PHILIPPINE educators have expressed their concern over the “dismal” performance of Filipino students in the Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) for the year 2022, placing the country at the 75th rank out of 80 participating countries in mathematics, reading, and science.
“This can be attributed to the lack of substantive measures taken to address the fundamental challenges in the education sector, in addition to the pandemic-related factors,” said Benjo Basas, an educator and national chairperson of Teachers’ Dignity Coalition (TDC).
The 2022 Pisa result for the Philippines was similar to 2018, with the country continuing to lag in terms of student academic achievement in the same three learning areas.
Basas, however, maintained that problems in the Philippine educational system “existed long before the pandemic.”
“The failure of the Department of Education (DepEd) and the entire government to address the fundamental concerns is apparent in the following areas: insufficient learning materials and school facilities; overcrowded classrooms that are not favorable for learning; congested curriculum; and socio-economic challenges to learners hailing from poor families. In addition, the poor treatment of teachers, especially in terms of welfare, is perhaps one of the most pressing concerns,” Basas said in a statement.
While the country’s education officials admitted this "uncomfortable truth," the TDC leader said that “this admission alone will not be sufficient to resolve the issue.”
“The government needs to acknowledge that it has failed, and that failure can be attributed to the fact that it did not recognize the basic problems of the education system and neglected the dignity of its teachers,” he said.
Teachers in the Philippines, numbering 900,000 out of the more than 1.8 million government workers, are among the lowest paid in the world, prompting Filipino teachers to work abroad instead.
From 2013 to 2017, an average of 1,500 teachers went abroad every year, a Filipino senator said, citing figures from the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA).
In 2019 alone, another Filipino lawmaker disclosed that the average annual teacher’s salary in the Philippines, inclusive of benefits, was $18,160 while the teachers in the countries under the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) had an average of $27,742.
“The education sector is confronted with these basic problems, each of which requires an outright and basic solution: government sincerity and political will,” Basas said.
Monsignor Ramon Stephen Aguilos, the former superintendent of Catholic Schools in the Archdiocese of Palo in the Eastern Visayas region, also saw “multiple reasons that cause such dismal showing” in the Pisa ranking of the country.
"Needless to say, it reflects the true state of education in the Philippines. I concur with one columnist (Andrew J. Masigan of The Philippine Star) who opines that the problem lies on three factors: DepEd’s leadership and culture; DepEd’s internal systems and its budgets,” Aguilos told Sunstar Philippines.
“Internal systems should raise rather than lower their standards. We overhear of teachers (and with the concurrence of supervisors) lowering their standards of examination just to let children pass. We also hear of teachers manipulating performance ratings of students even if undeserving, just to ensure zero drop-out rates, and, as a result, these teachers receive bonuses,” he said.
“I keep on hearing of schools from far-flung barrios getting higher National Achievement Test (NAT) scores – very much higher than the students of private schools – all because teachers (or those serving as proctors) allow cheating in the examinations,” the prelate added.
Aguilos opined that the Philippines “should also learn from the Asian countries that stood tall in the Pisa scores -- Singapore, Macau, Taiwan, Japan, and South Korea - occupying the top five positions.”
“If these Asian countries can do it, why can’t we? We should also know why Vietnam, also a neighboring country, outpaced the US in these metrics. What’s in their educational system that brings their students to high levels of academic achievement?” he asked.
“The present DepEd leadership must work five times harder to arrest such a crisis,” Aguilos added.
Dr. Rey Garnace, the former campus director of Philippine Science High School in Eastern Visayas, also said that “more reading subjects should be included in the curriculum for teacher education.”
Garnace, the former chief administrative officer of Leyte Normal University in Tacloban City, added that “every teacher should be a reading teacher."
“There should be no mass promotion if the learners cannot read yet and are not ready for the next level. As proved by counties topping Pisa, Math and Science subjects are taught in their native tongue in basic education,” said Garnace, who is now working as Sped Generalist at the New York City Department of Education in the United States.
“In our country, English is the medium of instruction even at the elementary level; hence, the students cannot understand the concepts of the subject matter. It is notable to go back to mother tongue-based basic education,” added Garnace in a report from Catholic news site UCA News.
In January 2023, Vice President and Secretary of Education Sara Duterte launched “Matatag” initiative “to set the new direction of the agency and stakeholders in resolving basic education challenges.”
“We will rally for an improved learning system in the country. Together, we will rally for every Filipino child,” Duterte said.
“Matatag” stands for “MAke the curriculum relevant to produce competent and job-ready, active, and responsible citizens; TAke steps to accelerate delivery of basic education facilities and services; TAke good care of learners by promoting learner well-being, inclusive education, and a positive learning environment; and Give support to teachers to teach better.”
As this developed, a 50-year-old parent in Leyte province said she is “worried” about the future in the learning of her five-year-old son.
“What will happen to my child when he enters public school soon? I hope there will be changes in the education sector so that these learning problems will not happen anymore,” said Julita, who requested anonymity. (SunStar Philippines)