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Education and competitiveness

In December 2019, a review of 79 high- and middle-income countries conducted by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in its Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) showed the Philippines dead last in terms of reading literacy and second to the bottom in math and science.

Topping the list was China in all three subjects.

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We were behind most of our Asean neighbors — Singapore was No. 2, Malaysia, No. 56, Brunei No. 59, Thailand, No. 66 and Indonesia, No. 72. In reading, four out of five Filipino students were categorized as Level Two or “low performers” in the subject. According to OECD standards, Level Two students have a proficiency that is “too low to enable them to participate effectively and productively in everyday life.” The poor showing in reading literacy was particularly surprising. Our workers have always been extolled in their proficiency in English, supposedly a strength of our people. There was a time Filipinos spoke English better than most of our neighbors in the region. This is no longer the case. Clearly, the system has not been able to keep up with the rest of the world. In my personal experience, I have come across many K-to-12 graduates who could not speak a decent line of English, often falling back on Taglish.

After the list was published, a lot of announcements and press releases came out from DepEd to explain and inform the public why we did so poorly and what steps are being taken to correct and improve the situation. The next Pisa report will come out next year. Let us hope there will be positive news for the country.

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In the meantime, the latest World Competitiveness Rankings 2021 published by the International Institute for Management Development (IMD) based in Switzerland, shows the following: Switzerland at the top, followed by Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands, Singapore, Norway, Hong Kong, Taiwan, the United Arab Emirates, and the United States. Singapore slipped from first to fifth place, while Taiwan moved up from 11th to eighth place. Among nations with populations over 20 million, Taiwan was No. 1. The Philippines fell down by seven notches from 45th the last year, to 52 out of 64 countries. It was the poorest performance of the country over the last five years. In the Asia Pacific, the Philippines was No. 13 out of 14 countries, recording the steepest decline in the region.

Common sense tells us we cannot expect to compete with the outside world if our people are poorly educated. Our problems in education — long well known — remain:

1) Government spending per student is the lowest compared to most other countries. 2) Need for improved quality of teachers. 3) Poor school facilities, with nationwide shortage of classrooms, forcing the operation of two shifts in many schools. Pupil-to-textbook ratio in public elementary schools remains high, with many textbooks needing review and corrections. 4) Overwhelmed and underpaid teaching staff with too many extracurricular activities being handled, unrelated to teaching. 5) The need for selective admission policies to reduce enrollment in certain career fields and promote entrance to other technical programs needed to provide services for the nation. These are just a few of the problems that have to be vigorously addressed by the government.

We have spent so much time, attention, and resources on the West Philippine Sea issue. We have a pandemic on our hands affecting economic recovery. But a much greater catastrophe awaits the nation if our education system remains stagnant and unresponsive. Education fuels economic growth. For every peso spent on education, it generates P10-P15 of economic growth.

No country has achieved sustained economic growth and development without investing heavily in education. The educated worker performs better than the unschooled one. Educated citizens make better decisions especially when it comes to elections, and contribute to more peaceful and equal societies. Most important, education is a basic human right as stated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. If the youth are the hope of the fatherland, they need our support, our sacrifice, in providing them with the best available education to prepare them for the challenges of the future.

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TAGS: education problems, Filipinos' reading literacy, Pisa, Ramon J. Farolan, Reveille
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