Philippines: On the edge of reform of Pinoy education

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at
Thu Nov 13 16:11:32 UTC 2008

On the edge of reform of Pinoy education

Written on Wednesday, November 12th, 2008 at 11:39 pm | by blackshama

Basic education reform is close to my heart since those who end up in
my freshman class are products of our basic education system.  The
extent of reform and its hindrances are the subject of Professors
Cynthia Bautista of UP College of Social Science and Philosophy, Dina
Ocampo of the UP College of Education and Allan Bernardo of De La
Salle centennial lecture "When Reforms don't Transform: Reflections on
Philippine Education"

Bautista a sociologist discussed on the social structures that foster
and hinder reform. Bernardo, a cognitive psychology of education
expert discusssed why learning has been taken for granted by DepEd's
reform initiatives and Ocampo, a literacy and reading expert dealt
with the language issue.

Despite what I thought and people may think of DepEd, I was surprised
to hear that it is actively engaged in educational reform. The
alphabet soup of DepEd reform initiatives (BESRA, STRIVE, IMPACT, BEAM
etc) have reached 34% of the country's poorest schools. But DepEd's
initiatives are blunted by the project limited mentality of DepEd.
Bautista and Bernardo call this "projectization". Once the reform
project is over, there is little follow through and the results of
reform fizzle out.

Readers may argue that the NGO and private sectors (private schools
and business) can help. Yes they can help but cannot lead in the
reform effort. Education is one big national bureaucratic effort and
private schools are really run as a business. Helping out DepEd in
this way is a sort of CSR for private schools. Once enrolment drops,
these schools will have to tighten belts. Thus DepEd should lead. It
has no choice.

Before we proceed to other matters like the language issue, I will
have to echo the worrisome primary school completion rate data
presented at the lecture. The completion rate for Pinoy kids is 75%
down from 84% or so during the Erap presidency. This speaks volumes on
the priorities of the Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo administration and its
vaunted "ramdam ang kaunlaran" soundbite. We have now have the worst
completion rate in the whole of ASEAN. Even war ravaged Cambodia and
Laos have been achieving 99% completion rates in recent years.

The question posed by the speakers is ":Why" and it seems this is
linked with some problems in the society that is DepEd, the
schizophrenic language policy and the slow progress of education
decentralization. These BTW are all linked and have to be seen as a

The speakers reviewed the history behind it. We inherited the
structure of the American basic education system and how it is run.
This system is hierarchichal and with our Asian culture of deference,
schoolteachers defer to their superiors, who defer to their regional
superiors who defer to the Manila bureaucracy. Thus very little
initiative can be done at the local level. The DepEd reform
initiatives aim to do away with this. Bautista reports that some
innovation has been made and teachers have begun to manage their own
schools the way it fits their social realities.

It is surprising to learn that in the late 1920s, the Insular
government contracted US education experts to review the public
education system. The Americans were appalled at the less than 50%
primary school completion rates despite of their 20 year control of
basic education. They recommended decentralization and instruction in
the native languages. However Quezon's Commonwealth did not follow
these recommendations and instead imposed a Tagalog based National
language in hopes of fostering linguistic unity.

This leads us to the language problem which the nation hasn't been
able to finally resolve. Ocampo points a way forward.  She says that
it would be good if the State recognizes that the nation is
multilingual. She presents data to show that the average Pinoy is
quadrilingual. He/she can function in the regional language, English,
Filipino and because of the OFW phenomenon, some other foreign
language. She then presented evidence to show that children learn the
basic competencies (numeracy, literacy, values formation and science)
when taught in  the mother tongue in the early grades. These then
translates to better learning and comptencies in higher thinking
skills and in learning ENGLISH and the FILIPINO national language.
Ocampo gives statistics that show students in the provinces have
better science competency than English competency. We are left with
only one conclusion. Teachers don't teach science in English but in
their native languages thus subverting official policy.

However since 1973 we have been following a bilingual policy in which
science is taught in English and the arts and social sciences in
Filipino. She argues that this has been a major flop since very few
Pinoys (the elite) are truly bilingual. Many learn the regional
language first,then Filipino,then English in school. I do agree with
her. Children of the elite may be considered true bilinguals since
they learn Filipino and English right from the start. From the time I
can earliest recall,  my lola spoke to me only in Episcopalian English
and the rest of the household spoke to me  in Tagalog based Pilipino
(Filipino). I am part of the elite. I confess that it is the reason
why I feel insulted if Americans,the Brits, the Aussies do not
consider me a speaker of English as a first language. I am a true
bilingual. English and Filipino are FIRST LANGUAGES to me!

But that isn't the case with other Pinoys  who make the majority.
English is a second or even third language to them. Unfortunately the
response of the Philippine elite is to go back to the English as the
medium of language instruction strategy  that was considered a flop by
those American education experts in the 1920s. But we can really view
this as part of the answer to that all important question

"What is the true value of education for us Pinoys?"

The enlightened educators would like to see a reformed basic education
system in which learning results in not mere credentialing but
societal transformation and the development of life long learning
competencies. This according to Bautista, Bernardo and Ocampo is the
key to international competitiveness and not mere parroting of
American English accents. But according to former UP President Jose
Abueva, (who is one of Gloria's advisers on education reform) his
advisory committee's  TOR as provided by the Palace directs them to
improve English competency in the hopes that this will improve our
workforce competitiveness.

To which the three speakers said "it depends". If our vision of a
competitive workforce is to export labour as call centre agents,
nannies,care givers, domestics etc then that is the way to go. But
this is premised on the remittance mentality that props up the economy
and President Macapagal-Arroyo. I would agree. Every domestic and
international in the country airport has this GMA poster "Jobs for the

The DepEd reforms are on the right track it seems with some surprising
results. If local schools are able to manage their own logistics and
affairs, the data presented by Bautista shows reduced corruption in
the procurement of supplies and building of classrooms. It seems that
teachers are really good people! (Every schoolkid believes their
teachers are very good people!) When do teachers become bad?

I haven't even discussed about higher education but it reflects the
problems of basic education and even concentrates it. For example the
dysfunctional language policy is really obvious in the"English only
spoken here" schools! I am beginning to sense that the elite wants to
impose this policy to ensure their grip on power.
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