More education funds demanded
Reacting to a global educational achievement test that ranked the Philippines dead last in reading and second lowest in math and science among students from 79 countries, lawmakers on Thursday called for changes in the school curriculum while teachers appealed for bigger spending for education from Congress.
Legislators and educators were not surprised by the Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) report for 2018 of the Organization for Economic Cooperation (OECD).
The country’s own National Achievement Test (NAT) scores in basic education have been declining, so the Pisa findings were expected, according to Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian, chair of the Senate education committee.
He said the 2018 NAT showed that the average mean percentage score in Grade 6 was 37.44 percent, the weakest performance in the history of the standardized education program of the Department of Education (DepEd).
“While we were expecting the low scores from this study, these would serve as guide for us to improve the quality of education in the country,” Gatchalian said.
He pushed for a more focused curriculum for basic education, as well as more spending for quality learning materials and training of teachers.
“We’re teaching so many things to the kids and because of this, the absorption is becoming an issue and also the time teachers allocate to teach is becoming an issue,” he told CNN Philippines.
Pasig Rep. Roman Romulo, the House basic education committee chair, said he would also recommend a modification of the basic education curriculum, especially for kindergarten to Grade 3 pupils.
“We want to give our learners the basic skills of reading and writing, and arithmetic, while we take out other subject areas, such as araling panlipunan, and put these in higher grade levels,” he said.
Expenditure per student
Educators and teachers’ groups, however, called attention to another metric where the Pisa showed the Philippines was also significantly behind the rest of the world: spending for education.
“Expenditure per student in the Philippines was the lowest amongst all Pisa-participating countries,” said the OECD, which has conducted Pisa since 2000.
Despite the largest slice of the national budget that the Constitution gives to it, education’s share of the country’s gross domestic product of between 2 percent and 4 percent is much lower than the international standard of 6 percent, according to Joselyn Martinez, chair of the Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT).
DepEd’s budget proposals have often been slashed. For 2020, it had sought P803.13 billion but Congress brought it down to P550.89 billion.
Its budget of P527.714 billion for 2019 was smaller than its request of P732.280 billion and less than the P579.419 billion in 2018.
ACT Rep. France Castro said the Pisa results posed a “daunting challenge” for the DepEd in tackling the root causes of the problem and raised questions on how it would set its priorities and whether the basic education curriculum was truly congested.
She said the DepEd should not also ignore the “age-old” problem of the low salaries of Filipino teachers.
Castro said spending for the K-12 program was increasing yearly but this had not resolved the “perennial problems of shortages in classrooms, learning materials, teachers, education support personnel, among others.”
University of the Philippine (UP) Diliman Chancellor Michael Tan lamented that even though the government had boasted of an increasing annual education budget, the allocation “does not reach the recommended percentages.”
Tan said he hoped that the government also would pour more money into “places that are underserved, rural areas especially.”
This also means stopping the militarization of rural and indigenous communities—such as those in Negros and
Mindanao—which neutralized children’s ability, he said.
“The learning environment must be free of fear,” Tan said.
Language at home
In another major finding, the OECD said 94 percent of 15-year-old Filipino students who were tested spoke a language at home that was not English, the medium of instruction in the Philippines that was used in the Pisa test.
Education Secretary Leonor Briones had acknowledged that English proficiency was “clearly a weakness” of Filipino students.
But Theresa de Villa, a former principal of the UP Integrated School, questions why Filipinos should insist on using English as medium of instruction.
“Imagine the difficulty of a student [taking the Pisa test]. You’re grappling with two things. Not just the concept itself, but translating the language into a language you know very well.”
Language could account for the striking advantage that both private school students and those in urban areas have, she said.
“Sometimes [those in lower socioeconomic classes] use English, but they would rather do something that will make them survive,” she said. “And that isn’t reading textbooks.”
De Villa said more support should be given to the Mother Tongue-Based Multilingual Education being implemented from Grades 1 to 3.
Tan agreed. “We would have to be careful [with just reviewing proficiency] because the studies do show that to improve English you have to start with the mother language,” he said.
De Villa said it was time to again resume serious discussions on not just English proficiency, but whether it should continue as the medium of instruction. The current structure was difficult not just for students but teachers as well, she said.
“Imagine the difficulty of a teacher in handling a class where the language at home is different,” De Villa said. “A lot of misconceptions happen in the process of translation. … They will simplify and in the process of simplification, something goes wrong.”
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