The Learning curve

Education’s promise: Are we there yet?

“Education is the most powerful weapon we can use to change the world.”—Nelson Mandela (2003)

“If your plan is for one year, plant rice. If your plan is for ten years, plant trees. If your plan is for one hundred years, educate children.”—Kuan Chung  (7th century BC)


These two quotes aptly open the World Bank 2018 Global Education Development Report  (2018 WDR): Learning to Realize Education’s Promise.

It was Mike Patolot of the Little Free Library who first drew my attention to the report. This is a significant document because it is the first time the World Bank Group has released a report devoted entirely to education.


It’s a stark reminder that in these rapidly changing times when students are in schools to be equipped for jobs still nonexistent, it is excellent education, critical thinking and genuine learning that demand serious focus.

The 239-page 2018 WDR explores four main themes: education’s promise; the need to shine a light on learning;  how to make schools work for learners; and how to make systems work for learning. It argues that providing education is not enough, that schooling without learning is a woeful waste of resources and human potential. A real investment would be generated from learning and acquiring skills.

To achieve learning for all, three complementary strategies are proposed: “assess learning to make it a serious goal; act on evidence to make schools work for learning; align actors to make the entire system work for learning.”

Are we there yet? Do we have the tools to measure learning? Do we build strong teacher-learner relationships in classrooms based on what brain science has discovered about effective learning? Are innovation, creativity, flexibility encouraged in our classrooms? Do we view education as the means to end extreme poverty and to “boost shared prosperity”?

As another schoolyear begins on Monday for 1.4 million students, we realize with a deep sigh that our problems are more basic. While the enrollment rate has increased, one worries that the system is not ready again for these numbers.

The Department of Education, even with the largest 2018 budget allocation of P553.3 billion provided by the national government, is still in a catch-up mode in terms of teachers, textbooks, buildings. Its efforts, though earnest and well-meaning, do not ever seem adequate or in step with our growing population.

Going through the report, I was in futile search for findings on our own educational system.  The Acknowledgments did not name any experts from the Philippines; neither were papers of Filipino specialists and researchers mentioned as background material reference.


The closest reference I had a degree of affinity to was in the list of civil society organizations represented at consultations. Along with the more familiar Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Education International, Global Campaign for Education, Save the Children and World Vision was Teach for All, with whom our five-year-old Teach for the Philippines, headed by Clarissa Delgado, is affiliated.

The 2018 WBR does make mention of the Philippines in several instances and studies on the Philippine situation; but they are few and far between, in the chapter bibliographies.

The mention compares proficiency in basic mathematical skills—computations, fractions or measurements, interpreting simple bar graphs—in high- and low-income countries. Nearly all students in Japan (99 percent), Norway (98 percent), Australia (91 percent) achieve this in primary school. The Philippines’ rating (34 percent) is mentioned in the same breath as Mali (7 percent), Nicaragua (30 percent) and Mexico (76 percent).

The Philippines is cited along with Honduras, Indonesia, the United Kingdom and the United States to prove that schooling corresponds to increased earnings in the labor market for the individual, and greater contribution to the development of society. It also makes mention of an engaged citizenship and improved quality of life for every year of schooling. (Who really needs convincing about this?)

Education Secretary Leonor Briones’ pledge at the start of her tenure toward “quality, accessible, relevant, and liberating basic education for all” remains a goal to be reached. Ah, but a woman’s reach should exceed her grasp, or what is she education head for? (with thanks to Robert Browning)

Neni Sta. Romana Cruz ([email protected] gmail.com) is chair of the National Book Development Board and a member of the Eggie Apostol Foundation.

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