MANILA — While Vice President and Education Secretary Sara Duterte's report identified several challenges in the country's basic education system, it failed to tackle students' nutrition, an issue that affects their learning abilities, an advocacy group said Tuesday.
"Maybe something that wasn't really talked about yesterday but I think should be raised is that many students — and it's really required [to have a] whole-of-government approach — many learners come to school undernourished," Justine Raagas, executive director for the Philippine Business for Education (PBED), said in an interview with the ABS-CBN News Channel.
Raagas was referring to Duterte's Basic Education Report, which enumerated the multiple issues hounding the country's basic education system as well as the Department of Education's (DepEd) plans to address them.
According to Ragas, 1 out of 3 five-year-olds in the Philippines "are actually stunted and that's a problem that begins earlier on in life."
"If you have students who come to school malnourished, undernourished, stunted, their cognitive abilities are not as good as other kids," said Raagas, whose group includes education reform advocates from the business sector.
"You can put the best teachers in the classroom, you can fix all the classrooms but a student won't absorb the lessons that are taught. So that's (nutrition) also a challenge that I think should be brought into the limelight," she added.
While Duterte did not mention nutrition in her speech, the DepEd is implementing the School-Based Feeding Program, which provides free hot meals and milk to students.
During the Basic Education Report, Duterte also launched the "MATATAG" agenda, which would serve as the DepEd's roadmap to resolve issues plaguing the basic education sector under her 6-year term.
PBED considers the agenda "a very welcome development" to address what it considers an education "crisis" in the country, said Raagas.
Raagas said the "MATATAG" agenda "comes at a very opportune time," especially since a congressional body is also reviewing the whole education system.
"[The] efforts that the DepEd can take in the next 6 years, given its agenda, can also be guided by reports and recommendations that the EDCOM (Congressional Commission on Education) can bring," she said.
The Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT), meanwhile, praised the DepEd for publicly admitting "the undeniably dismal state of the basic education system."
But the group said the issues mentioned in the report were the same ones raised by other research groups, such as the World Bank and United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund (UNICEF).
In a statement, ACT described the report as "a summary of the promises already articulated by [Vice President] Duterte’s leadership in the past months."
"Unfortunately, majority of which remained to be general promises that lack specific action plans and definite targets," it said.
The group said it would follow up on Duterte's commitments to teachers, which includes helping educators face issues related to loans and the Government Service Insurance System.