Luistro: Aquino admin failed to communicate change has happened

MANILA, Philippines – President-elect Rodrigo Duterte ran on a platform of change – the same promise outgoing President Benigno Aquino III gave when he vied for the presidency 6 years ago.

Where did Aquino fall short?

For outgoing Education Secretary Armin Luistro, who is set to finish his 6-year term on June 30, the Aquino administration may have failed "to communicate that change has actually happened."

"From my perspective, the most difficult change, the most far-reaching change in education, happened in the past 6 years," Luistro said in a Rappler Talk interview on Monday, June 20.

"The continuing criticism about it may be part of the territory, but I think if you look at the landscape of the system, the educational system, there has been no reform, no transformation that has ever happened, as radical as this one."

Luistro said despite criticisms against the K to 12 program – the education department's biggest reform – just the mere fact that the country is not in chaos and there are no big rallies must mean Filipinos are "ready for change, that we are willing to participate in change."

"Despite not having a consensus on how to go about it, if we have the political will, and we engage everyone – my principle is to engage everyone. I don't treat anyone as a critic. Everyone has something to share…. I didn't imagine that we would be at this stage when I started in the department," he added.

Changes

Six years ago, when Luistro accepted Aquino's offer to lead the Department of Education (DepEd), he noticed that people's perception of education in the Philippines "was kind of very depressed."

"Year in, year out, you hear about all of these problems – seemingly insurmountable – about our public school system, and the growing gap between those that are in public schools and those in private schools. I just felt that part of my response as a Filipino and as an educator was to make sure to do my little share," he said.

In order to change the system, Luistro said he and his executive team started visiting schools unannounced to get a real sense of the problems on the ground and what to do about them.

This way, the department addressed the needs in education while taking into consideration the perspective of schools from far-flung areas.

"In a bureaucracy like DepEd where you have 47,000 schools, you need to push...the decisions down to the level of the principal. If you are not able to do that, no DepEd memo will be able to transform the school setting," he explained.

"But you can't do that without providing them the means to change the realities on the ground. You have to give them a budget and that's exactly what we did, what we tried to do over these last 6 years."

DepEd's budget has significantly increased through the years, from P175 billion in 2010 to P433 billion in 2016. Over 6 years, the bigger education budget has enabled the programming of 185,149 classrooms and the hiring of 172,000 new teachers.

The country is now spending close to P20,000 per student, from about P8,000 in 2010.

Asked if the budget increases were felt on the ground, Luistro answered: "Well, I'll have to still find the school, visit the school where no new building has ever been built in these past 6 years. I still have to find a school where no additional teacher has been hired over the past 6 years."

'Time to go'

Luistro only has over a week left in his term, but the wheels of K to 12's senior high school have only started turning. He insisted, however, that he's ready to go.

"Some people tell me: 'Since you started that, why don't you continue?' But from an institutional point of view, this is the best time to go. We started a program; I want to test whether it is dependent on me. That would be a big failure if I continue, because it would be saying, 'Well, it's a program that only you can do'."

Luistro said he's leaving with the assurance that educators on the ground will continue K to 12. At the same time, his successor, incoming Education Secretary Leonor Briones, "believes in the same programs, the same reforms that we started."

"I would be in a mess if it was somebody else taking my place and disrupting what we all started. That's a possibility," Luistro said. (READ: Briones: There might be more problems if we suspend K to 12)

He lauded Briones' budget advocacy, and her experience as an educator. (READ: Duterte's education concerns: Out-of-school youth, displaced teachers)

"The greatest blessing is that she understands. She knows the issues. She's not blind to the continuing challenges. It's not a perfect system, but she's willing to take the reins of the department from where it is now. And I promise to help her, and the best help I think is to keep quiet for 100 days," he said. – Rappler.com

Jee Y. Geronimo

Jee is part of Rappler's Central Desk, handling most of the world, science, and environment stories on the site. She enjoys listening to podcasts and K-pop, watching Asian dramas, and running long distances. She hopes to visit Israel someday to retrace the steps of her Savior.

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