[OPINION] Choose an education president in 2022

The World Bank report on the dismal state of Philippine education triggered Education Secretary Leonor Magtolis-Briones to demand a public apology from the WB for shaming the country. The World Bank then said in a statement that it “deeply regrets that the report on education was inadvertently published earlier than scheduled and before the Department of Education had enough chance to provide inputs.”

The apology, however, does not retract the damning content of its report on the performance of Filipino learners. It merely states that the report was released prematurely. It behooves us to ask, then, whether the Department of Education has data contradicting the WB report. In the absence of national performance metrics data that say otherwise, it is more prudent to take the World Bank report on Philippine education as an opportunity to examine what we need to improve, and use lessons and insights from it to frame this early our expectations of the next president come 2022.

We badly need an EDUCATION president!

The world is talking about the emergence of Society 5.0, or the Imagination Society, where digital transformation and innovation in science and technology combine with the creativity and values of people to solve societal problems, promote well-being, and achieve economic development. We are witnessing the accelerating integration of physical, biological, and cyber spaces to bring about smart societies, where digital technologies and innovations are thoughtfully deployed to improve the human condition and communities.

This emerging society and economy requires a pool of human capital with different skill sets that are future-proof, disruption-ready, and innovation-oriented. Concretely, what this means is being able to solve persistent problems of underdevelopment such as poverty, gender gaps, criminality, pollution, disaster risks, illiteracy, and others that form part of our national narrative as Filipinos by optimizing digital technologies, artificial intelligence, big data, machine learning, software engineering, augmented reality, robotics, nanotechnology, bio-engineering, brain science, and the like. 

The World Bank’s Human Capital Index (HCI) measures the economic and professional potential of a country’s citizens by age 18. In the HCI 2020 Report, the Philippines is ranked 103 among 173 countries. The average Filipino child will only realize 52% of his/her potential when s/he reaches the age of 18. Among ASEAN countries, we performed below Singapore (88%); Vietnam (69%), Brunei (63%), Malaysia, Thailand (61%); and Indonesia (54%). Cambodia is not far behind the Philippines at 49%.

The HCI indicator quite relevant to education is the number of stunted children in the country. There are 30 per 100 children who suffer from stunting due to poor nutrition from conception to birth, repeated infection, and inadequate psychosocial stimulation. Children who suffer from stunting have impairment in their physical growth and cognitive development.

Our health spending is only 1.5% of our Gross Domestic Product (GDP). This is below the average in the Asia-Pacific region. Our average length of schooling is 12.9 years, but what Filipino learners know is only equivalent to 7.5 years of schooling. The Philippines also spends 2.7% of GDP share on education, which is yet again below the standard in the region. There are other international metrics we could use to compare the Philippines’ development performance vis-a-vis other countries. However, the HCI is a good place to start. 

The election season is about to start. Candidates must be able to offer concrete education programs that will transition the country’s education system to something that will focus on developing the country’s human capital for Philippine Society 5.0.

There are 10 items we should look for in the education agenda of our presidential candidates:

  1. Increase spending on early childhood education that will end stunting and illiteracy. Reduce the teacher-pupil ratio in pre-K to grade 3 (15 for pre-K to kinder, 1:20 for grade 1, and 1:25 for grades 2 and 3);
  2. Release the teachers from non-teaching related tasks by automating the administrative and teaching support processes and hiring an adequate number of administrative staff for our public schools;
  3. Make the teacher the heart of the educational process. Competent, committed, and contented teachers will do wonders for learners. Hire teachers with early childhood degrees with reading specializations to teach pre-K to grade 3. 
  4. Decentralize the Department of Education by strengthening school-based management and refocusing the DepEd’s function to performance excellence and accreditation;
  5. Allow schools to innovate the curriculum both in design, implementation, and pathways to be more future-oriented but context-based; 
  6. Set up a data-driven decision system for education. This will require a more efficient digital infrastructure and system.
  7. Emphasize school-home-barangay/community partnership. The emerging education ecosystem requires communities to step up in ensuring their constituents have access to an effective system that supports their education. Parental involvement is a critical factor. Parents or guardians must receive the support needed for improved parental roles in education.
  8. Expand programs for learners with special education needs and those in difficult circumstances. Provide more incentives for LSEN teachers;
  9. Make graduate education free and mandatory for teachers; and
  10. Expand government support to private education as partners in achieving quality education for all.

The emergency remote learning that the country implemented due to the COVID-19 pandemic gave us a glimpse into the education revolution that is already underway in many parts of the world. We need school leaders who are imaginative and creative, with enough understanding of the new mindset required to transition our system to be future-ready, data-driven, and innovation-oriented. We cannot afford to have school leaders who will do more of the same things.

But first thing's first, in 2022, we should choose an  EDUCATION PRESIDENT. Everything else will flow from there. We cannot afford to miss the ongoing education revolution. – Rappler.com

Dr. Feliece I. Yeban teaches social science and human rights education at the Philippine Normal University, the National Center for Teacher Education. She is currently a member of PNU’s Board of Regents, representing the faculty as the Faculty Regent.

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