Learning from dismal results
Even as we bask in the glory of our more than a hundred medals won so far by Filipino athletes in the ongoing Southeast Asian Games, we’re hit by news that’s sure to put a damper on our euphoria—the disheartening results of a global assessment of students around the world, where Filipino youth ranked at or very near the bottom of 79 countries in a multicountry test of 15-year-old students in reading, mathematics and science.
The test, known as the Programme for International Student Assessment or Pisa, is conducted under the aegis of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Results show that the Philippines ranked the lowest out of 79 countries in reading comprehension, with a score of 340. The country also ranked second lowest in science and mathematics assessment, with a low average score of 357 in science and 353 in mathematics. This shows that, on average, Filipino students can barely understand what they are reading (despite our boast that we have a high literacy rate), can barely carry out basic mathematical functions and have a poor grasp of scientific concepts and methods.
This is the first time the Philippines has joined the assessment program, and education officials, trying to put a positive spin on the situation perhaps, said the dismal results were useful as they could serve as a “baseline” for education reform, to plan and recalibrate if necessary teaching content and methods.Indeed, Department of Education (DepEd) officials say that they had “anticipated” the country’s low ranking in the Pisa. This was because, said Education Secretary Leonor Briones in an interview with CNN Philippines, the government was not spending enough on education, failing “to reach the minimum standard percent of GDP spent on education.” Despite the United Nations recommendation that governments spend at least 6 percent of their GDP on education, the country reportedly spends only 3.9 percent on GDP on this basic need. In the budget hearings of the DepEd, they had raised the “urgent need to pivot to improve the Philippines’ education system,” said Briones.
For now, as observers note, despite receiving the bulk of national budget allocations, the DepEd spends most of the money on salaries of teachers and other personnel and in the construction of classrooms, much of which are regularly destroyed in typhoons and other natural disasters. Much time for formal lessons is also lost when these same classrooms are used as evacuation centers, if not temporary housing, for survivors of disasters.
In a Facebook post, Ronald Mendoza, dean of the Ateneo School of Government, said the dismal results of the Pisa “suggests that we should move beyond mere education access to focus on ramping up education quality.” He also noted that while “many of our top schools fare well in international competitions, the rest of the schools in the country still need to ramp up quality dramatically.”
Related to this is the DepEd’s determination to “push for quality basic education nationwide” through a project called “Sulong EduKalidad” or “Forward with Education Quality.” Briones told the media that through the program, “aggressive reforms will be implemented in four key areas, which include the review and updating of K-to-12; improvement of learning facilities; ‘upskilling’ and ‘reskilling’ of teachers and school heads through a ‘transformed professional development program’; and the engagement of all stakeholders for support and collaboration.”Let’s hope such an ambitious program succeeds in producing better informed, numerate and rational students, given the challenges young people face in this environment. Failure has implications not just on their professional and academic performance, but also on the creation of a cohesive, united and progressive society.
One netizen, for instance, commented that the low reading comprehension scores of our young people could explain the proliferation of fake news and the youth’s vulnerability to untruths and illogical, senseless claims clearly designed to deceive and dissemble.
We are what we learn. And the quality of our citizenship is shaped not just by our loyalties or fidelity to institutions, but also by our awareness of events, the quality of our minds, the values in our hearts and our ability to sift chaff from grain, lies from truth.
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