Reeducating and retooling educators

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Tita C. Valderama

Tita C. Valderama

Teaching life skills across all educational levels and re-training teachers to acquaint them with modern tools are probably the most important action plans that the government must prioritize for the Philippine education system to be at par with its neighbors in the region.

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These are among the long list of solutions to identified issues and challenges tackled during a two-day education summit in Manila.

It is undebatable that quality education is key to achieve the third millennium’s buzzwords like global competitiveness and sustainable development.

The Philippine education system has been plagued by perennial ills – inadequate budget, teacher and infrastructure shortages, and obsolete learning tools, among others.

While funding support for the education sector in the annual budget has been steadily increasing in the last decade, resulting in some reforms such as the introduction of the K-12 curriculum this year, much remains to be done to make Philippine education competitive in the global scheme.

Recognizing the weaknesses and strengths of the country’s education system and its critical role in economic development, the three government agencies principally mandated to provide quality education – Department of Education (DepEd), Commission on Higher Education (CHeD), and Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (Tesda) – staged last week the two-day summit that had an overflowing attendance of educators, funders, non-government organizations (NGOs), and other stakeholders.

The summit’s primary goal was to come up with specific actions to translate the visions laid down in the Philippine development plan. This was timely and relevant as the Duterte administration charts its action plans for the next six years.

Quoting African-American activist Malcolm X, Education Secretary Leonor Briones said: “Education is our passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to the people who prepare for it today.”

Increasing the budget for education is not enough, Briones said, as she emphasized the need for optimum use of the monies provided. She lamented that the education sector’s absorptive capacity has been too low, citing it as the reason for the initial hesitance from some lawmakers to grant a budget increase for 2017.

Briones noted that funds from 2015 and 2016 remain unused, but she was able to convince Congress that withholding the proposed funding increase would only leave the education sector lagging behind its neighbors, particularly at this time when the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) accelerates its regional integration as a competitive economic community in the global forum.

“We still have to prove that we are capable of spending every single centavo,” she said. “We have to break free from the ‘catch-up’ mode of budget execution that has characterized (DepEd’s) budget performance. We cannot keep on catching up.”

At the end of the summit, the participants agreed on a long list of action programs to strengthen the Philippine education system, with a view to producing highly skilled and competitive graduates in various fields, broadening their access to employment opportunities not only in the local but also in the international market, and enhancing economic gains.

The share of the education sector in the annual budget program has increased at an average of four percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in the past few years, but while the amounts of increase were already significant, the percentage share remains way below the international standard of 6 percent of GDP, according to Director Reynaldo Cancio of the National Economic and Development Authority (Neda).

The three education agencies recognized their responsibility for “increasing equitable access to quality and relevant education for all Filipinos, regardless of age, ethnicity, as well as social circumstances,” according to DepEd Assistant Secretary Nepomuceno Malaluan.

Part of promoting professionalism in the education sector is the certification of faculty, teachers, trainers, learning facilitators, assessors, as well as non-teaching personnel.

It was likewise resolved to expand and intensify programs meant to provide wider education access to persons with disabilities, out of school youth, and the poor but deserving students through the Alternative Learning Systems (ALS), Expanded Tertiary Education Equivalency and Accreditation program (ETEEAP) and Unified Student Financial Assistance System for Tertiary Education (Uni-FAST).

In recognition of the rapid technological innovations, the summit resolved to provide digital learning tools and equipment to educators and students to be able to produce globally skilled and competent workers.

As Briones pointed out, the Philippine Constitution mandated not only education as a priority, but quality education that is accessible to all.

The 10-point agenda for education, she said, can be summarized into four paths: raise the quality of education, make education relevant to the urgent needs and opportunities of the nation, make education accessible, and make education truly liberating.

Without competent teachers, educational reforms cannot be successful. Without the necessary learning tools, students cannot be at par with those in the region and in the international arena who are equipped with the latest available gadgets and information technological knowledge.

As Malcolm X said: “Education is our passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to the people who prepare for it today.”

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