Mass promotion is not mass learning

By: Anna Cristina Tuazon - @inquirerdotnet - Columnist/Philippine Daily Inquirer | June 01,2023 - 07:45 AM

The Philippine Business for Education released a report based on their survey of more than 300 education stakeholders nationwide, including teachers and school leaders. They aired their concern over the unofficial policy of “mass promotion” or automatic promotion of students to the next grade level regardless of their actual academic performance. This longstanding informal practice seems to be motivated in part by the Department of Education or DepEd’s “no child left behind mantra.” Fearing loss of performance-based bonuses and decreases in school regional rankings also contribute to encouraging the culture of mass promotion. Another concern that exacerbates the issue is the logistical problem of bloated class sizes if students must repeat a grade level.

This is another example of hyperfocusing on outcomes. Because DepEd provides incentives and punishments based on outcomes such as grade promotion, some schools have resorted to cheating via mass promotion. If DepEd made room for process-based evaluation, it should have incentivized enrichment and remediation programs instead, for example. More importantly, if DepEd focused on the process of learning, it would have prioritized its budget toward basic infrastructure such as classrooms and ensured that children are well-fed so that they are primed to learn.

More than grades, we should be asking “Are they learning?” If we use this question as an anchor, we wouldn’t be too preoccupied about every child learning at the same pace. Some children learn fast, some require more time. If we promote a child to the next grade level without them having sufficient learning, their difficulties will snowball as they will not be able to grasp higher level concepts. This, in turn, leads to worsening grades and a miserable student. The genuine principle behind “no child left behind” is the fact that children learn at their own pace and have different learning needs. It means that no child’s learning needs are left unattended. If they require more time, give it to them. If they do not have learning aids, provide them. If they need supplemental education, offer it. When every child is motivated to learn and learns something new every day, then truly that is no child left behind.

The closest educational model to this is progressive education, but this is hardly affordable in our country. The ideal school setting for my future child is not a private school but a quality public school. I had always wished that we would have the option of quality public education in our country. I feel that such a learning environment would be the perfect balance of learning, not just reading and arithmetic, but about coexisting with diverse others and developing awareness of the world around us. Often, in my practice, I find that clients who go to private schools tend to live in a parallel version of the Philippines. Their social circles are just as limited, with very little interaction with people who live different lives from them. As such, when they inevitably do have to step into the real world, they tend to be unprepared and overwhelmed. At worst, they fail to develop empathy for others. Of course, some private schools are more socially immersive and progressive than others, but the tuition fee alone becomes an automatic sifter of who my child will be friends with.

Quality public education doesn’t yet really exist in this country, unfortunately. Barring specialist schools such as science and arts high schools, very few public schools stand out for their academic excellence. I still hold out hope that we can attain quality in our public schools—but it will take a lot of political will and willingness to listen. The first step is to partially decentralize public education. Set national minimum standards, yes, but allow regions and cities the flexibility to craft education programs that fit their communities. The best teaching is creative teaching. As it stands, public education is so micromanaged from the top that teachers aren’t able to actually teach. They’ve become simply administrators of DepEd directives. This leads to loss of motivation and higher likelihood of burnout among teachers who feel dehumanized in the education system.

Developing quality public education is a gargantuan task—and a worthy endeavor. And I hope to see the day that we progress into a country where public school is just as good an option as any private school.


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TAGS: DepEd, education, promotion
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