An education revolution

By: Peter Wallace - @inquirerdotnet - Columnist/Philippine Daily Inquirer | December 10,2020 - 08:00 AM

At a recent talk at the highly informative Arangkada three-day webinar, I pointed out how the future for the Philippines must be in information and communications technology (ICT). The world is rushing, and COVID-19 accelerated IT at a rate in months what was expected to take years. The world is becoming engulfed in ones and zeroes. Everything is becoming digitalized. It’s why I argued that our focus must no longer be on factories, but on tablets.

We are moving from a physical world to a virtual one. The jobs of the future will require brain power the physical world could manage without. The IT world will need trained, skilled people.

So I was horrified to read last week that “only 29 percent of Filipino Grade 5 students are able to read a range of everyday texts, such as simple narratives and personal opinions, and begin to engage with their meanings.” Ranked versus other Southeast Asian countries, the Philippines is the second worst performer, only ahead of Laos. Our peers such as Malaysia, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Myanmar fared better.

In the 2018 Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa), the Philippines also performed disappointingly. Across 79 countries, the Philippines ranked 79th in reading, and second lowest for both mathematics and science. You can’t do worse than that.

Then there’s what they’re given to learn. Antonio Calipjo Go, in a letter to the editor last Dec. 2, pointed out 187 errors in just one self-learning module, or “10.4 errors per page.” The errors he pointed out were disturbing. One has to wonder who on earth edited these modules, let alone who wrote them. It’s a level of incompetence I’d never stand for in my company. Here’s just one sample — “Example of malleable objects: fork and spoon.”

As Go added, “these grossly unscientific Science modules were made possible, at tremendous cost to the government.”

I have great admiration for Education Secretary Liling Briones, and I know she’s trying hard to improve the system. But it doesn’t need improvement, it needs a much-needed revolution. Obviously, the first thing to do is to replace the incompetents in the department with competent, educated people.

But it is far more than that. The curricula have to be totally rewritten. Over the past years, the Department of Education has always aspired to give every student a book. No. Every kid has to have a tablet that contains a thousand books.

That will put pressure on the telcos to connect every school in the country, from the fanciest to the remotest, to the internet. With three telcos now, I’m sure this can be done in a relatively short time if they give schools priority as to where to focus.

The internationally comparable test results say our education system is failing at its job. The Philippines ranking dead last in the two subjects, Mathematics and Science, most needed in today’s world is greatly disturbing. I’m sure much of the reason, apart from incompetent staff, is lack of funds. Something our legislators, whom I’ve no doubt are mostly parents with kids of their own, should give better attention to.

Our education system gets only 13 percent of the annual government expenditure. The average among the Asean 6, according to the World Bank, is 19 percent. Singapore allots about 25 percent of its annual national expenditure to education, followed by Indonesia’s 21 percent, Malaysia’s 20 percent, and Vietnam’s 15 percent.

The education revolution must include a total shift in focus to provide children the skills needed to enter a virtual workforce. When you leave school, you’ll no longer pick up a hammer. Instead, you’ll sit at a desk staring at a screen.

May I suggest a task force (yes, sorry, another one) of educators, academicians, business people, sponsored and assisted by the World Bank, to study and learn from how the more advanced countries are reforming their curricula and methods of teaching, and introduce here what they’ve learnt?

It’s time for a revolution.

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TAGS: competent, COVID-19, education, ERRORS, GO, incompetent, Pisa, Programme for International Student Assessment, texts, virtual

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