By Joemar Yubokmee 

The children are our world’s best hope for the future but how could they usher a bright one if the institution mandated to educate and hone their skills continue to fail them?  

Cartoon by Andrea Aniceto Santos

According to a World Bank (WB) report, 91% of Filipino children aged 10 still struggle to read simple texts, indicating that there is a deterioration in the quality of education in the country. The report also bared that the Philippines is one of the nations in the East Asia and Pacific area with the highest rates of learning poverty which is 56.5 points higher than the regional average of 34.5 percent.

Some may claim that this problem stemmed from the subpar learning modalities utilized during the pandemic where issues of grammatical, factual, and even mathematical equation errors were found on modules distributed by the Department of Education (DepEd) but the fact is that the state of the Philippine education has been on a decline for some time now as evidenced by another report published by the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) which concluded that only one out of every five junior and senior high school students (19.4%) met the required competency level in overall reading literacy.

These problems root themselves in systemic issues that have plagued DepEd ever since its conception. The most visible one is the problem of a high student-to-teacher ratio which is 1:31 for the elementary level and 1:36 for the Junior High School level. These numbers are far from the ideal set by the education department at 1:15. Clearly, this predicament restricts the teacher from tending to the specific and individual needs of a student. Aside from this, the teachers are also overburdened with administrative work barring them from focusing on their primary duty as instructors. 

The high student-to-teacher ratio could be attributed to the fact that the teaching profession is the least paid professional working in the country and our teachers are among the lowest paid teachers throughout Asia. Because of the high volume of work paired with the low salary, many tend to avoid this profession and some education graduates prefer to work overseas or work in an entirely different profession.

The low budget allocated for education is another factor contributing to the noticeable learning poverty felt across the country. Granted that DepEd's budget is always ranking high in terms of departmental budget but the money allocated for the department is way below the standard set by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) which advises governments to allocate at least 20% of public spending and 6% of GDP to education. 

In 2022, Government expenditure on education is at 631.77 billion or around 12.58% of the total National Budget of 5.02 T and in 2020 the total percent in terms of Gross Domestic Product in the Philippines was reported at 3.88%, according to the World Bank. If the fact that these numbers are nowhere close to the standard is not enough, then you’ll abhor the misappropriation of the limited budget. Recently, the Commission on Audits (COA) flagged DepEd over “deficiencies” in the utilization of distance learning funds amounting to P4.527 billion and also the 2.4 billion pesos worth of expensive yet outdated laptops that are distributed to public school teachers. It is appalling and enraging that amidst an educational crisis DepEd is wasting money on resources that are not even furthering its cause first from the printing of modules containing erroneous information to the acquisition of a laptop with outdated specifications.

The depreciation of the quality of education is cutting on all borders even in private schools. In undergraduate and graduate schools, issues of plagiarism are rampant even a graduate bestowed with magna cum laude honors was caught plagiarizing his valedictory speech.  As we slowly transition to face-to-face classes, it is essential that as early as high school level, plagiarism and other unethical acts that are somehow normalized especially in the lower levels must be controlled. In fact, the schools must impose the highest penalty for students caught cheating to not further tolerate any more violations. Plagiarism and other forms of academic dishonesty contribute to the worsening state of education in the country because it teaches the students that they don’t have to work hard when they can depend on others to carry out their responsibilities and it doesn’t help that our educational institutions are not even serious in condemning these unethical practices that undermine the very foundation of education and self-actualization.

DepEd might see an increase in its budget from Php633. 3-Billion in 2022 to Php710. 6- Billion in 2023 per the Department of Budget and Management. This time, DepEd Secretary and Vice President Sara Duterte and the entire department must see to it that any more inefficiencies and corruption will not be tolerated. A hefty sum of the allocation must be utilized to build more classrooms and hire competent teachers as well as personnel or teacher assistants who would bear the responsibility of the administrative work. Educational materials must go through rigid inspection from a panel of experts to ensure the quality of the materials used in teaching pupils and students.

Education is a necessity for a fully functioning democracy. This is why in a country with a widespread culture of corruption, it is no longer a shock why we are plagued by learning poverty. Dirty, traditional politicians would lose their seats when the population is filled with educated voters who are knowledgeable of their rights and are aware of the responsibilities of those in positions. Educated individuals hold those in power accountable. They stand as a watchdog for democracy, and they stand for the motherland together in their dream that maybe tomorrow those who seek equality, justice, and the truth aren't just one of ten people but the entire nation.

Edited by Christine Gaile Dimatatac