Recently, news articles came out about a very disconcerting World Bank assessment on Philippine education. Specifically, the report underscored that one in every four Grade 5 students does not have the reading and mathematics skills for Grade 2 or 3, and four in every five 15-yeard-old students do not understand basic mathematical concepts such as fractions and decimals that should be known by fifth graders.
In fact, in their analysis, the World Bank was citing data from previously conducted multi-country assessments namely the 2018 round of the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) in 2019, and the first Southeast Asia Primary Learning Metrics (SEA-PLM) in 2019.
In each assessment, our country ranked poorly. According to PISA 2018, we ranked last for reading and second to the last in science and mathematics among the 79 countries studied. Then TIMSS 2019 showed that we were last for science and mathematics in their assessment of fourth-graders. Meanwhile, for the SEA-PLM, we were in the bottom half among the six ASEAN countries covered for reading, mathematics and writing literacy.
Clearly, as many education reform advocates have long claimed, we are going through a very serious learners’ crisis. This isn’t to say however that the Department of Education (DepEd), and to a certain extent the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) and the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA), are not doing something in response to such alarming results.
In fact, shortly after the PISA 2018 results were released in December 2019, the DepEd launched its Sulong Edukalidad initiative, focused on improving the quality of Philippine education and innovating in areas wherever possible throughout the system. Under this campaign, the DepEd aims to pursue aggressive reforms in the following—reviewing and updating the K to 12 curriculum; improving the learning environment; upskilling and reskilling our teachers; and engaging and collaborating with stakeholders to pursue improvements and fill in gaps.
An Education Futures Unit had also been established within the DepEd to evaluate and integrate trends and advancements in teaching, which may be useful for improving the quality of education being taught in our schools.
But even before the publishing of the PISA 2018 results, steps had already been taken by the DepEd, particularly towards ensuring the competencies and capacities of our teachers—who are perhaps the most important factor to raising the quality of education that our learners receive.
For instance, in 2017, the DepEd adopted the Philippine Professional Standards for Teachers (PPST) in a bid to establish a framework for teachers to continuously gain proficiency in their profession. Then in 2019, it embarked on transforming and revitalizing the National Educators Academy of the Philippines (NEAP) to streamline professional development and improve in-service training programs by making them more programmatic and accountable.
For its part, the Senate had also started moves in response to this deeply concerning learners’ crisis. In December 2019, also in response to the 2018 PISA results, we filed Senate Joint Resolution No. 10 calling for the creation of a bicameral Congressional Oversight Committee on Education (EDCOM) with Minority Leader Frank Drilon, Basic Education Committee Chair Sherwin Gatchalian, Higher and Technical Education Committee Chair Joel Villanueva, and Sen. Grace Poe.
This EDCOM will undertake a national review, assessment, and evaluation of the performance of all governmental bodies created to take care of basic education, higher education, and manpower development. The EDCOM’s review shall cover formal, non-formal, informal and alternative learning systems, including continuing systems of learning at all levels. After this review, a report will be produced of the committee’s findings to include short- and long-term policy and program recommendations.
In fact, this isn’t the first time Congress had endeavored to create an entity that would conduct such a huge and immensely critical task. My late father, Senate President Edgardo J. Angara, served as the overall Chairperson of the first EDCOM, which released its report in 1991 after 11-months of study and consultations across the country. This EDCOM’s report proved to be seminal as it became the basis for the trifocalization of our education system, leading to the current setup in place involving the DepEd, CHED and TESDA.
Recently, Senator Gatchalian conducted the first public hearing on this resolution, marking a decisive step towards the convening of the new EDCOM. Hopefully, in the coming months, the plan will be clarified on how Congress will go about responding to this great crisis that we as a country are facing.
Sen. Sonny Angara has been in public service for 17 years. He has authored and sponsored more than 200 laws. He is currently serving his second term in the Senate. (E-mail:firstname.lastname@example.org| Facebook, Twitter & Instagram: @sonnyangara)/WDJ