Bernardo M. Villegas
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Practical Solutions to Education Crisis (Part 5)

             In ordinary circumstances in which households are not suffering from extreme poverty (as in the case of 22% of Filipinos today), the individuals most responsible for the education of the youth are the parents first, the teachers next, and the students themselves in that order.  In situations, however, where numerous parents are struggling to keep body and soul together of each of the family members, one cannot realistically depend on much parent participation in the education process of children (especially if one or both of them are OFWs).    Then the entire burden of education of the youth necessarily falls on the teachers.

            True enough, in a study of the World Bank reported by Cristina Cui of Philstar last September 22, 2023, it was found that the lack of mastery of teachers of what they teach and teacher absenteeism have been the major reasons for the high learning poverty that exists in the Philippines.  The findings of the World Bank included the conclusion that Filipino teachers have some of the most ineffective methods in Southeast Asia and that teaching training programs targeted at them have failed to improve their mastery of the content.  To make matters worse, the survey found out that 40 % of students surveyed reported that they had teachers who were sometimes or often missing in class.  It is no surprise that learning poverty in the Philippines was pegged by the World Bank in 2022 (the height of the pandemic) at 91 %--which means that around nine out of ten children aged 10 struggle to read simple text.   In simple language, these children are half-illiterate.  It has also been widely reported that Filipino fifteen-year-old rank lowest and second lowest in reading and mathematics, respectively in international tests. Before we despair, however, of our youth let us remember what we have written in the previous articles of this series that even half-illiterate people can be taught numerous skills that are in great in demand in the Philippines at this stage of our development (or underdevelopment!). You don’t have to be  a rocket scientist to be an excellent plumber or electrician, two types of skilled workers who are in great demand today.

            Other problems besetting the teaching profession identified by the World Bank study are low salaries, poor working conditions and weak career preparations.  This makes it difficult for the education systems to attract or select the best candidates.  The joke is that when a college graduate is unable to obtain a job, the usual resort is “Magtuturo na lang ako” (I will just teach).  This also implies that admission into preservice education programs and recruitment into teaching jobs often lack selectivity.  Even when there are formal criteria for teacher selection exist, these criteria are often not followed, with political “pull” playing a dominant role.

            Another cause of poor teacher performance in the Philippines, not identified in the World Bank study, is the overburdening of teachers with numerous non-teaching assignments.  Many teachers, in addition to their classroom tasks, are loaded with administrative work such as personnel administration, custodianship of property, financial management, supervision of co-curricular activities, social action programs, etc.  Time devoted to these non-teaching assignments eats up precious hours that could have been devoted to better preparation (teachers are often notorious for just regurgitating old teaching notes that can sometimes be decades-old); to individual mentoring of the pupils; or attending upskilling or retooling seminars, especially in the area of digitalization, etc.  Fortunately, under the leadership of Vice President Sara Duterte, also currently the Secretary of Education, the Department of Education just recently issued Department Order No.002 which removed these non-teaching tasks from public school teachers. Those responsible for determining the annual budget assigned to the Department of Education must realize, however, that DO 002 would imply increasing the budget allocated to DEPED so that it can hire a plantilla of non-teachers to perform the non-teaching functions.  They cannot just be re-assigned to school heads who themselves are an overburdened lot.

            School heads must be given all the time necessary to actually lead the process of improving the quality of education imparted to the students.  In this regard, let me extract some relevant advice given to school heads found in the writings of one of the most effective teachers I have known over the last fifty years.  He is Dr. Antonio Torralba who in his more than half of a century of teaching has covered the whole range of educating Filipinos, from the primary to the secondary to the tertiary and finally the post-graduate levels.  He has written extensively on educational issues and here I summarize his ideas about how to improve the quality of Filipino teachers. Over and above the issues of financial, physical and human resources is the primordial task of properly forming the teachers by those who are given the office for the school management and leadership:  the principal, the department heads, the level coordinators, the guidance counsellors, the master teachers, and senior teachers.  This total experience of the school forms an integral part of teacher development.  Dr. Torralba enumerates the important considerations that must be taken into account in improving the quality of the teacher.  His recommendations can be implemented without significant increases in financial and physical resources.

            In relation to teachers and teaching:  1)  Teacher search, selection and hiring—that protracted and thoughtful deliberate effort is exerted to ensure that only the best suited are selected and hired; 2) Syllabi and lesson plan review—that due content and strategies of classroom instruction and co-curricular programs are thoroughly planned, formulated, and reviewed in appropriate chunks and in accordance with the constant and current profile and needs of the students; 3) Teacher coaching, mentoring, training and development—that the teachers are made to undergo personalized, well-founded, laid-out, and implemented development interventions, both as teachers and as professionals; 4) School/classroom environment—that the physical and psychological ambiance of the school, including the provision of services, remains highly conducive for teaching and learning; 5) Teacher resources—that teachers are provided with a prudent level of teaching materials that fit their pedagogical  needs and programs.

            In relation to learners and learning, the criteria mentioned obviously apply to schools that have the freedom to choose the students they admit, which may not apply to most public schools (except elite schools like the science high schools).   Nevertheless the typical public school may still get some insights into how to deal with the students even if the conditions are not as favorable as assumed in this enumeration:  1)  Diagnosis and placement—that everything has to be known about the students (e.g. aptitudes, deep motivations, etc.) for their effective integral formation is actually known and utilized;  2) Classroom management—that the students are cultivated in prudence and self-discipline, to enable them to understand what is right and wrong in relation to deportment in learning and to take the optimum course of action each time, without need for outside forces; 3) Achievement measures—that the students are thoroughly evaluated  in their achievement, and that the nuances of their performance patterns get to be known; 4) Recuperation and enrichment—that the slow learners are given reasonable measures to recover from their weaknesses, and that superior students are given reasonable challenges that could put them back in stream in leadership capacity; 4) Co-curricular programs—that these programs are utilized to complement the formation activities in leadership, human virtues, and even intellectual virtues going on in the classroom and the rest of the campus; and 5) Learning resources—that the students are provided with a prudent level of materials for optimum learning.  To be continued.