What happened to our basic education?
While we were savoring a collective high from our 2019 SEA (Southeast Asian) Games medals, a sobering new report sucker-punched us from somewhere else: Among 79 countries, Filipino learners rank lowest in reading comprehension and second lowest in math and science, according to the Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa).This international showing coincides with the results of our National Achievement Tests (NAT) in recent years. In 2018, the national mean percentage score among Grade 6 pupils was only 37.44, the lowest in NAT history. This was a far cry from the 70.88 score in 2015, which then plummeted to 42.03 in 2016 and 39.95 in 2017. Grade 10 scores suffered a similar downward trend, from 53.77 in 2014 to 44.08 in 2017, only minimally inching upward to 44.59 in 2018. Both grade levels are now in the “low mastery” category due to their latest NAT scores.
How did this happen?
Education officials have suggested that the declining test scores may be due to a change in the kind of questions asked of learners. Schoolchildren are no longer just tested on surface-level information but are now asked “to solve problems, to find solutions, to engage in critical thinking because this is now the global standard,” said Education Secretary Leonor Briones.
“And this explains to a certain extent, perhaps a great extent, the decreasing of our performance in our national achievement tests,” she added.
But this still does not justify our flailing academic performance. It only tells us that our pupils and students, after years of immersion in our education system, have not developed the problem-solving and critical-thinking capacities expected at their levels. That’s even worse.
Data and real-world observations offer clues on why our nation’s basic education performance is alarmingly dismal.
For one, there’s the perennial problem of class sizes and student-to-teacher ratios. Pisa shows that the average class size in the Philippines (44 students) is one of the highest among the countries examined. Socioeconomically disadvantaged schools in the Philippines also have the highest student-to-teacher ratio—as high as 24 students per teacher in “bottom quarter” schools.
Socioeconomic conditions at home also affect formal learning in understated ways. The Department of Education (DepEd) announced a few months ago that we now have lower dropout rates. While that is a welcome development, it doesn’t mean that learners who stay in school are able to retain what they are taught. Teachers in less-advantaged schools still report heartbreaking observations of their students attending class on empty stomachs or skipping multiple classes due to financial woes.But arguably the most important factor in educating our young learners is the quality of our educators. Are our children being taught by qualified professionals who understand the significance of their job? This itself is a multifaceted issue. Filipino teachers have long maintained that they are overworked and underpaid, especially those who serve low-income communities and “last mile” schools.
It must also be noted that there has been a steady decline in Licensure Exam for Teachers (LET) performance. In the March 2019 LET, only 27.28 percent of elementary teacher examinees and 25.95 percent of secondary teacher examinees passed. These are lower than the already-meager average passing rate of 31 percent. Perhaps it is worth reexamining the education and training our would-be teachers acquire before they are deemed ready to serve in public schools.
The DepEd, for its part, has already announced its plan to address education gaps in the country. The agency is mainly touting its “Sulong Edukalidad” program consisting of “aggressive reforms,” namely: K-to-12 review and update, improvement of learning facilities, upskilling and reskilling of educators, and engagement of stakeholders.
While laudable, changes like these can hardly even be called reforms; most of them are a tune we’ve heard over and over. The one shift that people might consider an “aggressive reform” is the transition to the K-to-12 curriculum, and even that move is still hounded by questions. It’s been six years since the shift; it was buoyed into enactment by the promise of better competency among our students. Now here we are. What do our current test scores and global rankings say about the program’s implementation?
Here’s hoping that the DepEd’s latest reforms are better planned and better executed. And if these new changes are geared toward filling the gaps of our education system, they must be clear as to why these gaps exist in the first place.
What happened to our basic education?
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