A teacher and her students pray before beginning their first class of the new school year at Pedro Guevarra Elementary School in San Nicolas, Binondo, Manila on Monday, August 22, 2022. PHOTO BY MIKE ALQUINTO
MORE than 28 million students went back to school across the country this week. That’s a staggering number: four times the population of Singapore and half the population of Malaysia.
School opening week was plagued by the usual problems: lack of classrooms, lack of teachers, teachers who needed upskilling, and a K-to-12 system with holes to plug. To be fair, the government has been doing its best to build classrooms as quickly as possible, especially when rebuilding those that have been devastated by typhoons.
The shortage of teachers — or lack of interest in the teaching profession — is felt most strongly in urban areas, where class sizes could grow to 60 to 70 students, according to the Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT). The ACT has asked the Department of Education (DepEd) to hire more teachers and reduce class sizes.
According to ACT, there are still 26,000 apprenticeship positions to be filled by 2021. An additional 10,000 apprenticeship positions were created with the General Allocation Act 2022. In addition, from 2016 to 2020, another 2,500 positions remained unfilled by the education department. One way to address teacher shortages is to offer subsidized review classes for those who have nearly passed the Licensure Examination for Teachers (LET).
Another way to get more people to teach is to increase their salaries. From 20,754 pesos in 2019, Teacher 1, pay grade 11, received 25,439 pesos per month in 2022. It will increase to 27,000 pesos in 2023. These salaries are nothing to sneeze at, but they are woefully insufficient in an economy where the price of sugar per kilo has risen to 100 pesetas and a kilo of onions has a barbed wire price of 400 pesetas. Teachers’ pay rises can’t keep up with the runaway inflation of the last two years.
Before and after World War II, the best young Filipinos attended public schools. The trend reversed in the 1960s as public education budgets shrunk and teachers’ reputations suffered. The awakened children were encouraged to become doctors and lawyers. The ambitious were trained to enroll in business courses, while those who dragged through could become public school teachers “who always get a monthly salary anyway.”
The situation got so bad in the 1980s that public school teachers went abroad to work as housemaids and carers in Singapore, Hong Kong and the Middle East. They were premium employees. The foreign employers liked them because they spoke English, were good with children, cooked “exotic” dishes and “always took a bath,” according to the polls. The downside was the declining number of teachers and the social costs of working abroad: broken families, spoiled children, the strain of long-distance relationships.
The most controversial issue is the K-to-12 system. In theory, we need this system because an extra year will give students enough training to enter the labor market after grade 12. Also, we are one of the few countries in the world (the others are in Africa) that had less than 12 years of undergraduate schooling.
The K to12 system was planned and developed during the years of the Arroyo administration and implemented in 2012-2013 by the subsequent 3rd Aquino administration. The first full cohort of students will graduate from high school in 2024. While systems analysts will tell you that we will first complete the entire cohort and then analyze the results, others say that preliminary studies can be done by looking at the results of the national exams.
The results are bleak. Compared to the rest of Southeast Asia, Filipino students scored very poorly on reading comprehension, science skills, and math ability. From a country whose education system was once the envy of all of Southeast Asia, we’ve become a latecomer.
We believe the K-to-12 system can still be saved by hiring teachers, training those who already teach, having compliant textbooks in place, and introducing multimedia learning platforms. We still have time; the race is still on.
Otherwise, we won’t just be known as the country that trained rice farmers in Asia and is now the world’s largest importer of rice. We will also be known as the best student who was toppled from his throne and is now at the bottom of the heap.