Addressing the Challenge of Quality in Basic Education
Secretary Leonor Magtolis Briones
Department of Education
(Speech at the Launch of Sulong EduKalidad
Bulwagan ng Karunungan, Department of Education) December 3, 2019
Access to Education
Provision of access to basic education has always been a key priority of our government. We all agree that access to education is the first step to achieving a bright future. That is why we always aim that every Filipino has and will have access to complete basic education.
Earlier this month, I reported to the President and the Cabinet that sustained historical government investment in education has produced major gains in access to education. Our continuous efforts resulted to access indicators showing upward development.
The achievements are being recognized by the people. DepEd has the highest approval rating among line agencies of the executive, and we have been reaching the highest levels of approval as a Department under the present term.
All these successes are not only of the department’s; these are the products of holistic, cohesive and unified efforts to provide the Filipinos access to basic education. This is why I–along with my team and the whole of DepEd family–continue to work hard, and to be grateful to all of you here who have contributed to this pursuit.
Still, no one should be left behind. We continue to address the remaining access gaps in basic education, such as through our Last Mile Schools Program.
The Challenge to Shift to Quality
While we are very happy to see major development in terms of access to basic education, we finally need to respond to the biggest lingering challenge of basic education in the country: QUALITY, particularly of our students’ learning outcomes.
The performance of our students in large scale assessment, the National Achievement Test, which we administer for Grade 6, Grade 10 and Grade 12, gravitates
towards the low proficiency levels especially in Science, Math and English. In 2018, DepEd boldly decided to participate for the first time in the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) of the Organisation for Economic Co- operation and Development (OECD). PISA is a triennial international assessment administered to a representative sample of 15-year old students to test their proficiency in reading, science and mathematics.
The PISA results, where we placed last among 79 participating countries and near last in science and mathematics, puts in even sharper focus our need to address quality in basic education.
The standards of education quality is even made more challenging by technology. Professor Schwab, the Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum, said that there is a revolution that is happening right now, which is fundamentally changing the way we live – whether we are aware of it or not. Industry 4.0’s technologies, such as artificial intelligence, genome editing, augmented reality, robotics, and 3-D printing, are rapidly changing the way humans create, exchange, and distribute value. In my generation, we only used computers to calculate, record, and make a simple analysis. But now, the world is different. Artificial Intelligence, through our computers and our phones, they are watching us. AI knows when your blood pressure is high, what ads to show on your Facebook feed, and even influence us in what videos, series, and movies to binge-watch on Netflix. There are fears that there would be a time when AI and IT will be controlling our lives and not the other way around.
As early as the 1960s, Frank Herbert’s DUNE novels have already considered that robots with human brain implants will rule the world. Nothing can be more formidable than the combination of a robot and a human, and that is also quite likely.
Yuval Noah Harari, author of Homo Deus and one of the most fascinating writers today, says that by 2030 or 2050, we will not know how we will live life at the way that we are replacing our body parts, at the rate that we are redesigning not only our eyes and noses but everything else. We cannot predict how we will look like, how we will act, and how we will think.
The President of Peru, when he hosted us education ministers, observed that by the time our learners graduate, everything that we have taught them will be irrelevant. This is the uncertainty of the job market. We provide our learners with pre-determined skills, but we don’t even know what the world will demand, and how the world will be like by 2030 or even in 2050. We don’t know what skills people will need.
Today there is an influx of enormous data accessible in one click – but we don’t know what to do with it.
The Core Components of Sulong EduKalidad
Today, we launch Sulong EduKalidad, our rallying call for a national effort for quality basic education.
With the various changes that are happening in our world today, what are the challenges in 21st-century education that we must respond to, as we launch Sulong EduKalidad?
- K to 12 curriculum review and update
The first challenge is to produce a new breed of learners – learners who think critically. Critical thinking is not about teaching our children to criticize. It is about breaking apart a problem or an issue or a challenge, and using foundational and specialized knowledge and skills, especially in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM), to find solutions and innovations.
But we must balance our education with humanities, and that is where the social science in education comes in. Ministers of Education agree that even if AI is on the rise, even if FIRe is on the rise, we have to retrieve our humanity. Three years ago, I asked high school students, “can AI produce a play like Shakespeare did? Romeo and Juliet?
Or can AI produce a symphony like Beethoven?” Their answer was no. A few months ago, I asked the same question to certain groups, “Can AI produce this? Can AI produce that?” Their answer was a resounding yes.
My son who is a painter, a studio arts graduate of the University of the Philippines, combines IT digital imaging with painting; and that is perhaps the direction at present – the fusion of human skills with AI. If we concentrate only on catching up on science and technology, but forget history, culture, and arts, what makes us different? Where will we Filipinos get our soul?
Thus, the first core component of Sulong EduKalidad is the review and updating of the K to 12 curriculum. I have also directed the setting up of a Futures Thinking Unit at DepEd, so that we can think about, and adapt our curriculum to, the future.
2. Improving the learning environment
There is also a challenge for us to improve our facilities and equipment. We at DepEd are trying to distribute computers as fast as possible. In Taguig, which is my favorite example, the local government helps DepEd ensure that each of their students has a computer. Some of their classrooms are also already equipped with smart blackboards.
Beyond physical facilities, we must also ensure that our schools are safe spaces for learning. We must be able to give our learners a learning environment where they are able to share their thoughts, views and experiences without fear of judgment, and where we are able to empower them to make informed and responsible decisions.
Thus, the second pillar of Sulong Edukalidad will be to sustain the improvements in our learning environment, in terms of physical facilities, learning resources, and safe and nurturing schools.
3. Teachers’ upskilling and reskilling
Arguably the most crucial challenge, is with our teachers. With fast changing standards of education quality, our teachers must be able to constantly keep up with the times. As I have said many times, the battle for quality basic education will be fought and won inside the classroom, by our teachers.
Teaching requires continuous innovation. I have seen new ways of teaching. I read a textbook in Mathematics which revolves around the story of Juan Tamad. Local themes, as well as issues, were embedded in the story of Juan Tamad. I stayed up to 3 o’clock in the morning reading a textbook about a subject that I hate.
Jesus Insilada, a teacher in a rural town, was able to get awards and recognition since he innovated and upgraded his way of teaching. That is what we want our teachers to absorb, to be able to innovate and be relevant to the changing times.
Thus, the third pillar of Sulong EduKalidad is the reskilling and upskilling of our teachers. We will be investing and giving our full support to our teachers for their in- service professional development, and provide the proper incentives through career progression and promotion opportunities as they develop their teaching proficiency.
Already, we have secured the approval of the President and the Cabinet to expand the levels of teacher positions by adding Teacher 4 to Teacher 7, with higher salary grades, to the existing Teacher 1 to Teacher 3. This will allow for broader promotions opportunities for our teachers as they advance in their professional development.
4. Engagement of stakeholders for support and collaboration
Finally, we will need the help of all sectors and communities. Our experience is that everyone, whether local governments, parents, alumni associations, NGOs, the private sector, development partners, is ready to contribute to the education of our children.
Thus, the fourth pillar of Sulong Edukalidad is the engagement of stakeholders for support and collaboration. In our push for quality, we will need more than contributions of physical facilities, which is what we have been used to. We need to deepen our engagement to consultation, collaborative research and analysis, and high level advice to strategic policy, planning and programming for quality. This is the reason why a few weeks ago, we convened the Philippine Forum for Education Quality, to provide us a coalition for quality education that can sustain itself across administration transitions.
The learner at the center of Sulong Edukalidad
At the center of Sulong EduKalidad is the Filipino learner. The first letters of the four pillars of Sulong Edukalidad form the word KITE. Sulong EduKalidad is our commitment to help our learners achieve their full potential, for their kite of dreams to fly high through quality basic education for all.