‘Victory for education’ means addressing learning loss, low education quality, teachers’ training
After two years of closure because of the pandemic, public and private schools welcomed more than 28 million children who went back to their classrooms in August. It was a bold move amid the scare of the spread of COVID-19, the lack of school infrastructure, and the economic slowdown.
Many parents, teachers, school personnel, and civil society organizations welcomed the Department of Education’s (DepEd) directive for the start of in-person classes, after online classes highlighted the inequities among students. The poor had to contend with unstable internet connection, lack of gadgets, and cramped housing conditions. The parents, mostly daily wage earners whose educational attainment was lower than their children’s, also struggled to help them with the modules, worksheets, and other assignments.
Vice President and DepEd Secretary Sara Duterte-Carpio went against the earlier directive of her father, former president Rodrigo Duterte, who had refused to open onsite classes despite the prodding of education specialists. “No more excuses!” the Vice President said, declaring on the first day of school opening that it was “a victory for basic education.”
But was it really a victory?
For sure, it was a step in the right direction, but victory can only be declared when we are able to address the bigger challenge of recovering the learning loss even before the pandemic. For many years, our country has suffered from the low quality of education. The pandemic resulted in a double crisis: an education crisis within a health crisis. The Asian Development Bank recently cited the World Bank’s estimates of learning poverty for low- and middle-income economies. It said that the percentage of children who are unable to read and understand a simple text by age 10 had increased from 57 percent in 2019 to 70 percent in 2022.
With this scenario, we need reforms to address not only the learning losses during the pandemic, but also the causes of low-quality education that have saddled us way before that.
“Victory for basic education” means children are able to read and understand what they read, because they cannot progress in other subjects, like science and math, if they cannot read and understand at their appropriate level.
Victory also means that teachers, our frontliners in the battle for recovery of learning loss, are equipped to teach and meet the learning needs of their students. They have to be creative and be able to reach out to those who are still adjusting from years of onscreen learning to in-person classes. More quality training, coaching, mentoring, and teaching guides for teachers are also needed.
To achieve victory, the first step is to understand where the students are—their proficiency level according to the standards of the K-to-12 curriculum, as well as their mental and psychosocial condition. Based on the results of this assessment, students can be grouped, and the lessons and teaching methodologies can be made more appropriate. Each region, each community, each school, each child is unique, and there is no single formula that will address in so short a time the losses the students have been incurring even before the pandemic. There may be costs upfront for these assessments, but in the long run, the recovery program would be cost-effective.
Victory can easily be disrupted by the spread of COVID-19 or any disease. Let us keep our children and teachers safe by ensuring we have basic facilities that help prevent virus infection like water and soap for washing hands, clean toilets, face masks, and enough space both indoors and outdoors for all enrollees.
Catching up is a tough ride. It is not classes as usual. The Philippines can learn from global lessons to pursue an evidence-based learning recovery program. The coming months will be a critical time to push for an iterative and sustained dialogue with important stakeholders in the field, like local government units and parent-teacher associations. The challenge is too great for one agency and one administration to address. Still, we all must be determined to gain victory. No more excuses!
Leonora Aquino-Gonzales,College of Mass Communication,University of the Philippines