A Message by PB Romulo P. Echavez, Jr

On the Occasion of IEES’ 2021 Stakeholders’ Meeting

Even while its validity is in question, it is with merit that we ponder on the findings of the World Bank on the status of Philippine education. If true, we are said to have learners 80% of whom “do not know what they should know,” after data from our participation in the Program for International Student (Pisa) in 2018, the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) in 2019, and the first cycle of the Southeast Asia Primary Learning Metrics (SEA-PLM) in 2019 suggested that less than a quarter of Filipino pupils and students in Grades 4, 5, and 9 have minimum proficiency. Let us say, as difficult as it is swallowing this bitter pill, for the sake of argument that such a finding is true and reliable. What does it impel us as stakeholders to do?

From my view, it tells us to answer a more specific and intriguing question: What can we do to help our learners know what they should know? This question cuts through right to the heart of the Philosophy of Education. It transports us back to the nuts and bolts of the Philippine educational system– to not just the hows of our pedagogy, but the whys. Why is it important to learn computer hardware servicing? Why do we need to spend time in values education? Why do millions of young people invest time in NSTP? These whys require a serious soul-searching which, if we take the World Bank’s word for it, can only be done with merit when we focus on three policy actions to address the crisis of education that has been uncovered, not only in the Philippines, but, as they claim in several countries as well with most of them being in Asia, Latin America, and Africa. It has been suggested that we assess learning, act on evidence, and align actors.

What do these policy actions mean for us as stakeholders of Ibabao-Estancia Elementary School? For sure, it means quite a number of things, but for a start, it tells us to focus on three concrete actions. First is for us to collectively put our weight on helping IEES to assess learner motivation and preparedness especially at this difficult time. It means providing instrumental support to our designated guidance counselor, the schools mental health psychosocial support program, and student services to be able to reach out to learners and see how they are, what they have lost, and how they could regain recoverable losses. Second, as stakeholders we need to remind and empower the school system to strike a balance in honing teacher skills and reinforcing their motivation. This can be done by encouraging parent participation and increasing their role in contributing to IEES’ sustainability plan. Third, but not certainly the last, is for us as stakeholders to lend our resources to strengthen teacher-learner interaction. If this means giving learners and teachers enhanced means to connect with each other online, let us do it.

But what about if these findings from the World Bank are, as some educational leaders claim, erroneous and based on “old data”? Are we off the hook? Has the crisis been averted? Far from it. In fact, it only poses harder questions. If it is not true that a significant majority of our children and young people are like the proverbial “blind man in a dark room looking for a black cat that is not there”, then what is the true state of affairs? If this evaluation cannot be taken as a reflection of Philippine education, what should? The alternative seems to take the position of Schrodinger’s cat– that Philippine education might simultaneously both alive and dead as a result of its fate befalling it because of an event that may or may not occur. In other words, should we argue that the World Bank observation is false, we are left with a vacuum– no information, no assessment, no action.

If this is the case, it leads us full circle, back to a deeper peering into the heart of education in the Philippines. Perhaps it is the container of this hollow that is to blame? Maybe the system itself needs revisiting and aligning? Maybe it is unhealthy politics that drives the absurdity of many of our learners’ experiences? Whatever it is, it does not sound easy to resolve. Certainly not from our level. What then can be done by stakeholders of IEES and the thousands of learning communities nationwide? We can follow the example of Shanghai, China. As stakeholders let us help our educators streamline learning objectives and responsibilities, improve information and metrics via technology enhancement, help administrators make decisions that enable bigger and better spending, and incentivize innovation, creativity, research, and exemplary performance. Having said this, it can be argued that DepEd had the correct formula right at the very start: “Sama-sama sa pagsulong ng Edukalidad”. As President Rodrigo Roa Duterte has said, “Together we shall overcome”. It turns out that our unified effort is our only way of addressing the challenge of quality in basic education.  


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