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DepEd chief: RP education has sunk to its lowest level

MANILA, Philippines -- It was the Department of Education that first raised the alarm in 2006 that the quality of education in the country had sunk to its lowest level, Education Secretary Jesli Lapus said.

“The problem is systemic. The entire system is [seriously affected],” said the DepEd chief, reacting to President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s admission that the state of education continued to worsen during a consultative meeting in Baguio City Monday.

In a phone interview, Lapus minced no words in disclosing the woes faced by his department.
“Everybody is aware that education is a primordial concern in our country. From the start, we have raised the alarm and it succeeded in getting national attention and support and involving the private sector,” he said.

No overnight solutions

However, Lapus said improving the quality of education could not be done overnight.

“The issues confronting us are the [result] of decades of under-investment, understatement ... English has had to take a back seat. The reading skills also suffered with many Grade 6 students unable to read,” he said.

Consider this: Of the elementary school teachers tested for English proficiency in the school year 2006-2007 by the DepEd, only 60 percent passed.

The secondary education teachers fared worse -- only 20 percent passed, 70 percent were below the desired proficiency and 10 percent failed the test.

Impact on education

These are full-fledged teachers, said Lapus, pointing to the tremendous impact on the entire educational system of teachers who fail to master English, the medium of instruction in all public schools.

“How many thousands of students are affected by this? We have our hands full. This will take time but we’re doing everything to address these [educational problems],” he said.

With regard to the students’ proficiency in English, Lapus said the problem started in the primary level.

“The biggest dropout rates are in Grades 1, 2, 3,” he said, disclosing a dropout rate of 25 percent in the three grades.

Day-care as preschool

Only 40 percent of those in Grade 1, Lapus said, passed the readiness test, an examination to gauge the pupils’ familiarity with the three core subjects of Reading, Writing and Arithmetic.

The solution could take the form of an “intervention” during the formative years, he said.

Some 50,000 day-care centers [already established in barangays] can be transformed into preschools with standard instructional materials and trained day-care workers, according to Lapus. The target is 1.8 million 5-year-old children this year, and 2 million children next year.

This would reduce dropout rates in succeeding years and increase the “holding power” of schools, he said.

But the scheme would need an additional budget of P2 billion, on top of the proposed DepEd budget for 2008, which at P146 billion, is already the biggest among the departments.

Retraining teachers

During a meeting with education stakeholders in Baguio City, the President said she had earmarked P500 million for the retraining of teachers in English proficiency to arrest the declining quality of education in schools.

Ms Arroyo expressed alarm over the teachers’ proficiency in English, stressing that teachers, not just students, needed retraining.

The sooner the deficiencies are fixed, the better, she said.

The President made no bones about her concern over the current state of English-teaching, recalling a comment by Sen. Richard Gordon that many of the semi-finalists in a recent English competition could not “verbalize” their answers to interview questions.

In the past several weeks, Ms Arroyo has met with various academic groups and education stakeholders from both the public and private sectors to discuss reform measures intended to upgrade the quality of Philippine education.

Written, not spoken

Lapus said teachers were not proficient in English because it’s mostly used for writing but seldom spoken.

“The defect is oral. So we plan to put up speech laboratories. You won’t learn to speak [English] unless you hear and say it,” he said, disclosing the mentoring scheme in which English-proficient teachers teach their colleagues basic grammar and other nuances of the language.

Small victories

Lapus also talked about his department’s small victories in the battle against illiteracy.

He said the national achievement test results improved last year, albeit far from commendable.
There was an average improvement in the three core subjects: English, 12.45 percent; Math, 12.3 percent, and Science 10.2 percent.

This is an 11. 8-percent improvement on all three learning areas, compared to the mean score in 2006.

“We’re very proud of that,” he said.

Lapus said that after the Grade 3 pupils were taught “effective reading and comprehension,” there was an improvement in reading skills in both English, 9.6 percent, and Filipino, 12.5 percent, compared to 2006 scores, or a composite difference of 11 percent.

National awareness

“We have a myriad of problems in the education sector. But we can say that we have aroused national awareness and participation in education as a societal concern,” he said, pointing to the “adopt-a-school program” which encourages private companies to invest in selected schools.

“We have raised P4 billion in contributions and pledges from the private sector for basic public education,” Lapus said.


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