“We are now at the 11th hour and we are sounding the alarm.” This was the call of the Philippine Business for Education (PBEd) at the start of this year, urging the government and other stakeholders to “stem the learning crisis now.” On its website, it says “the protracted school closure and uncertainty in the safe and equitable reopening of our schools will further worsen the learning losses, especially for the 2.7 million unenrolled K-12 (Kindergarten to Grade 12) students this school year,” and “we have yet to see a clear plan to bring our students back to school safely.”
Indeed, the coronavirus pandemic further sucked the country’s education system into the quicksand, so to speak. In 2018, I rang the same warning bells in a previous column, titled “Reforming the PH education system.” I wrote then that “despite the K-12 law and other educational reforms, such as the Unified Student Financial Assistance System for Tertiary Education (UniFAST) law and the Free Higher Education law, the Philippines continues to get poor marks in international education performance indices,” Our students, as reported by various international assessments, are ranked among the lowest in the world in science, mathematics and reading competency.
“Reforms in policy, pedagogy, infrastructure and educational technology are all critical and urgent especially in the public school system,” I wrote that time. Part of the policy side is the low pay of public-school teachers, which forces them to make ends meet by availing of loans, thus distracting them from their jobs. On the pedagogy side, I wrote that “the problem stems from the memorization methods of schools, which are present in both the private and public educational systems.” On the infrastructure and educational technology side, I cited a Department of Education report that said “out of the 46,739 public schools nationwide, only about 12,163, or a mere 26 percent, are connected.”
These were all present before the pandemic. Covid-19 further exposed the weaknesses and limitations of our educational system, with the implementation of distance learning through the use of the internet, TV and radio, and the delivery of modular lessons. Teachers, both in private and public schools, were hurriedly trained for online and blended learning and finish their learning materials, which would be delivered to students with slow internet connection and without personal gadgets.
But one glaring aspect brought to the fore by the pandemic is the digital divide in the Philippines, which already existed but became more pronounced. In an article I wrote about this topic, I cited a Bombo Radyo report saying “on May 16, a student of Capiz State University in Capiz province met her untimely demise when the motorcycle she was riding figured in an accident while she was looking for an internet café to submit her school requirements.”
This example may be an outlier, but it highlights the sorry state of the internet infrastructure in the country. Internet connectivity is the ultimate enabler of learning and education, as we have seen in how developed countries transitioned their schooling to online, with much success.
Amid the crisis in learning and education in the country, I join the PBEd in its urgent “call on Congress to pass Senate Joint Resolution No. 10; convene the Education Commission; and draw up urgent, systemic, decisive and targeted reforms in our education system.” Furthermore, “the Education Commission 2021 must be guided by national development goals and must consist of representatives from [the] government, the private sector, civil society and top educational institutions.” The PBEd also says “its recommendations must urgently stem the learning crisis by targeting early-age and grade nutrition, equitable access, increased resources for education, localized and shared accountability, and data-driven learning policies.”
Addressing the crisis in education and learning is, indeed, a gargantuan task that requires multisectoral collaboration and decisive leadership. “The government must take the lead in building an education system that Filipino learners deserve — one that realizes their full potential,” as the PBEd says.
Stakeholders and organizations in education must work with the government to find and implement solutions to this crisis. I also join the PBEd in its “call on all Filipinos to take this learning crisis seriously and demand that all leaders make education their number one priority, for our present and future depend on an Education Nation.”
The author is the chief executive officer of Hungry Workhorse Consulting, a digital and culture transformation consulting firm. He is a fellow at the US-based Institute for Digital Transformation and teaches strategic management in the MBA program of De La Salle University. The author may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.