[OPINION] Philippine education: Of apologies and priorities

An old woman who could not take criticism — that was how social media depicted our DepEd Secretary Leonor Briones, after she demanded an apology from the World Bank after its report on the Philippines' poor education ranking. 

As a public school teacher, I could only sympathize with our secretary after all the ruthless posts and comments online. To be fair, Briones explained that her demand for a public apology stems from the fact that the World Bank reported old data — from 2019, to be exact. Apparently, a lot has changed in the DepEd between 2019 and the current school year. 

However, based on most people's reactions on social media, I guess Filipinos don't need statistics and data from any reputable international student assessment program to remind us about students' poor learning results. I could not blame the thousands of netizens for negatively reacting, since we have seen how the DepEd has handled public education over the years — especially during this pandemic. For instance, the countless erroneous details, unforgivable grammatical errors, and the inappropriate information in our self-learning modules speak volumes of how our education system is far from excellent. Needless to say, we are all aware of the educational crisis we are facing. 

Being part of the DepEd, I am disheartened by World Bank's report. I honestly feel horrified about it, but I know this report has its grounds. And like any other issue on education, all of this will be traced back to our teachers again. After all, they are the ones molding the country's young minds. Unfair as it may seem, it's that dreaded "teacher factor" that is always put to blame. In every student's failure, there is always a teacher who failed to do his job. That is just the sad reality that our educational leaders and administrators constantly remind us. 

The need for upgrade 

The call to equip our teachers for 21st century teaching-learning instruction is being made once again as issues like this invade national news. But what most people do not know is that the DepEd, together with its different partner organizations, is slowly addressing the need for our public education to be at par with international standards. In fact, the DepEd Educational Technology Unit works tirelessly to bridge the educational technology gaps among teachers and students.

Through a series of free quality webinars, trainings, and workshops, teachers are taught about different methodologies that can be used in classes and are even assisted in acquiring certain national and international certifications. 

In addition, all teachers are given premium subscriptions to various EdTech apps that we can use online and offline. All these efforts aim to benefit both students' learning and teachers' professional growth. 

Unfortunately, not everyone takes advantage of this opportunity due to several reasons. Most teachers I know are still strangers to DepEd's free training programs, simply because these are not a priority among local school heads. We lack the encouragement from our school heads to attend these virtual trainings and workshops. Instead, we are challenged to do ancillary tasks and work on various flagship programs. 

An old working culture prevails

No matter how equipped we want to be, we still end up short in our classroom instruction because there are other “more important" things we need to attend to. Aside from the mountains of paperwork, different demanding flagship programs make us forget to focus on improving our teaching methods. These various programs launched by the DepEd, and sometimes by local school administrators, hinder us from doing our main job of teaching. 

We can complain about programs that only focus on school beautification, but we know we can't afford to be non-compliant about it. In most cases, teachers are covertly pressured to spend their own money or solicit from stakeholders just to show the kind of improvements in their classrooms that will ultimately please superiors.

These flagship programs, together with some conflicting DepEd policies, sometimes bring the quality of education down. I know I speak on behalf of all teachers when I say that the culture of mediocrity is a cycle we sometimes tolerate just to prove that "nobody should be left behind." That despite all the target competencies being unachieved, students still need to be promoted. At times, we are pressured not to fail non-performing learners because it will affect the achievement rate of our school. And one thing DepEd officials do not like is alarming statistics. 

Focusing on the priorities  

If there’s a silver lining to all of this, it's probably the fact that we get to ponder about the amount of work that needs to be done to improve our education system. 

As a public school teacher, I have seen the problems and complexities of the profession I chose to embrace. However, I have also seen the efforts of the department I'm serving, and I know that these efforts will be fruitful and will show promising results soon. I still believe that the day will come when all DepEd teachers are fully equipped with highly needed skills in teaching and are at par with their Asian neighbors in terms of quality instruction. 

However, the Department of Education must realize that even if it equips all teachers with the necessary 21st century skills, and awards them all with flashy international certifications, they will still not be effective educators unless they focus on what they should be doing: TEACHING. Perhaps minimizing the unnecessary paperwork and prioritizing time for instruction will genuinely help achieve DepEd's mission of producing quality education. – Rappler.com

Rey Francis L. Dayaan is a public school teacher at Manolo Fortich National High School in Bukidnon. He usually spends his Saturdays and free time upskilling through free webinars and workshops conducted by the DepEd EdTech Unit.