Bringing DepEd back on track | Inquirer Opinion
Editorial

Bringing DepEd back on track

/ 05:03 AM July 06, 2024

Unlike his immediate predecessor who courted controversy throughout her two-year stint at the helm of the Department of Education (DepEd), Sen. Juan Edgardo “Sonny” Angara apparently enjoys tremendous goodwill, given the positive reactions to his appointment as new education secretary. Starting on the right foot is certainly a plus for the seasoned legislator as he takes on the immense job of fixing the country’s broken and ailing education system.

With two decades of legislating education reforms in the House of Representatives and the Senate, the former senator takes on the job unfettered by the distrust and lack of confidence from different education stakeholders that had hobbled the tenure of Vice President and former DepEd chief Sara Duterte.

As noted in this paper’s banner report on Wednesday, President Marcos’ choice of Angara was “widely welcomed” by various education groups, leaders of the two chambers of Congress, and teachers’ groups including those Red-tagged by the previous DepEd secretary.

Angara was among the few endorsed by the Coordinating Council of Private Educational Associations, the Philippine Association of Colleges and Universities, and the Philippine Business for Education, which pointed to his “wealth of experience” and even “political savvy” as assets that will serve him well in his new post.

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Impressive credentials

The Alliance of Concerned Teachers and the Teachers’ Dignity Coalition also welcomed Angara’s appointment and expressed hope that he would be open to engaging teachers’ groups in dialogue to tackle the challenges facing the education system.

Angara certainly has the impressive credentials and experience to head what Mr. Marcos said was “arguably the most important department [in the government], given the crucial role of education” in the country’s development.

Angara earned his law degree at the University of the Philippines, his Master of Laws at Harvard University, and economics degree at the London School of Economics, a passion for educational excellence no doubt imbued in him by his parents: the late Edgardo Angara who was a former Senate president and the 15th president of the University of the Philippines, and his mother, former Cultural Center of the Philippines chair Gloria Manalang.

40 recommendations

The Presidential Communications Office cited his “extensive legislative history” in pushing “significant education reforms” such as the Universal Access to Quality Tertiary Education Act (Republic Act No. 10931), which mandated free tuition in state and local universities and colleges; the Enhanced Basic Education Act (RA 10533), which put in place the K-12 curriculum; the Kabalikat sa Pagtuturo (Teaching Supplies) Act (RA 11997); the Open Distance Learning Act (RA 10650); the Kindergarten Education Act (RA 10157), and the Anti-Bullying Act (RA 10627).

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At the House, Angara chaired the House committee on higher and technical education in 2010. More importantly, the former lawmaker has firsthand knowledge of the myriad problems hounding public education as a commissioner of the Second Congressional Commission on Education (EdCom II), a national body tasked to review the performance of the country’s education sector post-pandemic.

In its Year One report last Jan. 23, 2024, titled “Miseducation: The Failed System of Philippine Education,” the commission diagnosed what ails the education system—from early childhood to higher education—and laid down 40 recommendations to address these problems. As DepEd chief, Angara is now in a position to orchestrate the implementation of these solutions.

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Brilliant fiscal mind

Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian, who co-chairs EdCom II, noted that with his track record, Angara “will bring to the department the expertise and leadership needed to usher needed reforms and foster innovation in the basic education sector.” For Sen. Juan Miguel Zubiri, Angara “brings to the DepEd his brilliant fiscal mind, being a former chair of the Senate finance panel, and his heart for our youth.”

But Angara has little time to bask in these accolades. Public elementary and high school classes are set to begin on July 29, and the urgent task before him is to bring a sense of normalcy and purpose to the public education sector, especially the teachers and students subjected to experimental and ad hoc policies in the last two years.

As a legislator all his life, Angara will have to test his mettle as an administrator and leader not only of the largest bureaucracy in government, but also the most important training ground for the country’s present and future generations.

Still, it would be foolhardy for Angara and an expectant public that has suddenly found hope with his appointment, to expect miracles overnight. It will take years and even decades to put the education system fully back on track, hampered as it is by pervasive poverty and poor governance.

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At the very least, Angara must set the DepEd on the right and steady path that would ultimately lead it toward reform and redemption.

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