education in the Philippines

LIST: 5 education issues that the next DepEd chief needs to address

Bonz Magsambol

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LIST: 5 education issues that the next DepEd chief needs to address
To head the agency tasked to fix the country's education system will not be an easy job. Will vice president-elect and incoming education secretary Sara Duterte be able to deliver?

MANILA, Philippines – As the new government assumes office on June 30, the incoming administration of president-elect Ferdinand Marcos Jr. would inherit several long-standing issues across different sectors, including the education crisis worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Two days after the elections on May 11, Marcos already appointed vice president-elect Sara Duterte as the new secretary of the Department of Education (DepEd). Critics have voiced out their concerns regarding the appointment, questioning her expertise and qualifications. For them, Duterte’s vision “does not address the current crisis besetting the sector.” (READ: Groups oppose Marcos Jr.’s decision to appoint Sara Duterte as DepEd chief)

But for her supporters, Duterte would do well as DepEd chief because she served as mayor for nine years in Davao City. This position, they said, made Duterte very much involved in many projects in her hometown, which means she would be a “hands-on” leader as well as DepEd chief. Davaoeños said that social service programs got bigger funding under Duterte’s watch. (READ: Sara, the other Duterte)

To head the agency tasked to fix the country’s education system would not be an easy job. Experts have said that the country’s poor education quality was a result of decades of neglect and underinvestment.

Rappler listed the issues that Duterte needs to address as she takes on the role of education secretary as the country recovers from the disruption in education brought by the pandemic.

Open all schools for in-person classes

Over two years into the pandemic, the Philippines is among the few countries in the world whose schools have not fully opened for in-person classes. As of April 22, there have been about 25,786 schools holding in-person classes. There are an estimated 60,000 public and private schools in the country.

Data from the World Bank shows that the Philippines’ learning-adjusted years of school (LAYS) proficiency would be pushed back from 7.5 years pre-pandemic to 5.9 to 6.5 years, depending on the length of further school closures and the effectiveness of the remote learning setup.

This means that while the Philippine basic education system offers 12 years of instruction, Filipino students show proficiency equivalent to only around six years spent in school. (READ: Distance learning in the Philippines: A year of hits and misses)

When asked at a recent press conference if more face-to-face classes would be allowed by August or the start of school year 2022 to 2023, Duterte replied, “We are targeting that.”

Hire more teachers, aides

In a text message to Rappler, Philippine Business for Education executive director Love Basillote said that Duterte should hire more teachers and teaching aides for students to “recover from learning losses.”

The pandemic highlighted the plight of public school teachers as they struggled to attend to the learning needs of their students due to their administrative work. Lawmakers and senators earlier said that administrative work should be off-loaded from them so they could focus on teaching.

Better compensation package for teachers

In a statement on June 18, the Teachers Dignity Coalition (TDC) appealed for a better compensation package for teachers and educators both for public and private institutions. They also asked for provision of free laptops and internet services as most teachers had to dig into their own pockets to cover the costs of teaching under the remote learning setup.

For years, teachers have been leaving the country in their quest for better pay and better working conditions.

The DepEd had said that the new normal in education would be a blended learning approach – a mix of online and in-person classes. (READ: What will be the ‘new normal’ in PH education post-pandemic?)

Addresss backlog of facilities in schools

Most schools are having a hard time meeting the building requirements for in-person classes, such as having separate entrance and exit doors, and making available basic health facilities – including hand-washing facilities and school clinics.

Classroom shortages have been a problem even before the pandemic. A class of 75 to 80 students was packed into one classroom supposedly meant for a class of only 40. To make up for the lack of classrooms, class shifting had been implemented to accommodate enrollees every year. (READ: Classroom shortages greet teachers, students in opening of classes)

Under the new normal, crowded classrooms are no longer allowed. The conduct of in-person classes currently imposes a ceiling of only 12 students in kindergarten, 16 students for grades 1 to 3, and 12 to 20 students for senior high school, although the DepEd said the health department had already advised them to ease physical distancing in classrooms. This doesn’t mean though that a class of 70 students would be packed again in a room.

Review K to 12 curriculum

“We want an education system that inculcates patriotism in the hearts of Filipinos and promotes peace and respect for human rights. A curriculum that will produce Filipinos who are proud of their history, culture and traditional values,” said TDC chairperson Benjo Basas.

Experts have been calling on the government to review the K to 12 curriculum to include important issues that need to be discussed, especially in this age of social media. For one, they said that media and information literacy should be taught, not only under the senior high school program, but for lower grade levels as well – because students as young as 7 years old are already attending online classes.

Filipinos have become more deeply immersed in the internet due to the pandemic, especially since almost everything, particularly classes, shifted online.

An informal Rappler survey conducted on its website showed that most of the respondents have been using social media more frequently because of the pandemic. Majority (60%) said they had been spending more than four hours on social media a day since the pandemic. Only 18% claimed to have already been spending the same amount of time on social media prior to the pandemic. The survey gathered over 33,000 responses but only those without fraudulent responses were included in the analysis (2,324 responses).

Aside from this, advocates have also been calling to bring back Philippine history classes to the core curriculum of instruction of araling panlipunan (social studies) in the high school programs. This is essential especially given the way information about Philippine history has been twisted in the last few years.

Read Rappler’s two-part series on History in Crisis:

History in crisis: Easier for students to fall for disinformation in distance learning setup

History in crisis: Review K to 12 curriculum, open the schools

There might be more issues in the education sector that need urgent attention. But those mentioned above already give an idea of how tough the job of the next DepEd chief would be. Will Sara Duterte be up to it and prove her critics wrong? –

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Bonz Magsambol

Bonz Magsambol covers the Philippine Senate for Rappler.