Before the lockdown and community quarantine were put in place, there were already gaps in our public education system. This is not a secret. We have known this for the longest time — the shortage in classrooms, the lack of internet connectivity, insufficient supplies, and teaching resources, etc. Unfortunately, with the new normal, it appears the situation may have gotten worse.
In the 2018 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), the Philippines scored the lowest in reading comprehension and second-lowest in science and math.
The assessment, organized by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), saw 79 member and partner countries participate. It was the first time that the Philippines participated in the survey. A move that was appreciated by the Duterte administration as it “opened the eyes” of the Filipinos to the state of our education system.
The next round of assessment is set for 2021, and with the current pandemic making our issues on public education more challenging, can we expect improvements in our scores?
The short answer would be — it depends. Have we made considerable changes to our public education system since 2018? Have we made significant investments in terms of resources for teachers and students? Have we done things to improve and expand access to quality education among school-aged children in the barrios?
Looking at 2020 plans where Php692.6 Billion was allocated to education — said to be the most substantial portion of the budget, it appears that we are investing heavily in education. But with Covid-19 and the demands of social distancing, is this enough? Will this be able to cover the computers and internet connectivity requirements for distance learning? Will this be sufficient to develop new learning modules? Will this allow teachers to get additional training to make them more effective in forming the hearts and minds of future Filipinos?
Our future relies heavily on the kind of leaders and citizenry we form today. The importance of education cannot be understated. Everything from good governance to climate change adaptation to economic growth depends on the men and women that our children will eventually become. If they do not get the right foundation today, we risk losing whatever gains we have accomplished so far.
Public education has to be of the highest quality, and it has to be conducted safely. Given that all of us were caught unprepared for Covid-19, we can forgive the temporary setbacks. But we need to take stock of the things that we are learning and put in the measures to ensure that education from the lowest to the highest level, both public and private, is resilient.
Private schools have started conducting online classes, and those who can afford have made the necessary set up. For the millions who have no resources to spare, there is still a big question of whether they can even participate in the public education system through distance learning. The even bigger problem is the quality of the learning generated by this new norm.