Published July 20, 2021, 12:14 AM

by Former Senator Atty. Joey D. Lina

Finding Answers

Former Senator
Atty. Joey Lina

The recent World Bank (WB) report of an “unacceptably poor school climate” in our country where 80 percent of Filipino schoolchildren “do not know what they should know” has been hard to swallow for education officials.

Education Secretary Leonor Briones said the “DepEd and the Philippine government were subjected to public censure and criticism.” She lamented the WB released old data to the public without informing DepED. “Even if done inadvertently, the World Bank has inflicted harm on DepEd and the government,” she said as she asked for a public apology.

The apology was promptly issued by the WB which said: “We deeply regret that the report on education was inadvertently published earlier than scheduled and before the Department of Education had enough chance to provide inputs. This was an oversight on our part, and we conveyed our personal apologies in our communication with the government. Recognizing the inadvertent release of the report, we have taken steps to temporarily remove it from the website. We are aware of the Department’s various efforts and programs to address the challenge of education quality.”

Secretary Briones said the “old data” referred to included the evaluation of the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) published in 2019 that revealed the Philippines ranked lowest in reading literacy among 79 countries, and second to lowest in mathematics and science.

“Since then, the Department of Education (DepEd) has initiated reforms strongly supported and financed by the government, local partners, country partners and multilaterals. A loan agreement for a major program to address teacher upskilling (Teacher Effectiveness and Competencies Enhancement Project or TEACEP) is being negotiated with the World Bank itself. These developments are not mentioned at all in the report,” Secretary Briones explained.

In defending the DepEd and the administration, she also pointed out the WB report lacked historical context. “Giving a snapshot of the current situation without its historical context can easily give the impression that it is the present administration that is to blame, and not mentioning current initiatives can further give the impression that we are not doing anything about it.”

She further explained: “The quality of education, at all levels, is a product of a long historical process. The World Bank itself is a party to this historical evolution, being a lender for major reform programs, such as the $100 million Program for Decentralized Educational Development (PRODED) from 1981 to 1986, the $113 million Third Elementary Education Project (TEEDP) from 1997 to 2006, the $200 million National Program Support for Basic Education (NPSBE) from 2006 to 2011, and more recently, the $300 million Learning Equity and Accountability Program Support (LEAPS) from 2014 to 2018.”

It’s understandable why Sec. Briones finds the WB report unacceptable. She probably felt that she had to answer for all the missteps in the past which led to the decline in the state of Philippine education. And despite all the current DepEd efforts to address the various challenges afflicting our education system, the decline continues.

The WB report using PISA data revealed that four out of every five 15-year-old students do not know basic mathematic concepts like decimals and fractions that should have been mastered during their fifth grade. The report also disclosed that “only 10 to 22 percent of Grades 4, 5, and 9 students in the country scored at or above minimum proficiency.”

The results of the PISA study published in 2019 were jolting indeed. But to her credit, it was Secretary Briones who initiated our country’s participation in PISA for the first time in 2018 since it was first administered in 2000. She made the decision “to signal DepEd’s determination to confront the challenge of quality, to benchmark against global standards, and to take advantage of an independent assessment designed by education experts.”

Conducted by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), PISA underscores the value of critical thinking: “To do well in PISA, students have to be able to extrapolate from what they know, think across the boundaries of subject-matter disciplines, apply their knowledge creatively in novel situations and demonstrate effective learning strategies.”

For educators, a PISA statement offers invaluable advice: “If all we do is teach our children what we know, they might remember enough to follow in our footsteps; but if they learn how to learn, and are able to think for themselves, and work with others, they can go anywhere they want.”

And for those who have misgivings on the way PISA is conducted, the OECD has this to say: “Some people argued that the PISA tests are unfair, because they may confront students with problems they have not encountered in school. But then life is unfair, because the real test in life is not whether we can remember what we learned at school, but whether we will be able to solve problems that we can’t possibly anticipate today.”

Another insightful statement of PISA on its website also says: “In a world that rewards individuals increasingly not just for what they know, but for what they can do with what they know, PISA goes beyond assessing whether students can reproduce what they have learned in school.”

How the WB disclosed the “unacceptably poor school climate” in the Philippines was unacceptable to Sec. Briones. But in light of PISA’s insights, it’s imperative for all stakeholders to do more about our education system, because subjecting Filipino schoolchildren and future generations to an “unacceptably poor school climate” is certainly unacceptable.

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