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Berating the messenger

At the behest of Education Secretary Leonor Briones, the World Bank apologized to the Philippines for publishing a report on education earlier than scheduled and before the Education Department had a chance to give its input.

The report said there was a crisis in education in the Philippines even before the start of the pandemic. It listed gaps in the Philippine education system, among which are that the majority of 15-year-olds did not understand fractions, that just a tenth of fifth graders were at par with global standards in English proficiency, that bullying was prevalent across all levels, and that administrators were unaware of the gravity of violence in schools.

Briones slammed the World Bank and said the figures used in the report were not updated. “The country was insulted and shamed,” said Briones. Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III chastised the agency for “lack of professionalism.”

In its apology, the World Bank said the incident was an oversight on its part and that it has temporarily removed the report from its website.

“We agree with the Department that the issue of quality has a long historical context, and support its demonstrated commitment to resolve it decisively. We have reached out to Secretary Briones on this matter and look forward to continuing our dialogue with the Department of Education on the opportunities and challenges in the education sector,” it said.

But the things that the World Bank pointed out in that report, even if they were prematurely published, are already familiar to us.

Late last year, the Southeast Asia Primary Learning Metrics, conducted by the Southeast Asian Ministers of Education Organization and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), pointed out that the percentage of Grade 5 Filipino students who achieved minimum proficiency in reading, writing and mathematics was significantly lower than the percentage in Vietnam and Malaysia.

The same batch of students were either at par with or sometimes worse than those in Cambodia. They performed better than only their counterparts only in Laos and Myanmar.

Yet another study, the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study 2019, shows the Philippines scored “significantly lower” than any other country that participated in grade 4 math and science assessments, and that Filipino students scored the lowest among all 58 participating countries for both tests.

COVID-19 has exacerbated the already-present challenges to the way we educate our children.

Secretary Briones is on point: All these findings are insulting and shameful. But the shame and insult point to our weaknesses -- and our aversion to criticism -- rather than any bias or inadequacy by the reporting body.

There is no sense protesting statements that our students are not learning their lessons the way they are supposed to. Many systemic reasons are responsible for this, and our education officials must not take this observation personally. It is a fact that must first be acknowledged even before something meaningful and significant can be done to improve matters.

The World Bank has told us nothing we do not already know. This is an urgent call on the government to step up and ensure we do not raise younger generations of mediocre Filipinos.

Topics: World Bank , Leonor Briones , Department of Education , United Nations Children’s Fund , UNICEF , Education , Carlos Dominguez III
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