Malacañang’s keeper of the purse once likened the Philippine education system to a frog in a kettle put to a boil.
“The frog will not know it is dying until it is too late,” Florencio “Butch” Abad told me in 2007, two years after he left the Arroyo administration in a mass desertion of Cabinet secretaries.
Abad, the current budget secretary who headed the Department of Education (DepEd) under President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo for a year, then described the situation as “dismal.”
The question is, Is the frog out of the kettle? Is the DepEd, midway through the administration of President Aquino, finally moving to lift the quality of Philippine education, seeing to it that every child is able to read and find a job after high school, just like in First World countries?
“Yes,” said Alice Alafriz Pañares, a consultant in the department’s K to 12 program—kindergarten, six years of elementary, four years of junior high school and two years of senior high school. “So many things have happened.”
Last month, Aquino signed the law officially adopting the program that seeks to align the Philippines’ basic education program with the 12-year international norm.
For the first time since the Commonwealth era, the country is dropping the 10-year cycle whose lone holdouts are Angola and Djibouti.
“All those years, we had been waiting for this,” said Pañares, who served under seven education secretaries before she retired recently and became a private sector representative in the National Commission for Culture and the Arts.
In addition to K to 12, the DepEd also is adopting the mother tongue of a particular locality as the medium of instruction from Grades 1 to 3, eschewing the traditional bilingual approach using English and Filipino in a nation with a lingua franca for each of the 17 regions. For starters, 12 languages are on tab.
“This is very significant,” Pañares said.
“For the first time, we have a President who did not renege on his word, on his promise to improve our education system. And he will not even be there when all of these initiatives bear fruit,” she said. “My feeling is the ball game has changed, the rules have changed. It’s very positive.”
She acknowledged problems in implementation, “like in everything else when you start from zero.”
“There are jagged lines of ups and downs,” Pañares said.
Education Secretary Armin Luistro said last month that in addition to the K-to-12 birth pangs, there were the perennial shortages.
Critics said classroom shortfall ran to 32,000, teachers 61,000 and textbooks 60 million as the new school year opened last week for more than 25 million students.
The new program was rolled out last year in Grades 1 and 7 (the first year of junior high) in mostly catch-as-catch-can fashion, according to interviews conducted by the Inquirer with teachers reported in a series of four articles last week. Improvisation was the name of the game.
Antonio Calipjo Go, the academic supervisor of Marian School of Quezon City, laments that the implementation of the program presaged an “impending disaster” unless stopgap measures are adopted immediately.
This self-styled “sick books” crusader zeroed in on the subject close to his heart—textbooks, declaring that they had been “at the very heart of the rot that’s infecting Philippine education and making it sick.”
Little has been done, he said in letters to the Inquirer and concerned authorities, to publish textbooks conforming to the new curriculum.
Old titles remain in use, some of them he had earlier critiqued. Go cited “English for You and Me,” which he had pilloried in June 2009, calling it “English for Carabaos or Flip-glish.”
“It is high time the DepEd issues new textbook calls to replace all the textbooks presently being used in all the major subjects, select only the best from among the submitted entries, and proceed to do what is mandated by the Constitution and moral law—to teach what is right,” he said in an essay accompanying a letter to the Inquirer on Aug. 31, 2012.
He said he reviewed the “Learning Package for Grade 7 English, First and Second Semesters.” The 172-page teaching aid for teachers in what is now first year junior high in the new 12-year curriculum was riddled with 658 solecisms—or an average of 3.8 errors per page, said Go, who has mounted a crusade against books “lost in translation,” even using P1 million out of his own pocket to expose in paid newspaper advertisement the anomalous materials.
— An embedded clause is a clause that is fixed within a larger clause or sentence which is called the matrix clause. The embedded clause is usually found in the beginning or at the end of sentences. Markers introduce embedded clauses, but there are instances when a marker does not precede an embedded clause. Such is the case with gerunds.
— Witness a moonlight memory of a lifetime. This is not your usual walk in the bay.
— Carlo declared his imperishable love to Carlita.
— A humorous proverb: “I was formerly a gentleman without a care at all but when I got married, my body shrank and became small.”
When I interviewed Butch Abad in the dimly lit dining room of his Quezon City home after he had quit the Arroyo administration over charges the President stole the 2004 elections, he rued embarrassments of the education system.
Half of the Philippine student population then was not even in school; a national test on reading given to about a million Grade 6 students in 2003 showed that 99.4 percent of them were unprepared to enter high school and that their level of proficiency was only at Grade 4; teachers who did not wish to be accused of incompetence gave “wholesale” passing marks.
The late Education Secretary Raul Roco launched in 2002, after years of study, a new basic curriculum that reduced the 10 subjects taught in public schools to five—English, science, mathematics, social studies and Filipino. Art, music, history, physical education and culture were crammed under social studies.
The objective was to foster “functional literacy,” to make every child a reader, able to understand and apply in daily life the result of reading and numeracy.
Efforts were made to improve proficiency in science, math and English after tests revealed the nation’s young were lagging behind in standards, even in its own backyard in Southeast Asia.
But the latest basic education statistics released by DepEd showed that the achievement rate for school year 2011-12 indicated little improvement over the past five years—66.79 percent for mathematics, 66.47 percent in science, and 66.11 percent for English.
Incidentally, the cohort survival rate at 73.46 percent in the past year was down from 75.26 percent five years before, in spite of the vaunted P20-billion conditional cash transfer (CCT) program to keep children in schools. The CCT fund this year is around P40 billion.
Completion rate—the percentage of pupils who are able to finish their studies—was down at 70.96 percent from 73.06 percent over the five-year period.
“The country does not really fully appreciate the value of education,” said Jose V. Abueva, former president of the University of the Philippines who now runs Kalayaan College, a hole-in-the-wall in Quezon City’s teeming Cubao district.
“We always want to assume that as the Constitution says the state shall guarantee the quality of education. But in terms of allocation of resources, we are far below what other countries invest in education, especially Singapore,” the 85-year-old Abueva said.
“If we don’t invest enough and we pay our teachers and professors inadequate salaries, the result would be the kind of inferior education that we have and our value system,” he said in an interview in his tight office, his desk filled with mountains of papers.
According to the World Bank, the Philippines spends $138 (P6,650) per student per year compared to $853 (P41,110) in Thailand, $1,800 (P86,751) in Singapore and $5,000 (P240,975) in Japan.
“Our media are always glamorizing and publicizing people in entertainment, cinema, artista … . So in the people’s value system, they are the most important people. Educators, scientists and researchers are nowhere to be found in the newspapers, compared to celebrities,” Abueva said.
“The people’s value system goes over into politics—celebrity, popularity, personality, name recall, ‘winnability.’ They don’t talk about politics, ideas and institutional changes. People with quality, like Jun Magsaysay, wala (nothing), compared to Chiz Escudero and Heart Evangelista,” he said of the May 13 senatorial elections.
“And media project this almost every day. That’s why our value system is topsy-turvy.”
An ardent advocate of the parliamentary system, Abueva said the country needed “transforming leaders” that would rebuild the nation’s institutions—a prescription for inclusive economic growth and political maturity in the best-selling book “Why Nations Fail” by Robinson and Acemoglu.
Newspapers trivialize proposals to amend the Constitution, he said, calling the exercise “Cha-cha, a dance.”
The immediate goal in all the current education initiatives, in the view of consultant Pañares, is simply to provide the youth with the wherewithal to get past high school so they could get decent jobs.
“A lot of our high school graduates—70 percent—do not go to college,” Pañares said. Under the new K to 12 program, they would at least be assured of a vocational certificate that would enable them to land jobs, she said. “Now they have a chance… . They will not be a burden.”