, CNN Philippines bare more serious woes beyond classroom ‘clutter’

CHEERS TO and CNN Philippines for reporting on the perennial problems of the education sector. This followed the Department of Education’s (DepEd) move to “declutter” classroom walls and the return to classes of students on August 29.

What’s the Story?

On August 3, DepEd issued Order no. 21 that directs schools to clear “school grounds, classrooms and all its walls of unnecessary artwork, decorations, tarpaulin, and posters.” After several teachers’ groups sought clarification, DepEd spokesperson Michael Poa said on TeleRadyo Serbisyo on August 21 that “the order is what it is.” 

Media showed Vice President and DepEd Secretary Sara Duterte removing posters and educational materials in a classroom during her visit to a Brigada Eskwela activity in Davao del Sur on August 17. Reporters interviewed teachers who pointed out that most students, especially the younger ones, are visual learners. Some reports also included the mixed reactions from netizens in social media.

A few news accounts went further than just reporting the order, pointing to more important problems that have been cited by experts and noted in studies that require more urgent attention from DepEd. 

What the Reports Got Right

On August 22, gathered insights from teachers and Joanne Trina Moreno-Javier, a certified development psychologist, who told reporter Kurt Dela Peña that, especially among the younger age group, having visuals and print-rich learning environments are helpful to “stimulate the senses, as this is how they best learn.”

Pamela Joy Capistrano, a university instructor, cited studies regarding the scrapping of classroom decorations and its effect on learning. She said researchers do not endorse zero classroom decorations but do recommend a minimalist approach to classroom decorations.

While Javier said it is best to regulate and organize visuals, she added that teachers remain to be the most important aid to students. Dela Peña cited a study by the Rensselaerville Institute, a non-profit US-based organization, which identified significant factors that must be considered: instruction quality and delivery style, class size, parent involvement, peer relationships, assessment, and school facilities are some of the key elements that promote quality learning, helping students learn and excel academically. 

Dela Peña connected the big picture to the current reality in Philippine public education. He reported data from the Alliance of Concerned Teachers showing that teachers with seven to eight teaching loads typically handle 30 to 50 students in a classroom along with administrative responsibilities. Apart from big class sizes, Dela Peña pointed out classroom conditions, among them extreme heat during the summer months. 

In a three-part special report on CNN Philippines aired on August 23, 24, and 25, AC Nicholls delved into how overcrowding, lack of teachers and learning resources, deficient facilities, and other problems affect students’ learning ability. 

Both reports by CNN Philippines and, cited DepEd data that show only a third of school buildings – 104,536 out of 327,851 – are in “good condition.” Nicholls also cited an education advocacy group that found that 20 percent of Grade 5 students share books, pointing to the lack of learning resources. The group Philippine Business for Education pointed to other issues, such as “mass promotion” or the quick moving up of students to the next level despite the lack of foundational skills, and malnutrition or hunger that prevents students from focusing during class.

These problems contribute to “learning poverty.” reviewed DepEd’s data that shows 81 percent of learners could not deal with basic math problems and have trouble understanding texts of moderate length, while 78 percent could not draw valid conclusions from a given data. Meanwhile, CNN Philippines cited the 2022 World Bank report which showed that nine out of 10 Filipino learners have a hard time reading and understanding text; citing as well the Program for International Student Assessment 2018 which ranked the Philippines among the lowest of 70 countries. 

Why Is this Important?

So far, some journalists have been quick to flag issues reflecting misplaced priorities on the part of the DepEd chief, among these, Duterte’s fixation on security issues and the disturbing request for confidential and intelligence funds in the education budget. Given the order to de-clutter classrooms, and CNN Philippines were prompt to remind Filipinos that there are bigger problems requiring Duterte’s attention and action.

Duterte herself has admitted that she lacks an educational background. The blanket order has shown hasty judgment that would have little effect to improve the poor learning process already embedded in the system. These reports discussed the lack of fundamental resources, mainly, competent teachers and adequate classrooms. The problems are so serious that one did not have to be an expert to question the attention given by the education secretary to “classroom clutter.”

With her admission about her lack of preparation for the appointment she accepted, media is right to scrutinize every decision or statement that is done with little thought, with no consultation with the people who are concerned – teachers and students. Journalists must enlarge the consensus for what should be done. There is not one step, no single bullet that can turn around the dismal situation in national education in six years. But correct attitude, sound judgment, and the willingness to consult and to learn might help to identify a few small steps in the right direction.