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Reviving the Education Nation movement

Civil society organizations banded and branded themselves together as the Education Nation to make commitment to the education reform agenda one of the mandatory criteria for choosing their candidates in the 2010 elections. Responding to the challenge, Noynoy Aquino campaigned and won as an “education president,” finally implementing in his term the shift to a K-to-12 basic education system that had been on the national agenda for some 80 years.

Reviving this movement for the 2022 elections is timely and necessary. Education itself has to be resuscitated after over a year of its pandemic-induced suspended animation under the Duterte administration.

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A second Education Nation Movement (ENM II) would advance the PBEd agenda: addressing malnutrition and stunting among children; raising budgetary resources for education; improving the training and compensation of teachers through a national scholarship program; rationalizing and reinforcing the mother-tongue based multilingual education strategy; and developing an independent, national assessment agency. Congressional officials have generally welcomed these national-level programs. ENM II would naturally focus their electoral support for national officials, starting with the president.

These “foundational” goals also need the support of local government officials. ENM II must seek acceptance of the architectural design for the educational structure that the foundation must support. This effort would continue a 50-year advocacy for greater decentralization and devolution of responsibility and power, as far down as practicable. As the most recent mantra preached, implement “school-based management (SBM).”

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SBM still requires expert, central-level policy planning, funding, and oversight. But it recognizes that the success of national plans and programs, however excellently crafted, will ultimately rest on the effectiveness of the ground level implementation. This SBM approach aligns with generally accepted management principles, including respect for the principle of subsidiarity. Sharing decision-making powers with the parties that have the biggest stake in their outcomes—the students and their parents—also offers the best chance to realize ethics and equity values. The call among legislators for the strengthening of local school boards suggests the general acceptance of this approach.

No one can guarantee that local government units and school boards will not become politicized and corrupted. But the odds appear acceptable. Scatter seeds generously among the 42,000 LGUs. Many will doubtless fall on barren soil or get choked by weeds and die, but a thousand flowers may still bloom. Alternatively, a centrally mandated template, maliciously contrived or just incompetently conceived, place all schools at risk. It will also endanger those who see through the folly and fall into the temptation of evading the rules and, thus, exposing themselves to legal action.

SBM has been more honored in the breach than in the observance. Its practice is not likely to improve, until systems to ensure accountability can credibly protect the grant of autonomy. If we give teachers and principals greater authority in managing their classrooms, we must be able to hold them accountable for delivering results and accepting rewards based on performance. And the critical performance measure must be the learning levels achieved by students.

Accountability is something legislators often demand but will not be easy to develop. The effort may encounter opposition from teachers and principals themselves. The government has rightly raised the compensation levels for teachers and other civil servants—including, especially in this administration, soldiers and policemen. But across different administrations, it has been too easy to give mainly across-the-board raises, without discriminating between good and bad performance.

Merit-based rewards, essential to enforcing accountability, in turn requires a robust assessment system, a problematic area in the public sector generally and in education. The Department of Education (DepEd) still has to report on the performance of the first batch of senior high school students who had graduated in 2018. There is also the decades-old campaign to shed light on the licensure examination for teachers to ascertain that it is meeting the objectives for which it has been established.

Beyond programs, a commitment to the principle of autonomy serves as a litmus test for the 2022 political candidates ENM II will support. Accountability systems serve as necessary means to realize autonomy, but building a national assessment center separate from the DepEd, already one of the foundational programs in the ENM II, may well be the essential first step.

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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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TAGS: Business Matters, Edilberto de Jesus, education, Eduction Natuon
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