Fast forward, success!
This piece is going to make a case for the audacious goal of getting every school-aged child and young adult back in school and learning at world-class levels by 2030. It would be remiss, however, to not address the elephant in the room. 2020 is a weird year for education, the COVID-19 pandemic being the biggest reason for upending reforms underway and erasing many of the gains of the past years. Accepting that reality is a necessary step before we can forge ahead. The path may not be straightforward, but I believe if we put our collective energies into this goal, we can fast-forward to a successful education system for all Filipinos.
First, the hard facts: We are losing the access gains that we have made in the last decade, facing a reduction in resources, and losing what little learning that was happening in our schools. As of mid-October, Department of Education data show that basic education enrollment figures are similar to 2016 numbers, even with an increase in the population of school-aged children and youth. COVID-19 has kept millions of learners from school.
There has been a reversal of continued increase in education budgets as a percentage of our gross domestic product (GDP) in the earlier part of the decade, at 3.6 percent in 2019 from a peak of 4.2 percent in 2017. In fact, the Philippines had one of the lowest spending per student compared to other economies that participated in the 2018 Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa). The Pisa 2018 results were a wake-up call for what we already knew: An overwhelming majority of our students do not have the basic foundational skills like reading and numeracy to take on higher levels of education, let alone thrive in the 21st-century economy.
COVID-19 and the prolonged school closures are already undoing what little learning was present. Early estimates show that Filipino students stand to lose two years’ worth of learning because of school closures and sub-par remote learning.
Given this reality, now what? I believe we should aim to bring back all school-aged children and youth to school and to equal the average OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) scores in the 2030 Pisa. However, problems beyond COVID-19 have been compounding. Philippine education suffers from underfunding and is perceived as expendable. When the pandemic hit, education budgets were slashed, when we should have protected the little resources we had so that we could keep our schools open and safe and ensure that learning could continue.
A unified vision and plan are missing. Policies and projects tend to remain at pilot stage, at worst discontinued without clear policy lessons from them. At the early stages of the pandemic, the Learning Continuity Plans of the DepEd, Commission on Higher Education, and the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority should have been guided by one vision: safeguarding the education of our young. Research and data could have guided a path forward.
Similar to the way the evidence and our understanding of the virus are developing and evolving, our approach to achieving this audacious education goal should also be iterative. We need to start with reconstituting a similar process as the Education Commission of 1990, but this time widening engagement so that nongovernmental actors and education stakeholders get equal say. We need to upskill our teachers, value their profession, and listen to evidence on the ground. We should protect education budgets and aim to invest at least 6 percent of our GDP in human capital development. We should leverage the resources of the private sector and local governments and incentivize employers to invest in training and education. We need to follow through on our plans for a 21st-century education that empowers all learners by giving them access to learning devices connected to the internet and a treasure trove of free and high-quality content. Finally, we need to learn from our mistakes and pivot when necessary.
These are not new ideas, and we actually have the resources to make them happen. If we are to fast-forward to a world-class Philippine education by 2030, we need to act now.
Love Basillote ([email protected]) is executive director of Philippine Business for Education.
Business Matters is a project of Makati Business Club ([email protected]).
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