Not in itself or by itself. But, given the tightly centralized structure of the system, an Education Commission (EdCom) is arguably critical to strategy development and required by the results of international benchmarks which have shown the Philippines to have the weakest skills in science, math and reading. So it was encouraging, soon after the test results were released, that Senator Sonny Angara quickly offered to convene an EdCom II. The Senate has already convened two hearings on the subject. Senator Angara had the model of EdCom I, convened in 1990 under the Cory Aquino administration under the leadership of his father, Senator Edgardo Angara.
EdCom I initiated a radical restructuring of the education system. He dismantled the education department, focusing it on basic education, and created CHEd and Tesda as sub-cabinet agencies to oversee the higher and technical and vocational education sectors. EdCom I taught valuable lessons. Radical reforms may be necessary, but their implementation requires careful planning, proportionate resources and a sustained collective effort. Realizing their benefits takes time and inevitably they encounter unforeseen challenges. Thus, the Philippine Business for Education (PBEd) strongly supported the call for EdCom II, but also recommended the inclusion of specific items in its agenda for which Congress can mobilize public and private support.
PBEd’s discussions with education stakeholders, including bureaucrats and legislators, showed agreement in principle on priority goals. These provided ideas for the Senate hearings on the substance and approach to be considered for EdCom II. Malnutrition in Filipino children, for example, requires urgent and sustained attention. While not the direct responsibility of education agencies, the problem threatens to set a permanent limit on children’s learning ability and turn our demographic dividend into a demographic drag. EdCom II could move to expand the feeding programs of the Department of Education (DepEd).
The language to be used as the language of instruction in basic education presents a similar systemic problem. If it is not addressed early in the formal education process, it will continue to place a heavy burden on students and teachers. Students who have difficulty understanding the medium of instruction will have difficulty communicating their thoughts. Worse yet, they will have problems thinking. The linguistic problem takes different forms according to the communities, according to the level of their linguistic diversity. Although as basic as malnutrition, it is more difficult to resolve. We must learn from the experience of other countries facing the same problems.
Lawmakers have allocated substantial resources to reforms and are rightly concerned with evaluation. We still lack studies analyzing to what extent these have delivered the promised benefits and how they can be made more effective. The K-12 program graduated the first cohort in 2018. How did the graduates benefit from the additional two years of schooling? The pandemic naturally worried DepEd. But he can encourage academic and public policy centers to examine the results, sharing the data and studies he has commissioned. Evaluation, in any case, should be undertaken by autonomous agencies, separate from program implementers.
For about two decades now, people inside and outside of government have called for the Teacher Licensing Examination (LET) to be reassessed. DepEd sought to unlock this black box to determine if the test is meeting its goals. Greater confidence in LET would strengthen PBEd’s flagship advocacy to encourage high-performing university graduates to pursue a career as a teacher in the public school system. The government could also expand this effort by creating a national teacher training scholarship, perhaps complementing it with a program to give working DepEd teachers the opportunity to update their professional skills.
Greater decentralization of power and autonomy to the local level, advocated by EdCom I, would also promote more collaboration and complementarity between public and private schools. EdCom II doesn’t need to attempt another drastic and time-consuming overhaul; this may help unfreeze the system for the EdCom changes I was considering. As suggested by Fr. Bienvenido Nebres and others, EdCom II can focus on areas where a lot of work has already been done and where it is possible to reap fruits at hand. The urgency of the education crisis we are facing does not afford us the luxury of time.
Edilberto C. de Jesus is Professor Emeritus at the Asian Institute of Management.
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