesos could have come to him from kickbacks for chalk, paper and pencils, and textbooks distributed nationwide, and up to millions more for big contracts and projects. But that was Martial Law. Maybe that does not happen any more.
But has our culture and attitude towards education, teachers, and learning changed since Martial Law? There is still the “caste system” where the rich kids go to private schools and the poor go to public school. A result of this is that public school teachers are perceived to be of less quality and training than the private school teachers. Ergo, there is less motivation for a B.S. Education graduate to become a public school teacher. Therefore, the 15-year-olds who took the PISA test had varying economic backgrounds and varying luck as to the quality of their teachers, depending on their access to the better schools.
Overseas Foreign Workers (OFWs) have veered their focus now, not necessarily targeting the lower-level jobs like domestic helpers and construction workers — now the targets are higher, with potential OFWs aiming at technical jobs with higher pay. The higher pay of OFWs has increased the opportunities of their children for better education, and better futures in adulthood. It is noticeable that the so-called “exclusive” and formerly elitist private schools now have many students who are children of OFWs. We just have to patiently wait and hope that good quality education will soon be more democratically and inclusively available to the expectedly broadening middle class, in the availability of resources greasing the wheels of supply-and-demand.
Technology seems to have claimed control of the wheel of supply and demand, and our educational system must prepare our youth for their future. The PISA survey that showed our young people to be the worst in reading, science, and math tells us how we have lagged dismally behind in the whirl of technology that has jetted the world to unstoppable progress. Why can’t our students read? How can they learn, when everything the world knows and will yet know is now technology-based? Why do they not know math and science, when math and science now threaten to replace human skills? “Saan tayo dadamputin” (where will we find ourselves) is the despairing question.
Secretary Briones has declared that there will be closer coordination and cooperation with the Commission on Higher Education (ChEd) in the upgrading of the education curricula and its gearing towards modern trends in the teaching profession. Higher education and continuing education will be strictly ordered as a professional requirement for teachers and professors. Evaluation and monitoring of performance will be regularly done and reported, to ensure compliance with syllabi (course content and coverage) and administrative responsibilities, including attendance.
And not only the DepEd or the ChEd, but all of us in our milieu, have the responsibility to deliver a better future for our children.
Amelia H. C. Ylagan is a Doctor of Business Administration from the University of the Philippines.