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Opinion

Education Cha-cha

COMMONSENSE - Marichu A. Villanueva - The Philippine Star

In the initial brush of the Charter change (Cha-cha) debates, it baffles us why should education be included among those proposed amendments to the country’s 1987 Constitution. It is common knowledge there are a lot of private schools and learning institutions in our country that have non-Filipino origins and, in fact, are owned and operated by foreigners.

Many of Filipino families, though, can only send their children to avail the free public schools that the government could provide. Unfortunately, the quality of the public school system has apparently deteriorated through the years. Filipino learners reportedly continue to lag behind in mathematics and reading comprehension.

In fact, only one public school in Metro Manila scored above the minimum proficiency level in the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) 2022 global comprehension survey. A Department of Education (DepEd) official admitted this before a Senate public hearing last month. Only the Benigno S. Aquino High School in Makati City made the cut out of all Metro Manila public schools in the study while five more passed the PISA assessment, but they were all private schools.

Based from the 2022 PISA report, the Philippines ranked sixth lowest among the participating countries in the study.

A total of 7,193 students in 187 public and private schools all over the Philippines completed the assessment in mathematics, reading or science – representing about 1,782,900 individual 15-year-old students – or an estimated 83% of the total population of 15-year-olds, according to the 2022 PISA report.

As the chairman of the Senate Committee on Basic Education, Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian supports specifically Cha-cha to improve the country’s basic education. Also as the chairman of the Senate Committees on Ways and Means, Sen. Gatchalian said the Philippine government could only raise so much revenues and income out of taxes and fees. Thus, he believes more resources other than imposing more taxes and fees could be sourced outside the Philippines and allow the latest foreign innovation and technology to help address the woes of our education system.

It turned out that Sen. Gatchalian authored the first-ever filed “Resolution of Both Houses (RBH) of Congress to convene the 19th Congress as a constitutional assembly and to propose amendments to certain restrictive provisions of the 1987 Constitution.” Sen. Gatchalian filed RBH No. 1 on Aug. 15, 2022 calling for Cha-cha to amend Articles XII, XIV and XVI. The proposed Cha-cha amendment included the lifting of restrictions on foreign ownership of basic education schools and institutions in the Philippines.

This we learned from Sen. Gatchalian himself when he guested in our Kapihan sa Manila Bay news forum last Wednesday. Gatchalian believes the country needs “to liberalize” the education sector for the benefit of Filipino learners but its impact is not immediate.

Gatchalian disclosed his sentiments in favor of what he calls as “education Cha-cha” as urgent in the light of many studies showing deterioration in the quality of the Philippine education through the years of neglect. Gatchalian also heads the Joint Congressional Education Committee-2 (EdCom-2), which he co-chairs with his House counterpart, Pasig City Rep. Roman Romulo.

“But my personal point of view after listening to all of them, doing my own analysis, we can open up education in the context of Charter change as short term. We cannot look at education as a major driver of foreign direct investment in the short term. We use education as the building block. We impart knowledge, training now, but we reap the benefits, five, maybe 10 years or even longer,” Gatchalian pointed out.

“Then, we can level up our economy from a labor-intensive economy to a knowledge-based and innovation-based front. We cannot jump from the labor-base phase to the innovation phase. We need to create the building blocks and one of the building blocks is knowledge and training,” he explained.

As mandated, the EdCom-2 conducts consultations and public hearings all over the country to gather inputs and feedback from the teachers, students and other education stakeholders. Given a life of three years, the EdCom-2 that started last year must complete its study and recommended legislative measures for submission by next year to the 19th Congress.

“This year we plan to increase the number of (EdCom-2) recommendations so that we can have meaningful reforms in the education system. We also acknowledge that in 2025, will be the next round of PISA. So hopefully this year and next year we’ll have reforms that will improve learner outcomes and improve our PISA outcomes,” he promised.

He, however, hastened to clarify the Philippine rank in the 2022 PISA was almost the same in the 2018 PISA. He conceded, though, the country’s education suffered much during the more than two years of “schools lockdown” following the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in the country in March 2022.

So far, Gatchalian disclosed, the EdCom-2 have so far gathered urgent “to-do” measures that can be done administratively by the DepEd headed in concurrent capacity by Vice President Sara Duterte. Sen. Gatchalian noted with satisfaction that the VP has kept an open mind on the needed improvements of Filipino learners as Dep-Ed Secretary.

The Vice President has publicly opposed Cha-cha mode through the controversial people’s initiative.

“So if we listen carefully to the stakeholders, especially those who are advocating educational Cha-cha, we are looking at increasing research and development to produce more students and better graduates,” Gatchalian pointed out. “There are stakeholders who are against opening up the education sector, but there are also stakeholders who are pro, or in favor of opening up the education sector,” he noted.

Meanwhile, Gatchalian admitted the Senate is also rushing the passage into law of several substantive education bills. “So we’re just very busy finishing up all the bills that are on hand, on the floor so that before we go on a break all of these can be done,” he added. Both chambers are scheduled to enjoy a one-month recess before the Holy Week on March 22.

But the legislative mill is clogged up with local House bills that mostly rename schools, colleges/universities to so and so personalities and congressional districts. Such gives impetus to education Cha-cha.

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