Bernardo M. Villegas
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Improving Quality of Philippine Education (Part 1)

 The mass media has been recently bombarded with information about the poor quality of Philippine education.  The public has been presented almost ad nauseam with data on the Philippines having the highest learning poverty in the Indo-Pacific region and Philippine 15-year-old students scoring the lowest in international achievement tests in reading comprehension, mathematical literacy and scientific knowledge and reasoning.  There is also the reference to the lowest percentage of GDP spent on education spent by the Philippine Government in comparison with our ASEAN peers.

Should we be worried about all these adverse reports about Philippine education?  Absolutely yes.  If we do not improve the reading comprehension, mathematical literacy and scientific knowhow that the children of today are getting from our educational system, there is now way we can attain the Ambisyon Natin 2040 laid up by our government economic agencies.  The children of today are the adults of the next twenty years who will have to face the highly technical world of the next decade or so that will be characterized by what is called Industrial Revolution 4.0, replete with the use of Artificial Intelligence (AI), Robotization, Internet of Things, and Big Data.  The best we can attain if we cannot improve the quality of basic education  is to be caught in the so-called Middle Income Trap like what happened to many Latin American countries in the last decade or so.

Obviously, it will be the Philippine Government who has to lead in improving the quality of Philippine basic education.  It is the State that is constitutionally mandated to provide free quality education at the elementary and secondary levels of education.  As in all things, however, we cannot leave the Government alone in addressing this most important challenge.  All other sectors of society, i.e., the business sector, civil society. and the various churches must contribute both their ideas and active participation in helping our children and youth to have access to quality education as soon as possible.  Fortunately, a group of business people, academics and NGOs banded together under the Philippine Business for Education to collaborate closely with Government in improving the quality of Philippine basic education.

Here, I will summarize briefly the content of a recent paper issued by PBEd entitled “Shared Prosperity Through A People-Centered Agenda for Nutrition and Education.”  My purpose is to have their policy recommendations known as widely as possible so that every concerned citizen can make a contribution, no matter how small, to carrying out the agenda presented in the PBEd paper.  Briefly, the Agenda consists of the following:

1.      All children must be able to access quality pre-Kindergarten to Grade 3 education and development programs.

2.     Improve the quality of instruction and teachers with the target that all learners meet basic skills based on international standards.

3.     Use the lens of lifelong learning to workforce development.

4.     Fully leverage private education to complement delivery of services.

5.     Strengthen autonomy, coupled with accountability, of school leaders and local governments.

        The key proposals under Agenda 1 include aligning all public agencies for integrated Pre-Kinder to Kinder transition.    The government agencies that have to put their act together in improving child development and nutrition are the various LGUs, the DSWD, DOH, DepEd, DOST, DA, EECD Council and NNC.  Some exemplary LGUs can be used as role models in the implementation of programs at the pre-Kindergarten to Grade 3 level.  Among them are the Quezon City experience in establishing learning hubs at the Barangay level.  A similar search should be for community learning levels.  As regards nutrition, I would suggest the Quezon Province 1,000-day program for the nutrition of pregnant mothers and babies during the first two years of their lives.  There should be an expansion of private education vouchers for pre-K and Kindergarten.  Under the 4Ps, there should be cash incentives for parents to participate in these programs.

            The private sector, both the business community and civil society, can play a major role in linking nutrition to the quality of education.  As pointed out by Pope Francis, there is a culture of waste in the food industry, even as we fret about food security.  So much food is thrown away as soon-to-expire products or as restaurant wastes.  These can be o recycled as still edible food for the needy, especially the milk and protein needed by babies and children for their brains to develop in a healthy manner and to avoid stunting, which is a serious cause of maleducation.  Fortunately, there is an increasing number of food manufacturers who, either on their own or through some charitable foundations, are making their soon-to-expire food and beverage (especially milk) products available for distribution to the underprivileged households.  I would like to especially cite such food enterprises as Alaska Milk Corporation, Century Pacific, Starbucks, San Miguel Corporation, Jollibee, MacDonalds, Amici Restaurant, Nutri Asia, Monde Nissin, Unilever, Arla Milk, Krispy Kreme, All Day Supermarket, Pan de Manila, Mary Grace Restaurant, Meadow Fresh Milk, and Dole Philippines who are among the biggest donors of food to the Philippine Food Bank Foundation, Inc.  To be continued.