Commentary

Building a literate society

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An upbeat Br. Armin Luistro FSC, the education secretary, announced that incoming Grade 1 pupils and Grade 6 graduates rotating into the new Grade 7 level—formerly known as first year high school—would be in for a new and hopefully more fulfilling learning experience via the freshly minted K to 12 curriculum.

In his keynote address at the forum, “The State of Philippine Basic Education: It’s More Than Just K to 12,” Brother Armin said that by virtue of Republic Act No. 10157, or the Kindergarten Education Act, kindergarten shall be made mandatory and compulsory for entrance to Grade 1 in the coming school year. He said that as a sign of the Department of Education’s readiness, a 600-page set of activity worksheets would be waiting for all 5-year-olds enrolled in kindergarten this June.

At the forum organized by the Philippine Business for Education, Brother Armin outlined the DepEd’s comprehensive education reform strategy that seeks to decongest the curriculum and ensure seamlessness as the learner transitions from one grade level to the next, consistently improve teaching quality, and expand the job opportunities of graduates by actively finding ways to narrow the mismatch between jobs and skills.

The new K to 12 curriculum (parts of which are available at www.ceap.org.ph in case you’d like to take a look) appears to be crafted at a level of detail wherein teachers will find it very easy to write out their lesson plans, if they need to at all.

Brother Armin, however, was quick to emphasize that teachers would always have to be prepared for the lessons at hand, the very detailed curriculum notwithstanding.

He noted that there were a lot of “blank spaces” in the K to 12 curriculum. He emphasized that this was deliberate because any curriculum aiming to maintain relevance would have to be continuously evolving. “There has to be constant feedback in the field, but you will be happy to know that the new curriculum is made by Filipinos for Filipinos,” he said.

Brother Armin likewise stressed that the idea was to improve both access and quality at the same time. Thus, the DepEd has been continuously mobilizing private-sector support to help build more classrooms and school facilities.

“We still need 35,921 classrooms based on a data system that may not be easily validated,” he said. “We hope to bring down the shortage to around 6,000 classrooms after 2012 through the Private-Public Partnerships. The problem is two-fold: There is a lack of ‘buildable’ space and we cannot move students around at will. Still, much of the classroom shortage would have been addressed by 2013.”

The DepEd’s 2012 budget is at 2.3 percent of GDP. We can do a lot more to address the resource gaps if we can get back at 3.2 percent of GDP level, Brother Armin added.

Meanwhile, the results of the most recent National Achievement Tests have been steadily improving, although we still have quite a long way to go. Mean Percentage Scores for the elementary level are at 68.15 percent on the average, while the secondary level has turned in a rather dismal 47.93 percent. (The 75 percent MPS average remains elusive, but the sustained, albeit small, annual increments in NAT scores tend to show that it is attainable.)

Brother Armin assured the public that the DepEd was seriously retooling its testing methodologies so that future achievement assessments could be accurately done on a per-lesson and per-competency level.

Where is this all going? Are we going through yet another “season of reform,” as the esteemed Dina Ocampo, Cynthia Rose Bautista and Allan Bernardo so eloquently pointed out in their landmark UP Centennial Report titled “When Reforms Don’t Transform”?

Not this time, not likely.

Brother Armin’s emphasis on instituting reforms that consistently strike a balance between access and quality shows his adherence to the United Nations’ Education For All Declarations in Jomtien and Dakar.

Without explicitly saying it, Brother Armin is leading the drive toward building what the 2006 Education For All Global Monitoring Report calls the “literate society.”

The Philippines has always drawn much pride from survey or test results that tend to show that our population exhibits a rather high literacy rate, but the same EFA report points out that “a literate society is more than a society with high literacy rates.” The modern definition of literacy goes beyond the individual’s capacity to read, write and count.

This report, titled “Literacy for Life,” says that “many educators have come to view literacy as an active process of learning involving social awareness and critical reflection, which can empower individuals and groups to promote social change. There is emerging awareness of the broader social context in which literacy is encouraged, acquired, developed and sustained: Literacy is no longer exclusively understood as an individual phenomenon, but is seen also as a contextual and societal one.”

Meanwhile, Brother Armin remains upbeat. “Genuine reform needs at least a generation to take root. We’ll just have to be happy with being part of planting the seed” he said.

Butch Hernandez (butchhernandez@gmail.com) is the executive director of the Eggie Apostol Foundation.

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