WB: PH ‘learning poverty’ among highest in region
After two years of distance learning and with months to go before the resumption of face-to-face classes in November, nine out of 10 Filipino children age 10 are still struggling to read simple texts by age 10, according to another World Bank (WB) report that monitors the quality of education in the region.
That makes the Philippines one of the countries with the highest rates of “learning poverty” in the East Asia and Pacific region and among lower-middle income economies, the Washington-based lender said in its latest brief dated June and published online on Friday.
Learning poverty means being unable to read and understand short, age-appropriate texts by the age of 10, or between Grade 4 and Grade 5 under the country’s K-12 system.
Not proficient in reading
Based on World Bank estimates, as many as 91 percent of children in the Philippines at late primary age “are not proficient in reading.”
Compared with that of its neighbors in the region, the Philippine learning poverty rate was higher by 56.4 points and more than double the regional average of 34.5 percent. It fared even worse among lower-middle income countries, with the figures reflecting an abysmal 80.5-point gap with its peers.
The problem, according to the World Bank, is compounded by the significant number of out-of-school youth. “In the Philippines, 5 percent of primary school-aged children are not enrolled in school. These children are excluded from learning in school,” it said.
As in most other countries, learning poverty is higher for boys than for girls in the Philippines.
The World Bank identified two reasons: “First, the share of out-of-school children is higher for boys (5.1 percent) than for girls (4.8 percent). Second, boys are less likely to achieve minimum proficiency at the end of primary school (91.7 percent) than girls (89.2 percent) in the Philippines,” it said.
The World Bank considers schoolchildren who are unable to reach minimum proficiency levels in reading tests to be “learning deprived.”
“All children should be able to read by age 10,” it said.
“Reading is a gateway for learning as the child progresses through school—and conversely, an inability to read constrains opportunities for further learning. Reading proficiency is also critical for foundational learning in other subjects,” it said.
The country’s ballooning learning poverty rate coincided with the closure of schools in 2020 and 2021, which forced educational institutions to resort to at-home classes that were either module-based or online.
On July 11, Vice President and Education Secretary Sara Duterte issued an order requiring all public and private schools in the country to switch to five-day in-person classes starting Nov. 2.
But on Tuesday, President Marcos said “blended learning,” or a mix of in-person and distance learning classes, would continue beyond Oct. 31 in specific areas to be identified by the Department of Education (DepEd).Malacañang said the President directed DepEd to intensify preparations and planning, saying that “as much as possible, classes should really be face-to-face.”
In its report, the World Bank noted that the country was spending less on public education than its regional and income-level peers.
“Primary education expenditure per child of primary education age in the Philippines is $569, which is 83.5 percent below the average for the East Asia and Pacific region, and 29.5 percent below the average for lower-middle income countries,” the World Bank said.
Even before the pandemic, the Philippines’ underinvestment in education was reflected in its poor performance in global learning assessments, such as the Southeast Asia Primary Learning Metrics and Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study in 2019, and the Program for International Student Assessment in 2018.
Earlier, Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Arsenio Balisacan urged the government not only to resume face-to-face schooling but also conduct remedial classes among younger schoolchildren to make up for two years of subpar learning due to the pandemic.
In a report released on Monday, the Manila-based Asian Development Bank (ADB) also joined calls to extend students’ learning time so they could recover from learning losses.
“Additional classroom time can give students the opportunity to cover material missed because of school closures. This can take the form of hours added to the school day, weekend classes, and reducing the breaks between academic years and terms,” the ADB said.
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