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Our future at risk

/ 04:25 AM April 25, 2022

I think the Department of Education (DepEd) has done a commendable job in many ways in recent times. For instance, for 2022, it allotted P11.7 billion for its computerization program, which will provide appropriate technologies to all public schools nationwide including the provision of laptops, smart TVs, and other teaching equipment. But that amount divided among 47,600 public schools is only P245,000 per school. Or, if used to buy a tablet for every child, would mean those tablets would have to cost only P490 each, given that there are 23.9 million public school students.

DepEd, in partnership with the Department of Information and Communications Technology, is also continuously developing the Public Education Network, which would hasten the digitalization of public schools nationwide and allow students and teachers to access different learning platforms, such as DepEd TV and DepEd Commons.

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But then, what’s on those tablets must have accurate, factual data and curricula that prepare kids to enter the modern world and perform a modern job. I’m not sure that’s what they’re getting. I’ve always been impressed by Antonio Calipjo Go who, it seems, has single-handedly fought for the correction of numerous errors in the textbooks, with some facts apparently deliberately distorted in history books. Mind you, it’s time the books went (boohoo). It must be a tablet for each kid now, 23.9 million of them.

That tablet will need electricity and internet. On electricity, it’s not too bad; over 90 percent of schools have electricity. Access to internet is where things need drastic improvement. Only 28.6 percent of elementary schools had internet access for educational purposes as of 2018. For junior and senior high schools, it’s somewhat better with access to internet at 40.8 percent and 70.5 percent, respectively. It may well have improved since 2018 (why is data so far behind; how do you make decisions on information five years old?) but I’d venture it’s still well short of need.

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So, I was reasonably reassured that things were progressing until I was horrified to read that less than (get that, less than) 15 percent of 10-year-old kids in the Philippines can read or understand a simple story according to the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef). Now, I’ll accept that COVID-19-created school closure had much to do with it. But did we have to have our schools closed for the longest time—70 weeks?

And it wasn’t just because of COVID. You’ll remember back in 2018, prior to COVID, Filipinos ranked dead last in reading literacy and second-lowest in mathematics and science among 79 countries in the Programme for International Student Assessment by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. This was confirmed in the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study of 2019, Filipinos ranked the lowest among 58 nations in mathematics and science. You literally can’t get worse than that.

Unicef took it further when it highlighted the slow learning pace of Filipino children, where it was taking seven years to develop basic reading skills and 11 years for foundational numeracy skills. It should take two years. It’s a disgrace, and it says to me that the Philippine educational system is in the ICU.

It’s pretty obvious that our education system is in need of a massive reorganization, reform, and upgrade, as well as money, as I raised last week. It’s very obvious that something is seriously wrong with our educational system that the reforms currently being introduced won’t fix.

Yet we pretend we are an attractive country to invest in because of our large, young workforce. To be blunt about it, to do what, if they’re illiterate? Simple labor that more and more robots can do?

A serious study should be done as to why we are last — last in the world, I still can’t get over that. We should hire an international consultancy that has the proven experience and expertise to research and determine the true causes of our failed education system. That research should be the first executive order of the next president. In the meantime, one thing we should seriously consider is adding a year of face-to-face teaching to recover from the loss created by COVID.

Providing students with world-class education must be one of the very top priorities of the next president and our Congress (where control of the money occurs). Otherwise, our future is at risk.

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TAGS: DepEd, DICT, education, Like It Is, literacy, Peter Wallace
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