I wrote two columns in the last two months about the state of Philippine education under the leadership of Education Secretary Leonor Briones.
It will be recalled that three global academic rating organizations — Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), and the Southeast Asia Primary Learning Metrics (SEA-PLM) all told the same story about the state of Philippine education. The three attest that educational standards in the Philippines are at such a low level that our youth will be unable to compete with their global peers when they join the workforce. In a recent report, the World Bank affirmed that 80% of Filipino students don’t meet the standards for their grade level.
But instead of accepting the findings of the World Bank and instituting reforms as would be expected of a professional, Secretary Briones denied the findings and deflected blame back to the World Bank. She said the multilateral lender insulted the Filipino people. She further claimed that the World Bank failed to follow protocol in that it should have informed her office first. She demanded a public apology.
Despite multiple red flags raised by reputable rating organizations, Secretary Briones continues to be in denial and insists Philippine educational standards are better than what the rating organizations describe. The Secretary is apparently still not taking responsibility for the current state of Philippine education, and neither has she offered a definitive action plan to improve the situation — nothing published that I have encountered, at least.
To add insult to injury, the Secretary announced that the Department of Education (DepEd) will no longer participate in the PISA evaluation of 2022. This is clearly a move to conceal the true state of Philippine educational under her leadership.
With this petty, optics-driven attitude in the DepEd leadership, are we even surprised that our education standards are what they are today? I count the DepEd as negative equity to the Duterte government.
My column on educational standards emboldened numerous public-school teachers from across the country to write me and share what they perceive to be the “cracks” in the DepEd’s system. Although the feedback I am about to enumerate are mere testimonies, it nonetheless provides a rare and unfiltered point of view from teachers in the grass roots.
One of the most alarming flaws of the DepEd, according to several public-school teachers, is its system of Performance Based Bonus (PBB). PBBs are granted on the basis of drop-out rates and the passing rates in the National Achievement Tests (NAT). The prospect of receiving bonuses for high passing rates compels teachers to pass students even if they are undeserving. Worse, should a teacher fail a student for poor performance, he/she would be questioned by the principal, the DepEd’s District Supervisor, and the Division Superintendent. The specter of being questioned, interrogated, and sanctioned induces teachers to go the safe route and simply give the deficient student a passing grade.
This means that the DepEd’s record of passing scores do not accurately reflect the true aptitudes of the students. Not having accurate (more to the point, having false) data leads to wrong decisions, wrong strategies, and a waste of tax payers’ money.
This allegation was validated by another teacher. “No failing grades… No drop outs” … are the instructions of the higher ups at DepEd. To achieve this, teachers are tacitly made to lower their standards to pass students. While the DepEd records show a 98% passing rate on grade levels, the teacher estimates that the true passing rate is actually well below 50%.
Another example was cited, this time for the NAT. Although the mean percentage score of a class could be 40%, the greater majority would still be given a passing grade of 75%. Subsequently, District Supervisors would report an 85% average score to the DepEd.
And because there are bonuses to be gained for favorable NAT results, tests are leaked to the students by the faculty themselves so as to obtain a higher average score.
Performance Based Bonuses are based on the Individual Performance Commitment and Review Form (IPCRF), which in turn is connected to the Results-based Performance Management System (RPMS).
While it is true that the RPMS is designed to promote high performance among DepEd auditors and teachers, the method by which the final ratings are computed is based on false information, says a teacher. In a desire of District Supervisors and the Division Superintendents to portray their territories as excellent performers (thereby qualifying for a bonus), teachers are made to fabricate documents reflecting exemplary scores of students.
Another teacher agrees that the World Bank is indeed correct when it said that 80% of Filipino students do not meet the standards for their grade level. See, for a student to pass a particular grade level, he/she must achieve mastery of the lessons contained in the Curriculum Guide. However, the reality is that only the top 15% (at best) of students are able to comprehend the lessons and perform the learning activities contained in the Curriculum Guide. The rest are adrift due to the lack of foundational knowledge on the subject.
That said, teachers must constantly review past lessons at the expense of time that should be dedicated to the real lesson. In many cases, English grammar, reading, and writing are no longer taught as teachers must re-teach basic English words.
Other teachers complain that time is becoming increasingly scarce to cover the Curriculum Guide. This is because the DepEd requires too many reports — to a point that it deprives teachers of valuable instructional time with students.
Another teacher brought attention to a DepEd program called School-Based Management. This program rates schools from a scale of 1 to 3 based on the participation of parents (and the community) in the school’s learning curriculums. The much coveted “3 rating” is given if it is ascertained that the parents play a part in curriculum development. The teacher’s role, in this scheme, is to merely assist the parents. This is fundamentally wrong, laments a teacher. It should be the other way around where the teachers recommend improvements to the curriculum with the parents playing the supporting role.
I am fully aware that all these are anecdotal. But if they carry any credence, then it’s easy to understand why the DepEd thinks Filipino students are world class and that global academic rating organizations are all liars.
Still, it is hard to debunk the assessment of three global academic rating organizations and the public-school teachers who have nothing to gain by writing to me. I am inclined to believe them.
With a faulty system, and a culture of denial and finger pointing, the DepEd has consigned a whole generation of Filipino to be intellectually inferior to their global peers. I dread to think what their future will be — and what the country’s future will be.
The DepEd needs enlightened, humble, and professional leadership.
Andrew J. Masigan is an economist