Albay Rep. Joey Sarte Salceda, House ways and means Committee chairman, has urged his colleagues for the passage of a series of bills he has filed in Congress under his Comprehensive Education Reform Agenda, to address the country’s “latent or covert illiteracy” problem which he referred to as a “ticking economic time bomb.”
Salceda issued his call in reaction to a news report quoting the Department of Education, which said as many as 70,000 grade school pupils in the Bicol Region are unable to read.
“Any one child who reaches higher levels of elementary school without knowing how to read is already a cause for concern; 70,000 in one region alone is a crisis,” said Salceda, citing reports based on DepEd Bicol 2019 data which he said is certainly true as well in other regions of the country.
“When I was Albay Governor from 2007 to 2016, Bicol made significant strides in education, to the point that many of our efforts in Albay were replicated across the country and we were nationally recognized and awarded. It appears to me that when government changes and it becomes less aggressive in promoting better quality of educations, the outcomes also slide back,” the lawmaker said.
“This emphasizes the need for systemic national reform, so that whatever progress is made should actually endures. Education outcomes should not depend on who’s in charge. I’m almost certain that when the other regions release their data, we will see similar issues,” he said.
“PISA 2018, and now this. We should call the situation what it is: a national crisis that requires decisive national action,” he added, referring to the 2018 worldwide ranking by the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) which placed the Philippines at 76th among 77 countries in its evaluation of 15-year-old school pupils’ scholastic performance on mathematics, science and reading.
“This is a ticking economic time bomb. We need to respond with a policy as soon as we can. For all our talk of the ‘demographic dividend,’ if young Filipinos are not properly skilled and properly educated, if they cannot apply what’s in their books in practical, everyday life, then we shall have failed as a country and as a system. We will not be able to compete in the next generation,” he noted.
A respected economist, Salceda said “the economic costs for every non-literate learner can be staggering. “Functional literacy is a determinant of whether a student finishes school. On average, the rates of return to education go as much as 7 percent per year of high school, and up to 22 percent per year of college,” he explained.
“Those who cannot finish school because they are not functionally literate will likely earn about 50% of what a college degree-holder earns, on average. Aggregately, if the rate of latent illiteracy are the same for all regions, we could be foregoing up to 2% of national income every year by the time these students start working. This is staggering,” he added.
Salceda said the quest for best education system is the reason why he filed several proposals, under his Comprehensive Education Reform Agenda: 1) HB 6231, the Teacher Empowerment Act, which will empower teachers and ‘deload’ their schedules so they have more time for learner interventions;
2) HB 6247, the K to 12 Reform Act, a comprehensive improvement of the curriculum towards better skills and deeper understanding of lessons; 3) HB 6287, the Meister Schools Act, to help close the skills gap; and 4) HB 6295, the Universal Free School Meals Program, to close the nutrition gap that stunts school children’s potential and making it harder for them to learn basic life skills.
“I am especially gunning for Universal Free School Meals. The 70,000 figure represents 4% of 1.8 million enrollees measured by the July pre-test. Validation in December shows that the number reduced to a maximum of about 20,587 non-readers, and that the reduction could be traced to feeding programs which started in August, and teacher-focused reading. Nutrition works. Teacher empowerment works,” Salceda explained further.
Under HB 6295, nutritious meals for low income kindergarten and grade school pupils will be given for free in public schools.“Shortly, I will file a bill to promote remedial and after-school programs―which will respond to this literacy crisis. I will also file bills to make schools safer, to deload the curriculum even further and make it more locally adaptable, and to bolster our education infrastructure and financing,” he said.
Salceda expects to complete filing the Comprehensive Education Reform Agenda before February ends: “The House will have enough time to initiate committee deliberations before we adjourn for Easter break. To DepEd’s credit, this is the first time we are facing the problem by being honest about its dimensions. At the same time, we need a robust, all-of-country, all-of-government response to the situation,” the lawmaker noted.
“Right now, our students and our teachers are among the most overworked in the world. Too many subjects. Too many activities. Not enough results. In college, I was taught the principle of ‘non multa sed multum.’ Not many things, but much. That’s what our education system needs today,” he added.