WITH schools gradually opening the classes across levels, we are once again faced with the question: how far can improvements in Philippine education go?

In his first State of the Nation Address (Sona), President Bongbong Marcos (BBM) acknowledged that there is a lot to improve in the country’s education sector.

But we need more than mere acknowledgements. His predecessors, especially President Digong, had their piecemeal contributions to the country’s educational reforms. Sadly, the bitesize efforts of the different administrations practically sustained or worsened the poor performance of our teachers and schools.

Of late, there has been so many discussions about the Expanded Basic Education Law or more known as K to 12. Some are blaming the additional two years in Basic Education for the burden carried by our parents. From the viewpoint of public opinion, the "masses" are entitled to express their dismay. However, those who are in the academic sector should know better: the two years add-on to our Basic Education is more of a necessity rather than mere political caprice.

Again, BBM mentioned the need for a “careful review” and the importance of listening to “all necessary inputs and points of view” on “the continuation and viability of the K to 12 school system.” But I hope that this is not, to borrow the words of Shakespeare, “all sound and fury signifying nothing.”

It is the President himself who said that there is a need to improve our Stem program. Additionally, he underscored the importance of “skills and knowledge” that “are necessary for our young people to be able to compete in a highly technological and competitive world.” If we come to think of it, we cannot train our young people to have these skills by “abridging” or “abbreviating” their pre-college training.

One bias in our mindset that needs to be corrected is in the emphasis of tertiary education. While a college degree is important, however, we have forgotten that the acquisition of the most basic skills should not be made in college but in grade school and high school. The best and smartest college professors will have difficulty training students who do not have the basics of grammar, computation, reading comprehension, analysis, and of course history and civics.

There is thus a need to invest more in basic education, but this means more than just doing the “business as usual approach.” What do I mean by this? The problem with our leaders is that they focus their so-called efforts in improving public education by “increasing” teachers’ salaries. This is good, however, this is not enough.

We need to have not just good but really “better” teachers in basic education. In all honesty, this is not easy. The root of the problem can be traced back to our Teacher Education schools. The quality of our teacher training needs to be reviewed. In the study of Jose Ramon Albert and others in 2021, published by PIDS, it is emphasized that “teacher quality is the single most important in-school factor that influences learning.” The same study mentions the importance of investing “in the professional development of teachers...using results of assessments, such as the NAT, PISA, and TIMMS.”

There are many things that are lacking in our current Teacher Education curriculum. A teacher of the 21st century should be taught the basics of people management, advanced practices in research and information technology, and even financial literacy. Teachers must be familiar with the laws and policies governing their profession.

I find it ironic that throughout the country teachers are very good at mouthing loaded words like “interdisciplinarity,” “data driven,” and “research oriented,” and yet there is nothing in both paper and practice that would empirically evidence the praxis of these so-called ideals.

The country has a lot of work to do to improve the education sector. Good luck!