New expectations for DepEd | Inquirer Opinion
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New expectations for DepEd

Sen. Sonny Angara is the new Department of Education (DepEd) secretary. As the President had promised, the appointment came soon after the Vice President had resigned from her Cabinet post. His selection generated a lot of hope from different sectors, from his colleagues in the Senate to teachers’ groups like the Alliance of Concerned Teachers as he had extensive policy experience in educational reforms such as the Unified Student Financial Assistance System Act scholarships, Universal Access to Quality Tertiary Education Act, and Open Learning and Distance Education Act.

Taking on DepEd’s challenges is a gargantuan task. At the very least, however, here is the bare minimum of what we expect of a DepEd secretary:

Take the issues seriously. This means taking the time and effort to understand what perpetuates the problems and what prevents them from being solved. Rather than a trial-and-error approach, it is important to be systematic as education issues are deeply rooted. It is better to take a long view of the problem rather than getting distracted by short-term, reactionary band-aid strategies. Take advantage of the groundwork laid out by the Year One Report of the Second Congressional Commission on Education, which identified the numerous problems of basic education. Avoid bluster and using the department for political gain.

Listen to your stakeholders. This includes educational experts, teachers, administration and support staff, students, and their families. Understand your personal strengths and weaknesses as the top executive of the agency. If you are not an educator by profession, heed the wisdom of those who devoted their lives to the field. Make sure to get input both from the old guards of the department, who have the institutional memory, and the up-and-coming innovators, who have fresh ideas and perspectives to offer.

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Understand the community surrounding the child. Educating a child is far different from educating law students. Working with children requires working with their parents. Supporting parents requires supporting their livelihood and capacity to provide well for their child. A child needs a safe community in order to focus on learning. A child can only learn when they are well-fed and cared for. In a way, this is why improving public education is an almost impossible task because to fix a child’s education means to fix a child’s life.

Collaborate with other agencies. The problems of DepEd cannot be fixed by the agency alone. The poor quality of early childhood education sets up students to fail in basic education. Malnutrition hinders students’ capacity to absorb and practice the lessons. Climate-related disasters rob students of valuable learning days. I say let’s start with the basics. Collaborate with other agencies such as the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) and the Department of Agriculture (DA) to beef up the school-based feeding program. This will help in supporting the child’s cognitive development. This will also help incentivize parents to send children to school as they will at least be assured free meals. The DA can connect farmers to the program, ensuring income for farmers and fresh produce for the schools. The DSWD and local government units can use the program as a source of jobs for those who will prepare the meals. They can also collaborate with the Commission on Higher Education to improve teacher quality and fast-track teaching innovation by offering public schools as teaching labs. This can accelerate education research as well as inject public schools with simultaneous innovation.

Serve as a role model for students. As an education leader, be mindful of your words and actions. If DepEd requires students to take up Good Manners and Right Conduct, ensure that you embody it. Be courteous and professional in the way you communicate. Do not get defensive. Be open to correction and feedback. Do not be afraid to ask for help. Be willing to learn yourself.

To go beyond the minimum, I have a radical suggestion: Immerse yourself in the day-to-day workings of public education. Put yourself in the shoes of a teacher for one day. Experience what it’s like to prepare a lesson plan. Manage a classroom full of students. Grade papers. Create modules and manage asynchronous classes. Then put yourself in the other shoe, that of the student. Accompany a student on a regular school day, starting from how early they must wake up to prepare for school. See how tired and famished they are before the first class has even started. Take on a student’s homework and see how long it takes to complete them. Better yet, try doing them in a shared room with no quiet or privacy.

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The attitude and mindset of a leader matters, especially with responsibilities as big as those carried by DepEd. While there are many things beyond Angara’s control as the new secretary, how he begins will tell us what lies ahead for the country’s public education.

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