By LUISA SANDOVAL
Additional research by Gabryelle Dumalag
Graphics by Dawn Peña
MANILA – Grade 7 student Carmela Garcia often runs out of internet load or data for her online classes. And on days that she has internet load, a stable connection is another story.
“It is still different when you are attending classes in person, where there is interaction among teachers and classmates. Interactions online are often limited and one cannot understand the lesson due to slow, intermittent connection,” Garcia told Bulatlat in a phone interview.
This current learning set-up, Garcia said, has affected the quality of education she is receiving.
The Philippine government set up a blended learning approach during the COVID-19 pandemic. This has been met with criticisms, highlighting how poor students will be left behind. The Department of Education said students should not worry about gadgets because modules may be printed for them.
With President Rodrigo Duterte set to deliver his last State of the Nation Address on July 26, teachers and students assailed that the existing budget is not sufficient to print and reproduce modules, exacerbating the already struggling state of education in the country.
A report from the World Bank revealed that more than 80 percent of Filipino students do not meet the learning standards in their respective grade levels. Among the key findings of the said report stated that the said poor performance is rooted “in students’ limited proficiency in the languages in which schooling takes place.”
The report also indicated that though there are inequities present in Philippine education, relatively privileged students such as those of higher socioeconomic status also perform poorly.
The key issues in Philippine schools are poor classroom discipline, a weak sense of student belonging and student bullying.
In response to the report, Department of Education Secretary Leonor Briones released a statement claiming that the said report was outdated and lacked historical context, demanding that the World Bank must apologize for the release of its study.
“The function of the World Bank is to serve the development interests of its members, not to inflict harm. If DepEd is to continue to regard the World Bank as a true development partner in education, I believe DepEd deserves a public apology. No less,” the statement read.
The World Bank did apologize for the early release of the report, temporarily removing it from its website. But the multilateral body did not apologize for the content.
The World Bank is not the first to point out the sorry state of education in the country.
In 2011, the Asian Development Bank noted that for every 100 Grade 1 students, only half of them are able to finish high school. School dropouts are said to be “highly concentrated in the poor and other disadvantaged population groups.”
The pandemic aggravated the situation. As reported by the government’s Philippine News Agency, the Department of Education said that only 23 million students were enrolled both in public and private schools as of August 2020, a far cry from the 27.7 enrollees in 2019.
In the last five years, the Duterte administration did not invest enough in the education sector. While the Department of Education received an increase in its budget, this is widely due to Personnel Services, being one of the biggest government agencies.
For its 2021 budget, personnel services accounted for 80 percent of the total budget. This is a 73-percent increase compared to the 2016 budget. Meanwhile, DepEd’s Maintainance and Other Operating Expenses and Capital Outlay in 2021 were allocated a measly 17 percent and 3 percent, respectively.
The budget for Capital Outlay, an expenditure category used to fund goods and services beyond the fiscal year, suffered an 80-percent decline from 2016 to 2021. Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) Secretary-General Raymond Basilio said that this budget is used to build classrooms and other school facilities.
“We have a very big dilemma on the number of classrooms in the country. Yet, we see a sharp decline on the budget allocation for capital outlay. This when the government is supposedly prioritizing Build Build Build, except for those needed in the education sector,” Basilio said in a phone interview.
He added that the nominal allocation for the education budget seems to have increased. But this remains small in relation to the overall government spending since Duterte became president.
Out of the P4.5-trillion ($90-billion) national budget for 2021, only about 12.36% or P556 billion ($11.1 billion) is allotted for the DepEd. This is lower than the recommended budget allocation of at least 15 to 20 percent of public expenditure to education, per the UNESCO’s Education 2030 Framework for Action or the Incheon Declaration.
There were also reduced budgets for education programs that could have provided a more inclusive environment for the poor.
DepEd’s inclusive education program, which covers multigrade education, special education, madrasah education for Muslim learners, indigenous peoples’ education, and alternative learning system, a measly P1.2 billion ($24 million) out of the P500 billion ($10 billion) 2019 budget was allotted.
The budget for the DepEd’s program that covers the improvement and maintenance of school facilities, providing public schools and learning centers learning resources, and supplying technologies to public schools was reduced from P62 billion ($1.2 billion) in 2020 to P40 billion ($800 million) this year.
In 2018, the Philippines ranked one of the lowest in the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). The latter assesses the students’ proficiency in reading, mathematics and science.
Data from the Southeast Asia Primary Learning Metrics (SEA-PLM) in 2019 revealed that Grade 5 Filipino students lag behind the same-grade students from Vietnam and Malaysia in reading, writing and mathematics.
Reports also show that as the pandemic continues to plague the country, more and more private schools are closing down, leaving public schools overpopulated and its facilitators and teachers overworked.
As such, the World Bank’s report assessing the Philippine education should not have surprised anyone, ACT Teachers Rep. France Castro said in a press release, adding that the government has not prioritized education in the first place.
“DepEd’s incompetence immensely impacts teachers and students’ performance. Among the outputs of DepEd’s incompetence and haphazard implementation of so-called education reform is the curriculum congestion, which compromises adequate teaching time and students’ deeper understanding. This is worsening under the case of blended learning scheme,” Castro said.
Parents, teachers struggle too
In May, the Commission for Higher Education drew flak over “flexible learning is here to stay” pronouncement, with critics saying that the government should not romanticize the hardships of students.
Aside from students, parents are also struggling over distance learning.
Garcia’s mother Beth said that she had mixed feelings about distance learning. Besides Garcia, she has four more children to look after when they take their classes.
“I focus on my two junior high school students in the morning. When the two elementary students are up, I also guide them in their modules. My college student is already independent and would assist in her free time,” Beth Garcia said.
While they are safe from the virus studying at home, she is worried over her children’s emotional growth.
The set-up has also kept her from looking for work in the face of the family’s increased expenses. Since distance learning began, she has stopped working on the side. “Before the pandemic, I can go to work as soon as I send my children to school. Now, I can hardly leave home.”
On the other hand, teachers also struggle amid remote learning.
During the pandemic, only P5,000 ($100) worth of cash allowance were provided by the DepEd as financial assistance for supplies and internet bills.
As provided by the Bayanihan Law 2, the education department was allotted P2.4 billion ($48 million) out of P4.3 billion ($86 million) budget to purchase laptops for public school teachers. However, Castro said that these laptops, along with allowances promised to them, are not yet received.
“Why are teachers still digging their own pockets for internet load and modules? These are important benefits and programs under the Bayanihan Law 2 that the DepEd said is 90-percent obligated funds. But these have yet to be seen on the ground,” Castro said.
Undoing poor policies
In a previous privilege speech, Kabataan Partylist Rep. Sarah Elago said that as the government prepares for the resumption of safe face-to-face classes, a thorough risk assessment and evaluation of the health situation in the communities should be conducted.
Elago added that clear guidelines are important in helping the multi-level coordination of local government units and educational institutions in planning and funding the gradual safe resumption of face-to-face classes.
Basilio said that the government must recognize and uphold teachers’ rights and welfare amid the pandemic. “The government must provide quality and safe education for the Filipino youth, while at the same time ensuring that teachers’ rights are upheld. This means that labor rights of teachers are respected.”