From the Newsrooms, December 4 to 9

Young Filipino learners still lagging in math, science and reading comprehension

THREE MANILA-based broadsheets called attention to continued low ranking of the country, giving the news front-page banner-treatment on December 6 and 7. The Philippine Daily Inquirer, The Philippine Star and The Manila Times  reported the Philippines’ dismal performance in the 2022 Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), a worldwide study conducted by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) every three years for fifteen year-olds. Philippine scores on math, science and reading comprehension placed the country 77th out of 81 surveyed, meaning the Philippines is at the bottom 10 of the list.

Other print reports buried the development in the inside pages, leading with reactions of officials to the PISA report instead of its key findings. Primetime newscasts on December 6 placed the report in different time slots, with 24 Oras airing it earliest at ten minutes into the program.

Inquirer’s report noted that there has been “no significant change” in the scores for the three subject areas from those recorded in the the Philippines’ first PISA assessment in 2018.  A article elaborated on this point, saying that the country’s average scores only increased by single digits—which the OECD deemed “insignificant” in determining gains and losses of at least a year’s worth of schooling. Both reports noted that the scores were also lower than global averages by approximately 120 points in each subject.

Media did not say it, but the Department of Education’s (DepEd) initial reaction to the PISA report was proactive, a welcome difference from the stance taken when Leonor Briones was education secretary in 2021.’s Cristina Chi recalled that Briones expressed indignation when the World Bank cited the 2018 PISA results, claiming that the international body used “outdated data.” 

This time, DepEd called a press conference on December 6 to publicly discuss the study with other officials and education leaders. 

Speaking at the briefing, Alexander Sucalit from the Deped’s Bureau of Education Assessment said that OECD’s computations showed the Philippines as lagging five to six year behind standards set for basic learning competencies. Although absent from the press conference, Education Secretary Sara Duterte recorded a video message to say that the PISA report provided an “uncomfortable truth,” enjoining those present to a “collective responsibility as a nation.”

Notably, coverage in print and online from December 6 to 9 did not limit the discussion to DepEd officials. Reports cited views expressed by the Second Congressional Committee on Education (Edcom 2), the Philippine Business for Education, the Management Association of the Philippines and the Philippine Association of Private Schools, Colleges and Universities. These groups pointed to longstanding problems such as malnutrition, quality of teacher education and the government’s inadequate investment in education as factors that contribute to the continuing crisis in learning. 

In an op-ed for Rappler last December 8, economist JC Punongbayan agreed with the above points, adding that there is “so much to unpack” in the 2022 PISA report. He also acknowledged the value of DepEd’s initiatives such as the National Learning Camp and the Matatag Curriculum; but said these interventions would take years to even “make a dent” on students’ performance in standardized assessments.

Media should sustain this as a national discussion, expanding it to engage other sectors who can all address some aspect of the learning crisis. This emergency is such as to require all hands on deck. The policy process must include all stakeholders on the ground who can provide the necessary perspective and experience. Coverage can also help by helping Filipinos think more about the problems of education, familiarizing them with systems and measures that have worked in other countries. 

More from the media: 

On another front, the Department of Health (DOH) on December 6 confirmed four cases of “walking pneumonia” among the flu-like illnesses recorded since January this year. In a statement picked up by the media, the agency said all individuals have recovered, without providing information about the provenance of the cases. 

The World Health Organization and the DOH had flagged the rising respiratory infections in China, most of which Chinese authorities said were caused by the bacterium Mycoplasma pneumoniae, which is not a new pathogen. Health Secretary Ted Herbosa said while there is no outbreak of “walking pneumonia,” the public should still take the same precautionary measures observed at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic such as wearing masks and handwashing.