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[OPINION] The boiling frog

 / 05:04 AM January 23, 2021


Here’s a classic fable. When you put a frog in boiling water, it jumps out immediately to save its life. But put it in tepid water, slowly turn up the heat and it will cook to death. The Philippine education system is a boiling frog that is yet to jump out—and time is running out.

Last Jan. 14, the Philippine Business for Education (PBEd) launched its most ambitious advocacy campaign since pushing for the K-to-12 basic education reform. Our objectives are clear: Convince everyone that there is a learning crisis, and call for a government-led multi-sectoral response to arrest the problem. The way forward is another matter. How does one even convince the majority of the population that we have a learning crisis?

Our education system has been perennially plagued with challenges of inadequate funding and fragmented reforms. We have more than 7,000 schools with crumbling infrastructure, no electricity and poor accessibility. Our malnourished schoolchildren consistently rank lowest in international assessments of science, mathematics, and reading competencies. Our teachers do not receive sufficient training even before they are deployed in schools. These problems worsened when the pandemic hit: 2.7 million students left school, millions more weren’t able to join online classes, and the economic toll of the crisis dragged millions of Filipinos further into unemployment and poverty.

Perhaps what is even more troubling than this list of horrors is the fact that we are not as bothered as we should be. Why is that the case?

Foremost, it’s a challenge to frame education as an urgent and immediate concern to the Filipino family—one that is “malapit sa sikmura.” Filipinos worry about how to put food on the table. We are concerned that the school performance of our children has become solely an educator’s concern, not of parents and guardians.

Secondly, we have a bias toward the present such that we fail to account for the future. Gains from education like improved well-being can really only be seen in the long term. In the present, the consequences of poor reading comprehension may seem abstract.

Lastly, as far as politics is concerned, there is no incentive to put education in the platform as the effect of quality education takes years, if not generations, to be felt. This is incompatible with the career cycle of politicians who are pressured to produce immediate and tangible proofs of their accomplishment to fuel their next campaign.

So what do we need to do? We need to immediately convene an Education Commission to set the vision for Philippine education. The commission—composed of representatives from different sectors of society—should tackle pressing issues of poor accessibility and education quality.

Specifically, we need to address stunting and malnutrition among schoolchildren through the implementation of the Philippine Plan of Action for Nutrition; fight for a higher education budget; push for the establishment of an autonomous learning assessment agency; lobby for the creation of a National Teacher Education Scholarship program; and demand the stronger implementation of mother tongue-based multilingual education.

From us at PBEd, you can expect more as we bring attention to this crisis that is slowly killing our nation. This article is just one of many more to come—the opening salvo of a hopeful and ambitious campaign to thrust education into the heart of the national conversation and advocate much-needed reforms in the sector.

We need to take an honest look at ourselves before we can even rise to the level of this daunting task. We encourage everyone to be informed: Stay abreast of what’s happening, talk to students and teachers, and keep a close eye on our government’s plans for the education sector. Speak up, participate in public fora, write to your legislators, and demand better education for our learners.

Education is a promise waiting to be fulfilled, and this learning crisis has prevented us from realizing our development potential for far too long. We are now at the eleventh hour, and it’s time to raise the alarm. Our education system is a boiling frog, and it needs to jump out now.