MANILA - Officials from various government agencies, including the Department of Education, Commission of Higher Education, and the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority, admitted on Friday that the COVID-19 pandemic and reading proficency are among the pressing education issues in the country today.
Other officials and groups, including lawmakers, civil society organizations, the private sector and other stakeholders weighed in on pressing issues in the education sector through a public forum, “Revisiting the EDCOM of 1991: Continuities and Discontinuities in Philippine Education Sector Reform" on Friday.
When asked about the major challenge of education today, CHED chairman Popoy De Vera said COVID-19 exposed "the fact that a lot of the things that we did not do, which we should have done in the past, are things that hounded us during COVID-19".
"We have not invested as much is technology, we have not invested as much in technology-mediated learning in higher education, we have not improved and expanded distance education as a learning approach and a system. And so when COVID-19 hit us, we were less prepared than similarly situated universities and countries are," he said.
De Vera said flexible learning is "here to stay", wherein schools are free to "mix and match" learning strategies appropriate to their situation on the ground.
For Pasig Rep. Roman Romulo, focusing on basic education — in particular, teaching students how to read — would be a major step in improving the quality of education in the country.
"Hopefully po makita nating problema, mababa po iyong results natin sa PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment), sa SEA-PLM (Southeast Asia Primary Learning Metrics (SEA-PLM), sa TIMSS (Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study), kailangan po talaga, at least from Grades 1 to 3, reading, reading, reading," said Romulo, who chairs the House Committee on Basic Education, Arts and Culture.
"Magtiwala po tayo sa talino ng mga batang Pilipino. Turuan lang natin siyang magbasa, naiintindihan po niya, sigurado ko po, malayo ang mararating niya."
DepEd Sec. Leonor Briones agreed with this.
"I totally, totally, if it is possible to say 150 or 200 percent, agree with the formula of reading, reading, reading... Only this week, we launched Brigada Eskwela. Brigada Eskwela, as all of us know, is generally associated with the cleaning up schools. We still clean up the schools in preparation for opening the school calendar. But this time, our Brigada Eskwela will be focusing more on reading," Briones said.
Rene Raya, co-convenor of civil society organization Social Watch, stressed the need to invest more in education - prioritize its budget and how this money will be spent properly.
"Kahit po ano po iyong mga repormang ihain natin, kung napakaliit po ng ating budget na ilalaan ay mahihirapan po natin itulak itong mga napakagandang reporma," he said.
"Another sigurong improvement, I think, is the utilization, which has vastly been improved. Because this is also a major problem, meron ka ngang pera pero hindi naman nagagamit ... so it's not only the size of the budget. Kailangan makita natin, we should be able to determine exactly where we should be investing in order to have to optimum outcome," Raya added.
FROM 1991 EDCOM TO EDCOM 2?
Central to the public forum is the revisiting of the Congressional Commission on Education (EDCOM) of 1991 and the sharing of its findings, 30 years since its creation.
Prof. Alex Brillantes, former dean of the University of the Philippines-National College of Public Administration and Governance (UPNCPAG), said around half of the recommendations of the 1991 EDCOM was implemented.
This includes the implementation of the K to 12 program, which fulfilled recommendations for a progressive functional literacy in elementary education, the Enhanced Basic Education Act of 2013, which is a response to the preparation for college for the world of work in secondary education, the mother tongue-based multilingual education (MTB-MLE), which is a response to the recommendation to mandate a language of instruction policy for basic education.
The involvement of communities and parents in education has also been fulfilled through parents-teachers associations, among others.
Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian, chairperson of the Senate Committee on Basic Education, Arts and Culture, supports the creation of an EDCOM 2, but it will be a commission and not an "oversight committee" of the 1991 EDCOM.
"EDCOM 1 was 30 years ago. A lot of things have already changed after 30 years... To conduct an oversight if EDCOM 1 fulfilled its mandates or not, it's already too late for that, in my humble opinion. What we want is to focus on the problem at hand. That's what we want for EDCOM," Gatchalian said.
"The main difference between a commission and a committee is the stature and also the independence. That's why, in this particular proposal, for EDCOM 2, we will call it a commission rather than an oversight committee," he explained.
The proposed EDCOM 2 will tackle and resolve various aspects of the country's education sector, including quality of education, assessment of students, teacher benefits and education, among others.
As stakeholders expressed support for the proposal, during the open forum, a participant asked, "How will you attract the best people to teach if the government could not provide the best salary for them?"
In response, Briones said, "The greatest teacher that we ever had, iisa lang ang change ng clothes niya, isa lang ang sandalyas niya, wala siyang PhD, wala siyang sweldo, wala siyang honorarium. Pero tinatawag siyang teacher at binago niya ang mundo."
She added: "Ang isa rin dapat tinuturo, iyon ang sinasabi ko palagi sa aming seminar, na ang pagtuturo ay hindi isang, hindi ka papasok sa pagtuturo dahil gusto mong yumaman. Hindi ka nagtuturo dahil gusto mong malaki ang sweldo. Sa aming surveys lumalabas na halos more than 90 percent enjoy talaga sa pagtuturo. So ito iyong ating i-recognize. Ito iyong ating dapat, sila ang i-attract natin."
FUTURE OF EDUCATION
For De Vera, the challenge is to "adjust to the realities" of the pandemic, which the commission is addressing through its programs.
"Creating Smart Campuses, making teachers adjust to flexible learning, helping our students, etc., particularly on the issue of connectivity. I've gone around the country and the number 1 problem of all the students is really connectivity," he said.
"When they listen to their teachers, they cannot understand the lectures, sometimes the signal drops and they're afraid to ask their teachers to repeat the lecture because their teachers might get angry. They spend too much on load; one asynchronous class already utilizes P100 of load for students. This is far too expensive and really affects access to education," De Vera noted.
For basic education, Briones has established an Education Futures program, in a bid to study trends and advancements and then implement these in learning and teaching processes.
"We have to prepare our learners for that. Not only must they learn new things but they have to preserve what we now say as their mental balance. The ability to accept that there will be change, that things will be strange, that what they will face in the future will not be learned from the textbooks of the past or of their school," she said.
TESDA aims to "transform" to become "more demand-driven", according to Rosalina Constantino, executive director of the agency's Planning Office.
"All our policies, programs, and projects are all anchored on the two-pronged strategy of TVET for global competitiveness and workforce readiness and TVET for social equity and poverty reduction," she said.
Meanwhile, Dr. Milwida Guevara, CEO of Synergeia Foundation, appealed for the education sector to "listen to the ground roots" and give more "flexibility to communities".
"I think our education system is very centralized. And therefore, communities have very very little opportunities to contextualize. Teachers, for example, just receive mandates, memoranda from the central office and they really have very little freedom to be able to contextualize the curriculum relative to the needs and demands of the students," she said.