Revitalizing our basic education system

Revitalizing our basic education system

/ 04:15 AM February 12, 2024

The Philippines ranked 77th out of 81 countries in the 2022 Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa), scoring lower than the global average: 355 in math (vs 472), 347 in reading (vs 476), and 356 in science (vs 485).

The Department of Education (DepEd) acknowledged a five- to six-year lag in learning competencies, emphasizing that each 20-point deficit from the average represents a one-year setback for 15-year-olds. These underscore the need for strategic interventions to improve the basic education system in the country.

Current situation and challenges

Insufficient and poor facilities. Vice President and DepEd Secretary Sara Duterte, in her 2023 Basic Education Report, identified school infrastructure and facilities as the most pressing issue facing the country’s education sector.

Of the 327,851 school buildings nationwide, 100,072 need minor repairs, 89,252 require major repairs, and 21,727 are set for condemnation. Only 3,637 out of the planned 6,300 new classrooms have been built and only 4,542 repaired. DepEd has also said that 35 percent of public schools lack access to electricity.


Further, the Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) said that the school year 2023-2024 opened with schools lacking 150,000 classrooms and 224,981 sets of chairs and tables for students.

Lack of teachers. The 2022 Pisa report also found that 43 percent of Filipino students were in schools that lacked teaching staff, hindering the capacity for instruction as reported by their principals. This is a significant increase from the 19 percent reported in the 2018 Pisa report.

ACT noted the shortage of 144,789 teachers and 94,540 academic support staff for the current school year. DepEd reported that 89,506 teaching positions have yet to be filled. For the academic year 2023-2024, only 3,352 out of the planned 9,650 teachers were hired. It does not help that the teaching profession is not considered a financially rewarding career choice in the Philippines. Even Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development member countries, which are mostly developed economies, are facing teacher shortages.

Malnutrition and underperformance. About 30 percent of kids under 5 years old experience malnutrition, which affects both their physical and cognitive development. According to agricultural economist Dr. Karlo Adriano, there is a correlation between performance in Pisa and protein intake. Students who attend school on an empty stomach are likely to experience a lack of concentration and energy, hindering their ability to learn.



Leverage the voucher system. It is a practical way to address the classroom shortage, as proven by Pasig City Mayor Vico Sotto and Antipolo City Mayor Jun Ynares when they redistributed public school students to private schools through the voucher system. Dr. Victor Limlingan, chair of Cristina Research Foundation, has been advocating for the expansion and extension of the voucher system to kindergarten and grade school as this is a much cheaper and faster way to solve our classroom shortages. Simultaneously, DepEd should prioritize building classrooms in regions with the highest student population density and where private schools are very few.

Hire more teachers. Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian has urged DepEd to expedite the hiring process, which typically extends over six months. DepEd should use digital platforms and automated systems for applications, document verification, and communication. It reduces paperwork, minimizes errors, and reduces bureaucracy to fill up teaching positions faster.


VP Sara has highlighted DepEd’s commitment to providing health insurance for both teaching and nonteaching personnel and addressing concerns related to teachers’ net take-home pay, including teaching overload and overtime pay. While these initiatives will support teacher recruitment and retention, it is crucial to monitor their implementation and effectiveness.

Strengthen public-private partnerships.

Companies can help students through financial support, skill development initiatives, internships, and future employment. Thus, they are partners in developing the human capital of the country.

The government should streamline administrative processes to encourage more private participation in Technical Education and Skills Development Authority’s (Tesda) enterprise-based training or apprenticeship programs. This includes eliminating complex registration and post-training evaluations.

Another way is to amend the CREATE law and expand its training incentives. Indonesia allows a 200-percent reduction in qualifying expenses for human development activities which, in effect, reduces the company’s taxable income. If the Philippines likewise implements a 200-percent reduction instead of the present 100 percent, there will be a greater incentive for the private sector to engage in reskilling and upskilling the workforce.

Private sector and socio-civic organizations also have initiatives that tackle involuntary hunger and malnutrition. As they say, education is the great equalizer. The decline in the quality of basic education could potentially rob younger generations of the opportunity for a better life. The government must act quickly to improve the basic education system because a nation is only as good as its people.

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Gary B. Teves served as finance secretary under the Arroyo administration.

TAGS: education, opinion

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