As PH students fall into learning abyss, DepEd told to focus on right solutions
MANILA, Philippines—Lawrence (not his real name), a grade 10 student, is having trouble in school, failing most of the tests given him by his teachers.
Take as case, he said, the result of his spelling exam, where out of 15 items, he got everything wrong, writing debry for debris, futhia for fuschia.
But Lawrence is not alone. In his class of 40 students, a great number is failing tests not only in spelling but in almost all subjects.
Some students do not even know how to read, one of his teachers told INQUIRER.net.
Even Vice President Sara Duterte, who is also education secretary, admitted that “learners are not academically proficient.”
She had stressed that literacy is an issue that “we must address appropriately and effectively,” pointing out that results of tests are “distressing.”
Looking back, as she presented the Basic Education Report 2023, Duterte highlighted the 2018 findings of the Programme for International Students Assessment.
It was revealed that out of all the participants, 81 percent could not deal with basic math problems. Some 81 percent had trouble understanding text of moderate length, too.
Likewise, 78 percent could not recognize correct explanations for scientific phenomena or draw valid conclusions from given data.
This is consistent with the result of the Southeast Asia Primary Learning Metrics 2019, which revealed that Filipino Grade 5 students lack reading and mathematical skills.
It was pointed out that only 10 percent and 17 percent of students met the minimum reading and mathematical standards expected at the end of primary education.
Because of these, the DepEd developed the National Learning Recovery Plan (NLRP) to address the learning losses, which were especially brought by the COVID-19 crisis.
As the department stressed, the NLRP will highlight learning remediation and intervention.
But this year, as School Year (SY) 2022-2023 comes to a close, the DepEd said it will implement a National Learning Camp (NLC).
School break ‘learning camp’
SY 2022-2023 will end on July 7, giving teachers and students an end-of-school year break of almost two months until the opening of SY 2023-2024 on Aug. 28.
But within this period, the DepEd will implement the NLC, which is composed of these activities that will last for three to five weeks:
- Enrichment and Intervention Activities for Grades 7 and 8 learners
- Remediation Activities for K to 12 learners
Based on a DepEd memorandum about the learning camp, each class will accommodate 35 learners “to ensure learning efficiency.”
The department previously said the program, which is “not mandatory,” will focus on these learning areas:
However, the Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) expressed concern that the learning camp will “deprive” teachers of their right to rest.
‘No to extended work’
ACT pointed out that though not mandatory for all, the program “deprives teachers, who will be chosen to take part, of their right to ample rest and time to recuperate.”
This, as teachers work for “more than ten months straight without sick leave nor vacation leave benefits.”
According to its chairperson, Vladimer Quetua, “our teachers are not machines,” saying that in reality, teachers do not even have an almost two-month break.
He said teachers still need to work for end-of-school year rites for SY 2022-2023 and then enrollment and Brigada Eskwela for SY 2023-2024.
But it is not only teachers that would be deprived of their right to rest. Students, too, according to Jonathan Geronimo, secretary general of ACT Private Schools.
He told INQUIRER.net via FB Messenger that “there should have been a consultation to ensure the health and wellbeing of the stakeholders, especially teachers and students.”
As pointed out by ACT, there has been an “increasingly shortened school break in the recent school years.”
Since participation in the program is not mandatory, the DepEd said teachers who will volunteer in the learning camp will be given service credits as compensation.
Based on a 1998 memorandum issued by the Civil Service Commission, a service credit is a privilege granted to teachers for work rendered outside of their regular work days.
They can use this to offset absences, but DepEd Order No. 53, s. 2003 limits the number of service credits to only 15 workdays in a year “except in cases authorized by the [DepEd] secretary upon the recommendation of the regional director.”
With the implementation of the learning camp, where teachers who will volunteer are expected to work for three to five weeks, ACT said the limit should be lifted.
Quetua pointed out that “for this year alone, many teachers complained that many of their hard earned credits are not honored because of the cap currently imposed.”
“It is not right to limit to only 15 days the counted service credits when teachers’ work outside their regular work days are even more than this limit,” saying that these are “actual work rendered, so there should be compensation.”
Quetua added that there should even be a 25 percent premium, or a 1.25 service credit, for every work rendered by teachers outside their regular work days.
As pointed out by Carlo (not his real name), a high school teacher, to INQUIRER.net via FB Messenger, the use of service credits should be clarified to teachers by the DepEd.
“If they expect some of us to volunteer in the learning camp, it is reasonable that they make it clear to us if we can really use the service credits that they are saying,” he said.
‘Not real solution’
ACT said there is really a need to address learning losses, but “pushing teachers and learners beyond their limit could prove to be counterproductive to achieving education recovery.”
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“While this program aims to address the learning gaps, this can be even more detrimental to the well-being of our already overworked and burned-out teachers.”
Geronimo explained that the learning camp cannot address the “roots of the learning crisis and the problem of worsening quality of education.”
“The lack of classrooms and obsolete learning materials, overworked yet underpaid teachers, and big class size,” he said, are problems that the DepEd should address to make learning effective.
According to DepEd data, there are over 28 million Filipino learners in public schools, but there are only 327,851 school buildings. Out of which, only 104,536 are in good condition.
Duterte, however, pointed out that this year, the DepED allocated P15.6 billion for the construction of new buildings.
But while the low salary of teachers is a problem, too, ACT said they were disappointed that nothing was said about their call for salary increase when Duterte delivered her Basic Education Report 2023, although she made a commitment to address the issues affecting their net take-home pay.
School year learning
As stressed by Carlo, the DepEd should instead strive to make learning effective in the entire school year by hiring more teachers to reduce class sizes and relieve some teachers from administrative responsibilities.
Carlo, a guidance counselor-designate in his school, said there should be individuals dedicated to administrative work, so that teachers can focus on teaching their students.
“There should be no training or events every weekend or holidays, too.”
Based on what the DepEd said in 2018, the class size was more ideal that year than in 2017, with a teacher-student ratio of 1:31 for elementary and senior high school, and 1:36 for junior high school.
However, it was stressed by ACT that teachers with seven to eight teaching loads are currently handling 40 to 50 students per class while also attending to administrative responsibilities in their schools.
Duterte already made a commitment to “remove non-teaching tasks and provide administrative officers in schools.”
However, while the DepEd said it will hire more teachers every year, Duterte dismissed as “unrealistic and impossible” the call of ACT to hire 30,000 new teachers yearly, especially to reach the ideal class size of 35.
As ACT said, the 30,000 may seem massive, but the call is “perfectly legitimate and logical.”
Quetua pointed out that the Philippines currently lacks 147,000 teachers to “decisively reduce the class size to 35 students and ensure that our teachers can effectively teach and monitor the progress of each of our learners.”
He explained that to fill the shortage of 147,000 teachers, “we need to hire 25,000 new teachers until 2028” and 5,000 new teachers to “cover the yearly increase in enrolment,” making the requirement 30,000.