Paper critical of PH basic education toned down in wake of World Bank report controversy? | Inquirer Opinion

Paper critical of PH basic education toned down in wake of World Bank report controversy?

/ 05:01 AM September 03, 2021

The Asian Development Bank Institute (ADBI) working paper titled “Foundational Mathematics and Reading Skills of Filipino Students Over a Generation,” which corroborates the dismal findings on our basic education contained in the World Bank (WB) report (“WB apologizes for PH education report; ADBI echoes findings,” News, 7/10/21) that aggrieved the Duterte administration, particularly the Department of Education (DepEd), has resurfaced on the internet after around a month of disappearance.

Was the temporary removal perhaps prompted by the reaction of the government to the WB report? It was taken down a few days after the WB bowed to the demand of Education Secretary Leonor Briones and Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III for the bank to apologize over the report and take down the report from its website. The ADB paper then reappeared under the name of main author Takiko Igarashi and is no longer on the website of the ADB. Most interestingly, the last paragraph of the conclusion, which contained the verdict of the authors on the effectivity of our education system to impart foundational skills, has been deleted.


The missing paragraph is as follows: “Considering the Philippines’ status as a low-middle income country, improving the quality of the education system must remain a matter of national priority. The likelihood for the country to achieve high income status would be determined, first, by its ability to ensure that all students master foundational skills. Our findings, together with the results from international assessments, show that the Philippines educational system still has much room for quality improvement.”

Before the arm-twisting of the WB, the DepEd leadership went all out to discredit the article “70,000 Bicol pupils can’t read—DepEd” in this paper’s Feb. 17, 2020 issue. It branded the report as “exaggerated,” “inaccurate,” even “ malicious” and “shoddy.”


In a press conference in Malacañang on that same day, Briones argued that there could not be 70,000 nonreaders in Bicol because the Philippine Informal Reading Inventory (Phil-IRI), the reading diagnostic test that surfaced the nonreaders, is supposedly a tool that determines if a student is reading and comprehending at his grade level, and since the purpose of the Phil-IRI is to place reading levels, all the takers are already readers.

Apparently, Briones did not read the Phil-IRI Manual 2018 which she herself issued. Pages 6, 8, 696, and 697 of the manual say that nonreaders are identified by their classroom teachers, with the information passed on to the administrators of the Phil-IRI.

“Not knowing how to read is different from being illiterate,” Briones also stated. No comment needed on that one.

Similarly, Undersecretaries Diosdado San Antonio and Nepomuceno Malaluan questioned the data of the DepEd-Region 5 on the ground that the Phil-IRI is only intended for Grades 3 to 6, and included in the report are Grades 1 and 2 and high school students. The two officials forgot that the subject of the report is the number of nonreaders and not the classification of the entire Bicol studentry into the different reading levels, thus the kind of tool used is irrelevant. Like Briones, they, too, don’t seem to know that nonreaders are not identified by the Phil-IRI but by the classroom teachers prior to the Phil-IRI process.

San Antonio and Malaluan were trying to say that in order for the DepEd to detect that a child can’t read, it needs an official reading diagnostic test—when any printed text, even that on candy wrappers, can separate the literate from the illiterate.

Unfortunately, the unseemly, unprofessional, and immature reaction of the top brass of the DepEd was effective in stopping the circulation of information on the country’s reading crisis. No subordinate official has dared to report to the media on the subject since then. Given the ADBI’s action on the working paper, it also appears that our international partners were put on notice by the vehement reaction of the government to the WB report, and are now wary of putting out helpful findings and assessments that could ruffle the feathers of the DepEd.

Pacifico Veremundo, [email protected]

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TAGS: ADB, Basic Education, Pacifico Veremundo, Philippines, world bank
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