In good hands
WHEN incoming Secretary Leonor Briones and her staff take over the Department of Education, they will be faced with a lack of classrooms, inadequate learning materials, teacher shortage, and the usual school woes.
This is not saying that the outgoing education officials did nothing to solve these problems. Br. Armin Luistro FSC and his team have reported reducing the classroom-to-student ratio from 1:53 in 2010 to 1:48 in 2015, and the average teacher-to-student ratio from 1:39 (2009) to 1:33 (2015), and from 1:38 to 1:27 for elementary schools and high schools, respectively.
A new team can be brought in to try and do better, but the reality is that these challenges are a function of urban congestion, a runaway birthrate and the scale of the system, meaning the problems keep growing too big to solve once and for all. So let’s not go there. Instead, let’s look at what Luistro and company have accomplished, or started, that deserve to be continued and improved by Briones.
On top of managing 58,811 elementary and secondary schools for 23.7 million students in 18 regions and 218 division offices, the outgoing team has been phasing in the K-to-12 enhanced basic education program these past six years.
Luistro and his team of educators, finance experts and development planners created the K-to-12 curriculum, collaborating with the Commission on Higher Education and Technical Education and Skills Development Authority on the changes and enrichments, particularly for the senior high school specialized subjects. To ensure the reform’s full implementation, they crafted the law that was legislated in 2013 and fought for a budget that would enable them to build stand-alone senior high schools, furnish classrooms in existing high schools, and provide new labs and workshops, tech-voc and livelihood equipment, teacher training, among other things.
Multiple consultations, held by the DepEd with students, teachers, parents, school heads and other stakeholders nationwide, gained understanding of and support for the massive reform. More than a million Grade 11 students are now enrolled in 11,000 senior high schools run by the DepEd, state universities, local universities and private schools.
Briones and her team will now be responsible for implementing Grade 12 next school year and for keeping the K-to-12 program in full swing, amid strong opposition from certain legislators and interest groups. The new secretary’s buy-in is also important in the DepEd’s push for technology. In time for school opening and the Grade 11 rollout, the DepEd showed off its nationwide Learner Information System, which generates enrollment figures in real time.
Included in the technology infrastructure set up by the Luistro team are data centers for the input of all school-related information and a mirror site for backup and redundancy measures. Regional and division offices have been given the budget to procure more internet services. Schools have been provided hardware, as well as mobile teachers and Alternative Learning System facilities.
This push for technology has resulted in the creation of the Enhanced Basic Education Information System, the Learning Portal, and the impressive DepEd website.
The upgrade of servers that began in 2015 and the improvement of the data centers are expected to be completed in 2017. Without Briones’ blessing, the technology will become obsolete.
The National Indigenous Peoples Education Program is another worthwhile framework for the incoming team to consider adopting because of its goal of correcting the miseducation of IP learners. Under Luistro, the DepEd has adopted the landmark policy that seeks to give IP learners a more culturally-based and more accessible education. It has created the Indigenous Peoples Education Office, issued guidelines on the conduct of activities and use of materials involving aspects of IP culture, and adopted the IP Education Curriculum Framework.
Yet another ongoing project that will need a boost from Briones is the title transfer for the properties on which some public schools stand. When Luistro came on board, schools were in danger of losing the lots for lack of legal title ownership. In some cases, the heirs of the lot donors wanted to retrieve the property. Through the team’s efforts, a total of 20,663 schools now have clean transfer certificates, deeds of donation, and other legal proof of ownership, representing a huge jump of 424 percent from when Luistro started, according to Undersecretary Rey Laguda.
There is more to be done. If Briones indeed shares the same perspective on education with Luistro, the DepEd will be in good hands.
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