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Grade conscious

The Philippine education system is a mess.

We don’t need the World Bank, an international think tank, or a local NGO to tell us that. The Secretary of Education should know that the reason she is there is to be part of the series of continuous improvements in the long and arduous quest to improve the quality of education in this country.

There used to be a time when we didn’t have enough classrooms, books, or teachers. We still don’t have enough laboratories or special equipment for specialized subjects. Our curriculum is nothing special and our graduates can hardly compete against their peers in the region and naturally, the globe.

Over time, some presidents have prioritized education but when it comes to that, it is difficult to get consistency out of politicos and their dynasties that depend on an ignorant and illiterate society to stay in power.

The most recent attempt to fix the educational system was in the previous administration of the late Noynoy Aquino. He focused on closing the classroom gap and tried to revolutionize the system by shifting the country to the K-12 system as the Philippines is one of the few remaining places in the world where basic education is completed in 10 years instead of the usual 12. I guess our leaders thought that the less time our kids spend in school, the less books and classrooms we will need, giving them more budget money to spend on other priorities.

The shift to K-12 made things difficult, especially for the batches that were affected by the transition period. But that transition was a necessary evil because Filipino high school graduates couldn’t afford to be left behind further by their peers who spent an extra 2 years in school, making them more prepared to face the world, whether it be higher education or employment. The secretary of education during that transition period was not a popular guy among parents or teachers, but he was doing what they believed to be the right thing.

Even now, things are still difficult because our education system still has not fully transitioned to K-12. When the administration changed, there were even populist moves to roll back from K-12 to the old ways that we have perfected. But somehow, sanity prevailed and the current education secretary and our legislators didn’t take that crazy idea seriously. Other crazy ideas like extrajudicial killings in the name of the all mighty drug war practically became law but K-12 stayed and it is something our education officials and school administrators have to work with as we continue the difficult work of overhauling our educational system.

Given an education system still in flux and a Covid-19 pandemic that changed life as we knew it, our octogenarian Education Secretary Leonor Briones had every excuse for poor performance. She was still fixing a broken system that was yet to run smoothly. The pandemic had made the traditional model of education untenable. Everything was probably changing faster than her maintenance meds. No one would blame her department for getting a low score in any international or third party assessment at this point in time. Heck, nobody gets blamed or fired for anything in this government so Lola Liling had nothing to worry about. If worse comes to worst, she could always fall back to the standard response and blame everything on the Dilawans.

So it was quite funny to see our Education Secretary throw a tantrum when the World Bank recently rated Philippine Education as a failure. She would not accept the results and demanded an apology. She must’ve thought her DepEd was doing a much better job than it was perceived and measured to have been doing. Long story short, after the lola did a power move and threw a tantrum, the WB apologized for releasing the damning report without informing the DepEd. However, it must be noted that they did not apologize for the contents of the report.

So there, the Philippine education system is still a mess and as per the evaluation of entities like the WB, it is not getting better but because we have our ancient Secretary of Education on the case, her tantrum has protected the country from bad grades. We have another year of online or hybrid schooling to endure and despite this golden opportunity to turn the country’s educational system on its head and fully embrace the opportunities for improvement provided by digitalization and globalization, it would seem that our DepEd is focused on grades rather than substance.

Just as every schoolyear is an opportunity for the schoolkids to do better, it is also a chance for the educational system to improve. We shifted to K-12 starting with kindergarten in 2013 and implemented senior high school by 2015. It is already 2021 and the transition should be complete by now. Our HS graduates should be reaping the advantages of the shift that was supposedly for the better. Why does it feel like our educational system has stagnated instead of improving? Is it just the pandemic that has made things seemingly worse, or were our education officials already slipping up even before Covid became a convenient excuse for failure?

As a parent with kids graduating from the K-12 system within the next 3-6 years, I’d like to see our educational system constantly improving and somehow matching the capabilities and output of our regional peers. If the most visible response we get from education officials when bad grades come is a tantrum, I don’t think I can be confident of my kids’ competitiveness for further education or employment when they leave the Philippine basic education system and confront the real world.*

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