THE Department of Education (DepEd), as well as state universities and colleges under the Commission on Higher Education (Ched) and the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (Tesda), will collectively receive P692.6 billion, the largest portion of the 2020 budget (cf. MB Ja.9,2020). Question, through the years that DepEd, Tesda and Ched have been receiving the largest allocation from the national budget, have they made a dent on the quality and spread of formal education among Filipinos?
Well, for one, public school teachers are no longer among the ranks of lowest paid government employees. In fact, a significant number of private school teachers have transferred to public schools because of the higher wages they offer now, especially for those just starting. In primate cities and towns around the country, we have seen the rise of public schools with impressive facade, and improved facilities. But, beyond the paved roads, in the upland and interiors, school buildings remain dismal, and in great shortage.
Quality wise, fresh in our minds is the news item that the Philippines scored the lowest in reading comprehension in the 2018 Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa). Filipinos fared worst among 79 countries in reading comprehension and second lowest in both mathematical and scientific literacy, according to the Pisa worldwide study by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development that examines students' knowledge in reading, mathematics, and science in a global test and rating.
Seemingly contradicting this finding are numerous reports about different teams of Filipino students from private schools (both from Metro Manila and provinces) receiving multiple gold medals and top awards in international competitions in Mathematics, Science, Reading, etc. Obviously, the achievement gap between private and public school students remain wide in general. The exclusion are students coming from government funded science schools all over the country Which brings to mind an interesting observable gap in achievement and quality education between city/town public school students and those from rural areas.
Consistent with the poverty assessment research findings on poverty intervention (some of which I was involved in for Neda funded assessment studies on Poverty-Focused Development Projects), the extension of socio-economic development projects, generally end where the roads end. Remote barangays and interior upland settlement receive minute forms of assistance, if any. Thus, school facilities and teachers diminish in number, and virtually disappear in the hinterlands. In the interiors of islands like Palawan, Mindoro, Masbate, Romblon, Marinduque, Samar, as well as some parts in Mindanao, public school teachers face horrific task of making do with scarce outdated books, and combined classes of different grade levels. These great challenges are on top of weekly laborious via habal-habal and hikes into the interior settlements' places of learning -- often one room affair, or makeshift buildings.
Looking at the curriculum and delineated school programs, one can see real need for reform -- the near absence of contextualisation and socially sensitive programs for learning and social development of students.
In farming communities, there is absence of co-curricular courses and teachings that respond to the disturbing trend of farmers' children refusing to take on farming related work. K to 12 public education must move away from easily forged practicum programs that assign students to poblacion and OJTs that end up with them merely answering telephone calls, or doing word processing encoding, acting as receptionists, or doing housekeeping tasks in hotels and resorts. There is a need to reorient K to12 subjects to encourage students to go into animal husbandry, natural farming, orchard development, marcotting, grafting, seedlings propagation, ecological waste management, risk management, basic carpentry, masonry, construction skills, Industrial Arts, and food based entrepreneurship under revived Vocational Arts (Home Economics).
Extracurricular activities must go through review as well. A seeming common thread running in all school activities are "pageants" and dances with costly requirements for gowns, and special attires that cost students by hundreds of pesos. Teachers are not exempted, as during town fiestas, they are obliged if chosen by their schools to represent them, for Miss DepEd.
Faithful taxpayers like my husband and I, our corporation, demand high budget Deped to listen and respond to call for public education reforms.