Beyond ‘he said, she said’: Inquirer and InterAksyon find more proof of crisis in PH education

CHEERS TO and InterAksyon for citing other studies to back up evidence already presented by the World Bank in its critical assessment of the state of PH education.

On July 1, much of the media reported on the World Bank’s findings which were drawn from three multi-country assessments: Program for International Student Assessment (Pisa) in 2018, the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) in 2019, and the Southeast Asia Primary Learning Metrics (SEA-PLM) in 2019.

The report showed that, across all three, more than 80% of Filipino students fell below minimum levels of proficiency expected for their grade levels, particularly in reading, writing, and mathematics. This critical state was made worse by increasing hunger among the poor, lack of facilities and safety issues, including the unchecked bullying of students. As the data cited was up to 2019, the report indicated that a crisis had set in even before the COVID-19 pandemic.

The report provoked a stream of defensive reactions from government officials, which the media followed closely, picking up every statement on the controversy. On the same date, the Palace was quick to react and said the report was “disturbing and alarming.” Only on July 5 did Education Sec. Leonor Briones react by demanding an apology, saying the report was outdated and didn’t factor in recent developments by the DepEd and the government.

This was immediately “supported” by Malacañang and the Department of Finance (DOF). In his letter to the World Bank, DOF Secretary Carlos Dominguez III said that the report “has the effect of misleading the public and causing undue reputation risk to the Philippine education sector.”

After three days, on July 8, the World Bank issued an apology and temporarily took down its report from its website. However, it did not retract its findings. 

While most media accounts were fixated on reporting that and other statements, and InterAksyon set themselves apart by citing other research, reflecting public woes especially from the education sector— teachers, parents, and students; and calling public attention to findings that are in agreement with the World Bank report.’s ‘WB apologizes for PH education report; ADBI echoes findings’ written by Ben de Vera cited a report of the Tokyo-based think tank Asian Development Bank Institute (ADBI). ADBI based its “Foundational Mathematics and Reading Skills of Filipino Students Over a Generation” on the results of the Functional Literacy, Education, Mass Media Survey (FLEMMS), a national household survey that the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) had been conducting nationwide every five years.

ADBI used the FLEMMS microdata collected by the PSA in 2003, 2013 and 2019. Data showed that while schooling improves learning, specifically math and reading skills; the amount of learning produced for each year of schooling in the country is very low, especially in mathematics.

Interaksyon’s ‘Numbers back World Bank’s report on Philippine education system in ‘crisis’’ cited an infographic by Philippine Business for Education (PBED) that showed the state of Philippine education in numbers, before and after the pandemic. Written by Catalina Madarang, the report summed up the overall PH education situation: that “an alarming 1.1 million students did not go to school this year and 1,179 private schools closed in 2020. Moreover, three out of four public schools do not have internet access (despite) the demands of the blended or distance learning approach.”

It is too bad that these online reports were not sufficiently highlighted by the news organizations; most of their accounts framed coverage as a confrontation or conflict between the Duterte administration and the World Bank. 

As an opinion piece published by Rappler and written by a public school teacher said, “we have seen how the DepEd has handled public education over the years — especially during this pandemic… the countless erroneous details, unforgivable grammatical errors, and the inappropriate information in our self-learning modules speak volumes of how our education system is far from excellent. Needless to say, we are all aware of the educational crisis we are facing.”