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An EdCom is not an education strategy

Not in or by itself. But, given the tightly-centralized structure of the system, an Education Commission (EdCom) is arguably essential to crafting a strategyʍand required by international assessment test results that showed the Philippines with the lowest student competencies in Science, Math, and Reading. It was thus encouraging, shortly after the release of the test scores, that Sen. Sonny Angara quickly proposed convening an EdCom II. The Senate has already convened two hearings on the subject. Senator Angara had the model of EdCom I, convened in 1990 during the Cory Aquino administration under the leadership of his father, Sen. Edgardo Angara.

EdCom I launched a radical restructuring of the educational system. It dismantled the education department, focusing it on basic education, and created CHEd and Tesda as sub-Cabinet agencies to oversee the higher and technical-vocational education sectors. EdCom I taught valuable lessons. Sweeping reforms may be necessary, but their implementation requires careful planning, commensurate resources, and sustained, collective effort. Realizing their benefits take time and, inevitably, they encounter unforeseen challenges. Thus, the Philippine Business for Education (PBEd) has strongly supported the call for EdCom II, but also recommended specific items for inclusion in its agenda for which Congress can mobilize both public and private support.

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PBEd discussions with education stakeholders, including bureaucrats and legislators, have shown agreement in principle on priority objectives. These have contributed ideas to the Senate hearings on the substance and approach for EdCom II to consider. Malnutrition among Filipino children, for instance, requires urgent and sustained attention. Although not the direct responsibility of education agencies, the problem threatens to set a permanent limit to children’s capacity for learning and to transform our demographic dividend into a demographic drag. EdCom II might move to expand the Department of Education’s (DepEd) feeding programs.

The language to use as medium of instruction in basic education presents a similar, systemic problem. Unless addressed at the start of the formal education process, it will continue to place a heavy burden on both students and teachers. Students who have difficulties understanding the medium of instruction will have problems communicating their thoughts. Even worse, they will have problems with thinking. The language problem assumes different forms in different communities, depending on the level of their linguistic diversity. While as fundamental as malnutrition, it is more difficult to resolve. We need to learn from the experience of other countries dealing with the same problems.

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Legislators have allocated substantial resources for reforms and are rightly concerned about assessment. We still lack studies analyzing the extent to which these have delivered promised benefits and how they can be made more effective. The K-12 program graduated the first cohort in 2018. How have graduates benefited from the additional two years of schooling? The pandemic has understandably preoccupied DepEd. But it can encourage academic and public policy centers to review the outcome, by sharing the data and the studies it has commissioned. Assessment, in any case, should be undertaken by autonomous agencies, separate from the program implementors.

For about two decades now, people within and outside government have appealed for the reassessment of the Licensure Examination for Teachers (LET). DepEd has sought to unlock this black box to determine whether the test is meeting its objectives. Greater confidence in LET would strengthen PBEd’s flagship advocacy to encourage high-performing college graduates to pursue a career teaching in the public school system. The government might also expand this effort by establishing a National Teacher Education Scholarship, perhaps supplementing it with a scheme to give serving DepEd teachers opportunities to update their professional skills.

Greater devolution of power and autonomy to the local level, advocated by EdCom I, would also promote more collaboration and complementarity between public and private schools. EdCom II does not need to attempt another drastic, time-consuming overhaul; it can help unfreeze the system for the changes EdCom I envisioned. As suggested by Fr. Bienvenido Nebres and others, EdCom II can focus on areas where much work has already been done and where it may be possible to harvest low-hanging fruit. The urgency of the education crisis we confront does not afford us the luxury of time.

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Edilberto C. de Jesus is professor emeritus at the Asian Institute of Management.

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Business Matters is a project of the Makati Business Club ([email protected]).

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