Duterte’s Basic Education Report: Media welcome Sara’s admission of deficiencies

This Week in Media (January 30 to February 3, 2023)

SARA DUTERTE’S presentation of a Basic Education Report (BER) was obviously designed to assure the people and the rest of government that she is giving her most serious attention to address the challenges that confront her as Secretary of Education. The report is not part of a regular routine. But the severity of learning problems in the public school system has been publicized enough. 

Then Education Secretary Leonor Briones had earlier demanded an apology from the World Bank (WB) for releasing its negative findings, complaining about the WB’s “outdated data.” 

The long lockdown by the previous administration exacerbated the already dismal state of education. Then President Rodrigo Duterte ordered classrooms shut down before the spread of COVID-19 to the provinces. DepEd’s failure to develop digital programs did not help slow down the rate of “learning poverty.” 

Media reported the public program held on January 10 at the Sofitel Plaza. Duterte began with a description of herself as “a mother of four learners” who at the same time is responsible for 28 million others, making her “interest in the future of Philippine education…very personal.” The consensus was that it was good for Duterte to openly admit during her presentation that Filipino students are not “academically proficient.” 

Media coverage, however, reported the event for what it was, a bureaucratic exercise with more ceremony than usual — no less than the President delivered the keynote speech. 

Much of the coverage in print and TV were stuck to descriptions of the day’s program, and carried parts of Duterte’s speech. Print gave the story front page space. But TV did not give it the lead in their newscasts.  

But both provided the same information, stressing Duterte’s identification of the challenges to basic education: the shortage in classrooms and resources as the “most pressing issue”; low literacy and numeracy rates as reflected in the 2018 report of the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA); the “congested” K-12 curriculum and the program’s failure to assure the employability of graduates; and the lack of sufficient training and support systems for teachers. Media also noted her plans to address these problems, including the revision of the K-12 curriculum and the provision of more training programs for teachers and school administrators. 

A few reports and some public affairs programs on TV, print and online provided analysis of and comments on the report itself throughout the week. Notably, some media cited advocates who welcomed the admission of persistent deficiencies, but also pointed out that the education report neither presented data nor described what actual steps DepEd would take to address the problems. 

Representatives of the Alliance for Concerned Teachers (ACT), Philippine Business for Education (PBEd) and Aral Pilipinas enumerated what they thought should have been included in the BER, offering solutions to gaps in education policy.

Salary and staffing problems

24 Oras and the Philippine Daily Inquirer drew from a press briefing by ACT which pointed out that Duterte did not mention anything related to teachers’ salaries. Philstar.com’s report included ACT’s complaint that Duterte did not give specific figures on the hiring of more guidance counselors and teaching assistants to reduce the burdens on  teachers. 

K-12 review

Philstar.com and TV Patrol referred to ACT’s criticism that the DepEd has not made publicly available its progress on the K-12 review. Justine Raagas, Executive Director of PBEd, agreed with this in her interview with Rapplercalling for the involvement of as many stakeholders as possible in the review.

Speaking to One News’ The ChiefsDiane Fajardo-Valencia, Deputy Executive Director of PBEd, said her organization appreciated that some educational agenda items are aligned with theirs. She said, however, that the report should have included more specific plans of action, including the need to look at proper labor market information for K-12 graduates and a broad employability study that goes beyond colleges’  data. 

Language proficiency

Regina Sibal, convenor of Aral Pilipinas, told Rappler that it is important for children to master language first, suggesting that subject matter and key concepts in non-language subjects can be integrated in language subjects. 

Fajardo-Valencia said in her One News interview that language mapping should guide mother-tongue based instruction, in which local languages are used as the teaching medium, DepEd would have to find teachers who can speak  local languages. 

Malnutrition as fundamental problem

Fajardo-Valencia stressed that malnutrition and undernourishment were underlying factors in the poor performance of children. Interventions must start as early as the pre-natal stage for pregnant mothers to ensure the health of the child and capacity to learn. 

Raagas agreed with this point in her interviews with ANC and Rappler by saying that the issue of children’s health is often glossed over in evaluating academic performance.

Teacher training 

In the Rappler interview, both Raagas and Sibal emphasized that teacher training must be improved to cope with the demands of post-pandemic teaching. Sibal noted that DepEd is government’s largest bureaucracy, and there must be significant investments in teachers:  their successful instruction and facilitation of learning could produce students who will be instrumental in economic development. 

For context, Inquirer’s report on February 3 carried PBEd’s study that looked at 12 years’ worth of data reflecting little to no adjustment in improving teacher education, with only two percent of schools offering this classified as “high-performing” in licensure exams.

Meanwhile, TV Patrol went beyond reactions to BER, following up with reports on the efforts of some schools to provide remediation classes and public school teachers’ appeal for health benefits  effectively demonstrating that these problems do exist. 

The broad scope of coverage which elicited comments and insights from different stakeholders, shows the breadth and depth of the crisis of Philippine basic education. News organizations should talk about working together to uncover the problems which were not in the BER, and continue to report on the issues based on the work of different stakeholder groups. 

At the same time, journalists can also collaborate in tracking what BER has outlined for its agenda and follow up on what Duterte does in the next six years, collecting data that could enhance news coverage. 

Duterte’s exercise provides media a tool for analysis, but media should expand its own learning, going beyond the Secretary’s office to review the quality of the national bureaucracy that runs and implements the programs set by the Secretary. This will require teams of community-based journalists working with those in the national newsrooms.

Media should educate the public about learning poverty in all its aspects, empowering parents and students themselves to demand the reform of the system if necessary. The changes will take more than six years. But now is a good time to start.