Falling student proficiency

Falling student proficiency

The secretary of the Department of Education was miffed. A week ago the World Bank reported that 80 percent of Filipino children fell below the minimum levels of proficiency in reading and mathematics. Education Secretary Leonor Briones decried what she said was a breach of protocol, which requires that the government be notified first before the release of such reports, especially since this one was based on old data.

Briones said the World Bank had sent her a letter of apology, but she wants a public apology. The report was based on the results of the country’s participation in the Program for International Student Assessment or PISA in 2018, the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study as well as the Southeast Asia Primary Learning Metrics, both in 2019.

As the DepEd correctly pointed out, the quality of education at all levels “is a product of a long process,” with the World Bank itself a party to this evolution in the Philippines through major reform programs that it has funded. DepEd is currently negotiating with the World Bank for a $110-million loan to finance a teacher upskilling program and another $100 million to boost the Alternative Learning System.

Limited resources for education, low pay that has led to an exodus of teaching talent for greener pastures overseas, language issues, a general deterioration in English proficiency, and even poor nutrition among impoverished students have been among the factors that have contributed to the decline in the quality of Philippine education.

The pandemic has aggravated the challenges as DepEd was forced to shift to blended learning and students were confined at home. DepEd reported that 1.1 million basic education students failed to enroll this school year. If proficiency assessments are conducted at this time among Filipino students in the tests mentioned in the World Bank report, it’s unlikely that there will be significant improvements in the results.

Beyond demanding a public apology from the World Bank for using old data to illustrate that math and reading aptitudes of Filipino school children have fallen, it would be better if the DepEd could present updated data showing improvements in those areas.