December 1, 2023

In the ensuing days since the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) results came out wherein the Philippines fared worst among 79 countries in reading comprehension and second lowest in both mathematical and scientific literacy, the Department of Education has been making incoherent and nonsensical responses, adding more insult to injury than assuage the anguish of Filipinos reeling from the monumental embarrassment.
Instead of humbly acknowledging and directly admitting that the dismal result of the assessment is a clear indication of the nation’s failed state of education, DepEd has the temerity to lay the blame somewhere else and could only issue motherhood statements which faintly address the real issues.
The clarion calls from concerned parties and individuals for the DepEd to address the declining quality of education in the country since the implementation of the K to 12 program have largely fallen on deaf ears if not met with antagonism and barefaced stonewalling. Despite the gargantuan scale of problems besetting the Philippine basic education being pointed out by reputed research groups such as the Philippine Institute of Development Studies (PIDS), academic pundits and observers, the DepEd national officials have been dragging their feet and refuse to take cognizance and bear full responsibility.
The phenomenon of non-readers in high school, the widespread practice of mass promotion, the backbreaking teachers’ workloads which take a toll on their efficiency, the sports and non-academic activities that get in the way of the students’ academic development, are just some of the major issues that the DepEd has to officially address.
Few years after the implementation of the K to 12 program, the alarm on the huge numbers of nonreaders has been sounded off with stories about teachers being instructed by their principals to change their reports indicating that there are nonreaders among their students who are being promoted to the next level.
Teachers who do not wish to have low points in their scorecards would rather fabricate their reports so as to be able to avail of the Performance Based Bonus. The “Pag-asa sa pagbasa” documentary of Kara David in GMA 7’s “I-Witness” which aired on Sept. 1, 2018 would confirm this revolting practice. The documentary featured a class in Sauyo High School in Quezon City, where the lesson is all about syllabicating words, writing the alphabet and identifying colors. Surprisingly, this class is not in the elementary level but in high school called Section Darwin wherein all 29 students of the class reached grade 7 without knowing how to read nor write. Without directly and officially acknowledging the nonreader issue, the DepEd has maintained a high-handed stance and opted to blame the division and school levels for this unflattering practice.
On the issue of mass promotion, the PIDS in July, as published in July 4, 2019 issue of the Manila Bulletin, has urged the DepEd to stop this bad practice “as this has strong implications on the quality of education as well as on the workload of public school teachers.” To this the DepEd could only be nonchalant.
In the Dec. 19, 2019 episode of TV Patrol, some teachers were reported to have voiced out their accusation that the agency is applying a “mass promotion policy” which calls for the passing of failing students. The DepEd through Usec. Annalyn Sevilla said the practice was an offshoot of the teachers’ misinterpretation of the agency’s policy on giving remedial tutorials to failing students claiming that the teachers opt to pass the said students without having actual remedial sessions with them since they do not get compensation for the extra sessions.
To Education Sec. Leonor Briones, the fault lies on the curriculum content, lack of facilities, high levels of poverty, even hunger. She squarely puts the blame on the government’s spending on education. Yet these are all debunked by the commentary of Grace Shankuan Koo stating that poorer countries like Kosovo and Moldovia ranked higher than the Philippines in the 2018 PISA.
Neither is government spending to blame. In the same commentary, Koo’s interviewee, Dr. Andreas Schleicher, head of PISA, said back in 2011, “The result was not about how much a country is spending on education, but where it is spent. The top-ranking countries do not spend the most for education, but they spend a good portion on recruiting and sustaining the best teachers.” It appears that the official stance of the DepEd national officials is to blame every Pilate on Earth except themselves.
In an apparent attempt to cushion the impact of the PISA results, the DepEd launched its reform program called Sulong Edukalidad on Dec. 3 before releasing the PISA report the next day. The program has four reform areas called KITE which stands for (1) K to 12 curriculum review and update; (2) Improvement of learning environment (3) Teachers’ upskilling and reskilling; and (4) Engagement of stakeholders for support and collaboration. While this looks good to the eyes and sounds noble to the ears it comes only as an empty rhetorical response to a crisis that demands immediate decisive action. It is a technocratic top to bottom program which aims to showcase motion instead of action and activity without power. Unless definite action plans are crafted by DepEd officials, the Sulong Edukalidad reform with its KITE will only remain a vision waiting to be realized, a strategy that needs to be applied.
While there are no quick fixes, the DepEd can and should adopt measures and take decisive steps within its powers to address the pressing issues hounding our nation’s quality of education just so to prove its sincerity, seriousness and genuine concern.
The late John F. Kennedy once said, “There are risks and costs to action. But they are far less than the long-range risks of comfortable inaction.”
May the gods at the DepEd Complex in Pasig City take heed. — REV. FREDERICK T. MUNDA, La Trinidad, Benguet