Bernardo M. Villegas
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Addressing the Philippine Education Crisis (Part 4)

          The most significant lesson I learned from reading the book “Why Nations Fail” by Daron Acemuglo and James Robinson is the importance of institution building in the long-term ascent to sustainable and equitable integral human development.  For example, if we are now getting kudos from independent international think tanks and financial institutions about our prospects for long-term growth, despite our short-term inability to manage the pandemic, one of the reasons is that we have succeeded over the last two decades to build strong institutions in our monetary and fiscal sectors. Our Central Bank is known to be one of the best well run in the region and our fiscal managers have exercised admirable fiscal discipline, having kept  for some time now  our debt-to-GDP ratio and fiscal deficit at very reasonable levels. 

         In addressing the current education crisis, a very crucial institution that we have to establish as early as possible is what the  Philippine Business for Education (PBEd) is batting for:  the immediate convening of  a multi-sectoral Educational Commission (EdCom) to without further delay and seriously address the country’s learning crisis.  As envisioned by PBEd, the EdCom should be multi-sectoral, with representatives not only from the legislature and executive but also from the academe, business sector, and education interest groups.  In addition, it must tackle concerns such as learning outcomes, learning inequities, and resiliency of the education system while remaining open to reforms such as a more decentralised system and new governance structure.

         As Love Basillote, Executive Director of PBEd, wrote in The Inquirer: “We want an EdCom that will reimagine and rethink Philippine education and will draft a roadmap for the future.  The EdCom will be composed of experts and leaders from the government, business community, civil society, and interest groups.  The EdCom’s roadmap is envisioned to be strategic, offering solutions that will lead to systemic reforms toward an inclusive and resilient Philippine education.  The roadmap will focus on the key areas of teaching and learning, governance, access and equity, and workforce development.” Fortunately, the ball has started rolling when an EdCom resolution passed the Committee level on May 27, 2021 in the House of Representatives.  The sponsors of the resolution were Representatives Kiko Benitez, Stella Quimbo, Fidel Nograles, Rommel Angara; Chairperson Mark Go and members of Committee on Higher, Technical Education; and Chairperson Roman Romulo and members of the Committee on Basic Education and Culture.  If the present Legislature is able to pass this EdCom bill, this government will be remembered by future generations as having started the building of an institution that can significantly address the education crisis that the country has been facing for some time now.

         Because the key to improving the quality of education is having better teachers, the PBEd has helped draft a bill that can be introduced in the Philippine Senate.  The Act calls for improving teacher quality through the establishment of a teacher education for achievers program.  According to UNESCO, research has shown that teachers, more than any other constituent group in education, determine educational quality and student achievement.  In particular, “Research studies have shown positive associations between student achievement and teachers’ academic skills, level of content knowledge, years of experience and participation in content-related professional development opportunities.”  There have been sporadic efforts in the past to strengthen pre-service teacher education and to impose higher admission requirements in teacher education programs, which included aptitude and motivation.  As can be gleaned, though, from the continuous underperformance of young Filipino students in international rankings, improving teacher quality through teacher education and training still lacks the widespread support and prioritization that it deserves. 

         It is not enough to attract the best to teach.  There must also be serious efforts to uplift the image of teaching professionals and to support the job placement of qualified teachers, especially in the primary and secondary public education system.  The bill drafted by PBEd is aimed at enacting the Teacher Education for Achievers (TEACH) Program provides stronger incentives to develop high-achiever students as effective teachers.  The TEACH Program is merit-based in which applicants have to pass competitive examinations, both in the partner schools and in the program application.  It follows a fast-tracked model of teacher education program recruitment.  It recruits career-shifters to pursue a Certificate in Teaching Program (CTP) and junior-level undergraduates to complete teacher education programs.

         In the same way that in the business world coaching or mentoring has become a common practice to prepare future generations of business leaders, mentorship will be incorporated in the TEACH Program,  Prospective teachers have to be prepared academically, social and psychologically, too.  A proven means to do this is through mentorship, which will be at the heart of the TEACH Program, where grantees will be guided by vetted and qualified mentors.  The SEAMEO Innotech study on teacher motivation showed that mentors inspired students to follow teaching.  In turn, the students, when they become teachers, have stronger resolve to persevere in the teaching profession.  In fact, here again in this very crucial process of person-to-person guidance, the many initiatives of business and civil society to give a hand to the public sector in promoting the common good will be very helpful.

         There have been numerous instances in which, on their own initiatives, non-governmental organizations and business enterprises have worked closely with public school principals and teachers to improve the quality of teaching.  Let me just cite a few examples to encourage many more institutions to help in improving the quality of teachers.  CitySavings, a savings bank owned by the Aboitiz group, regularly supports the Brigada Eskwela of the Department of Education.  At the height of the pandemic, the Bank mobilized the provision of safety and sanitation essential to complement the DepEd’s efforts in ensuring the health, safety and well-being of teachers, students and non-teaching personnel.  In consultation with DepEd regional and division offices within the local communities, the Bank contributed to various education-related interventions through other Teaching and Learning Support initiatives.   It provided technological support and learning equipment, printing materials and supplies as well as hand washing facilities to enable schools to keep up with the expectation of the new normal ways of teaching and learning. 

         As the public schools pivoted to online instruction, CitySavings helped with both funds and manpower in implementing Project Agile:  Learning Series for Teachers, a string of virtual training modules that aim to equip teachers with tools and skills to efficiently collaborate and conduct classes online. To further advance the teachers’ “digitization,” CitySavings partnered with Thames International EduRescue and Akadasia Singapore for HEROES 2021 (Help Educators Rise to Online Education for SY 2020-2021).  This is a more intensive training program designed to upgrade educators’ online teaching skills and provide the tools needed to transition into flexible learning modalities in delivering classroom instruction.  In partnership with Alchemy Education, Inc. the bank implemented the Project Teach:  Educator Empowerment Program (EEP), an innovative teacher development initiative that provides schools with the means to give all  teachers year-round training on critical areas that affect the quality of teaching and learning.  Going beyond teaching skills, the bank, in partnership with MentalHealthPH, provided practical tips and professional advice on how teachers can better take care of themselves, all in the comforts of their homes.  There were 205,000 teaching and non-teaching personnel who registered at the online courses and webinars provided by CitySavings to 755 DepEd beneficiary schools, divisions and regional offices nationwide. Employees of the bank coming from 107 branches nationwide volunteered 3,700 hours in the implementation of the various initiatives.

           Another banking group that has done much to help the Department of Education to improve the quality of basic education is Metro Bank.  The Metrobank Foundation, in partnership with DepEd and the Mathematics Teachers Association of the Philippines sponsors an annual math competition aimed at raising the competitiveness of elementary and high school students.  It is the longest-running math competition in the country with more than half a million students participating in the national elimination rounds yearly.  The Foundation also has many initiatives aimed at motivating teachers at the basic education level to excel in their profession.  The Foundation was founded under the initiative of the late George Ty, Founder of Metro Bank.  In this regard, it is notable that many of the ongoing efforts of the private business sector to help improve the quality of teachers can be attributed to businesses established by Filipino Chinese entrepreneurs like Mr. George Ty.  The other prominent ones are the SM Group founded by the late Henry Sy; the Lucio Tan group; the Megaworld Group established by Andrew Tan.  This fact may be attributed to the very high value given to education in the Confucian culture associated with the Chinese.  We have to mobilize all these resources and more in addressing the Philippine education crisis.  For comments, my email address is bernardo.villegas@uap.asia.