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Shipwreck

/ 05:04 AM December 15, 2021

Backed by the results of three different multicountry assessments spearheaded by the World Bank (WB) before the COVID-19 pandemic struck — Pisa in 2018, TIMSS in 2019, and SEA-PLM in 2019 — the July 2021 synthesis report of the WB stated that “more than 80 percent of Filipino schoolchildren are performing below their grade level and do not know what they should know.” The report did not sit well with Secretary Leonor Briones of the Department of Education (DepEd) who demanded the WB’s apology because “the report shamed and insulted the Philippines.” The WB apologized for releasing the report “prematurely” and removed it from its website, yet it did not retract its findings.

The WB on Nov. 18 came out with an even more damning report on the true state of education in the Philippines, this time affirming that: (1) 9 out of 10 Filipino kids age 10 cannot read; (2) as of March 2021, distance schooling covered only 20 percent of Filipino households with schoolchildren—the lowest rate alongside Ethiopia; (3) Learning Poverty in the country rose to a new high of 90 percent; and (4) Learning Poverty in 2019, or before COVID-19 struck, was already low at 69.5 percent. (Learning Poverty is defined as the inability to read and understand a simple text by age 10.)

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Will Briones again demand apology from the WB? The DepEd should stop blaming the pandemic for the education crisis, because it is largely man-made and self-inflicted, owing to various factors such as weak leadership, the absence of a clear roadmap that shows vision and direction, lack of planning and preparation, haphazard implementation of projects and programs, and misuse and mismanagement of funds and resources.

The DepEd recently announced that “27.2 million students enrolled in public schools this year, which is 3.83 percent higher than the record last year.” Is this true, given the findings of the WB that distance schooling covered only 20 percent of Filipino households with schoolchildren and that only 27 percent of students in the Philippines have broadband internet access? How many of the 27.2 million enrollees are actually attending the online classes? Was this data released with the intention of getting more funds from the government, or getting more loans from the WB?

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During a hearing conducted by the Senate basic education committee last March, DepEd Undersecretary Diosdado San Antonio said that, based on collated reports from their regional directors, an overwhelming 99.13 percent of 15 million public school students got passing grades during the first quarter of the school year 2020–2021, when classes had just started and when the pandemic was at its height. This is why our ship of fools will never go sailing beyond the reefs. Things not acknowledged to be broken or inadequate will never be addressed.

The French novelist Albert Camus wrote: “What’s true of all the evils in the world is true of the plague as well. It helps men to rise above themselves.” And rise we must. We must rise above the devastation caused by the longstanding reign of evil empires and political dynasties in our country. These we must eradicate by a vote of no confidence in the May 2022 national elections. The DepEd must also rise and elevate itself from the self-dug quagmire it’s in by admitting its errors and mistakes and by a sincere and honest show of effort to correct them.

The head of a department that is far from being shipshape calling the start of this school year “a success worthy of celebration” is a clear case of self-deception. It reminds me of that scene in the movie “Titanic” where the band of musicians continued to play music on the deck of the sinking ship, or of the crazy emperor Nero who played the fiddle while Rome burned. The DepEd needs to get its act together and start bailing water out before our ship of state starts to sink beyond hope of salvation.

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Antonio Calipjo Go is a retired private school supervisor who has waged a crusade against error-riddled textbooks in the Philippines for the past 26 years.

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TAGS: Antoni Calipjo Go, Commentary, DepEd, PH education, world bank
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