Grade 7 students listen to their teacher during class at a school in Malabon City, Sept. 25, 2023. — PHILIPPINE STAR/MIGUEL DE GUZMAN

By Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza, Reporter

THE PHILIPPINES’ weak basic education system as shown in a 2022 global ranking of student performance in math, reading, and science would eventually lead to a weak workforce and affect economic growth and global competitiveness, according to an advocacy group founded by the country’s top business leaders.

“The weaknesses in our basic education system will eventually translate into the weakness of our workforce, affecting the productivity and key source of our economic growth and competitiveness,” the Philippine Business for Education (PBED) said in a statement following the country’s poor showing in the 2022 Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), which the higher and basic education agencies plan to address by improving teacher training, among others.

Filipino students were still among the world’s weakest in math, reading, and science, according to the global assessment, with the country ranking 77th out of 81 countries and performing worse than the global average in all categories.

OECD: Filipino students still struggle in math, reading, and science

The assessment is annually conducted by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) for 15-year-old learners.

OECD said the Philippines’ average in last year’s assessment for 15-year-old learners was nearly the “same” as the results it got in 2018, when Manila ranked lowest in the three subjects among 79 participating countries at the time.

PBED said the poor performance in the PISA for the second time indicates that the Philippine education system is in its “worst state” and that “much work needs to be done.”

“The poor performance of our learners is not just a problem of education alone, but our country as a whole,” it said. “A crisis of this magnitude requires swift action and great effort from all sectors.”

PBED urged its partners in industry, government, and academe to take action by being involved in the ongoing work of the Second Congressional Commission on Education, which is tasked with crafting a comprehensive national assessment and evaluation of Philippine education.

We welcome our continuous participation in large-scale international learning assessments as this provides us measurement of the impact of the pandemic on learning,” it said, calling for data-driven decisions in education governance.

Meanwhile, the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) said it is considering phasing out teacher education programs in poor-performing teaching education institutions (TEIs).

“The Commission has created a Technical Working Group and developed guidelines for the monitoring and evaluation process that will lead to the phasing out of teacher education degree programs in poor-performing TEIs in order to address teacher quality issues that ultimately influence learning outcomes,” it said in a statement following the release of the PISA results.

The CHED said it plans to engage Centers of Development and Centers of Excellence in teacher education, as well as expand a technical panel for teacher education to include Department of Education (DepEd) curriculum development and learner assessment specialists.

In the 2022 PISA, the average mathematics score for 15-year-old Filipino students was 355 points, way lower than the global average of 472 points and higher by just two points from the national average in 2018.

The Philippines’ average score for science in 2022 dropped by only one point to 356 from 357, placing the country third to last globally in mean science performance among its peers.

Its literacy score increased to 347 points from 340 points — the country’s best performance last year — but it was still way lower than the global average reading score of 476 points.

Test scores need to hit at least a 20-point improvement to address learning losses of at least a year’s worth of schooling, according to the OECD, which does not consider one to two-point changes significant.

Ahead of the 2022 PISA results, the DepEd said it was “not expecting to see high scores.”

Vice-President and Education Secretary Sara Duterte-Carpio on Wednesday said the PISA results “are not merely a reflection of our education system” but also of the country’s “collective efforts, investments, and most importantly our commitment to education and the future we envision for our children.”

“As such, this is a call to action, a call to our collective responsibility as a nation,” she said in a video statement during a PISA conference, where she heavily touted the education agency’s programs to address the learning challenges in the Philippines, which was among the last countries to reopen schools following a coronavirus pandemic.

She touted the “Matatag Curriculum,” which revised the K-to-10 program to put focus on literacy and math skills, as well as other programs such as the “Catch-up Fridays” and the national reading, science, and mathematics program.

ACT Teachers Party-list Rep. France L. Castro called on the government to increase the education budget to at least 6% of the Philippine gross domestic product “with a thrust for building more classrooms, hiring more teachers and increasing their salaries as well as adopting a curriculum that would make learning easier for students and more attuned to the Philippine situation.”

“The PISA results also show that the militaristic and ‘do as I say without questions asked-style’ in the DepEd now is detrimental to the learning of students,” she said. “That allocating funds for surveilling students and teachers is wrong since it deprives funds to hire more teachers or build more classrooms.”

Ms. Duterte, who in August said “education is intertwined with national security,” has received backlash in recent months for initially seeking a total of P650 million in confidential and intelligence funds divided between the DepEd (P150 million) and her office as vice-president.

Confidential funds are used for surveillance operations within civilian government agencies, while intelligence funds are used for intelligence-gathering activities by uniformed personnel.

Senator Sherwin T. Gatchalian, chair of the Senate panel on education, called for the swift passage of the proposed ARAL Program Act, which seeks to allocate P10 billion for programs that would address pandemic-related learning loss and boost learners’ access to well-designed remediation plans.

The Senate has already approved the bill on third and final reading last March.

Leonardo A. Lanzona, an economist at the Ateneo de Manila University, said education should be a crucial aspect of the country’s goal to reach upper middle-income status.

“Learning affects productivity and wages. For a country that aspires to reach upper middle-income status, education will be crucial especially in an environment of accelerating technological changes,” he said in a Facebook Messenger chat.

He said the education sector should heavily benefit from public-private partnerships (PPP). “When we speak of public investments and PPPs, education should be prioritized over infrastructure and other physical capital investments.”

“The state of education in the Philippines demands immediate attention, collective effort, and a commitment to improvement so we can give our children the best learning experience that they deserve,” PBED said.