POSTSCRIPT / June 6, 2006 / Tuesday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Coming in with too little too late in solving crisis

SIX SIXES: For a little distraction, note that today is June 6, 2006. At some point in the 24-hour day, there will be a lineup of six 6’s, or 06-06-06-06-06-06 (day-month-year-hour-minute-second, or whatever sequence you fancy).

Those who attach meaning or significance to numbers and patterns may discern a sign or omen in this parade of six 6’s. Expect to be told that you will experience this “point in time” (sorry for my using this atrocious term) only once in your lifetime.

If you ask me, I have other numbers in mind, related to the opening of classes and our usual frantic running around like headless chicken about problems that school opening always brings.

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ROOM SHORTAGE: As far as I can gather from the field, public schools opened yesterday with the usual first-day irritation, including the lack of some 7,000 classrooms.

You can bet that that is a corrected figure, adjusted downward by the cramming of more students to each room, a Malacanang bright idea of a partial response to the space problem.

As for teachers, we have some standby tutors in some places and a little shortage in other areas, but they cannot be shuffled around that fast to even out the kinks, because we do not move personnel around like cattle without their consent.

Oh yes, the textbooks: There are still not enough of them, but we have no figures to describe the shortage or the disproportionate students-to-books ratio. As for the quality and accuracy of the texts, I guess they are a bit more reliable than government press releases.

To make up for that presidential scolding for her mentioning last week the classroom shortage, Education Secretary Fe Hidalgo is expected to regale the Cabinet today with a glowing report about 30,000 additional teachers having been deployed under President Arroyo, more than 14,000 classrooms built since June 2004, tens of millions of books distributed yearly, and some 10,000 teachers joining the 45,000-strong teaching force.

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ON QUALITY: Those are numbers. Setting aside QUANTITY, what is the QUALITY of our public education?

President Arroyo said: “Education has always been on the top rung of our priorities, not only in terms of improving the physical facilities, but also in terms of adequate quality books, nutrition, safe schools and the stable prices of school supplies.”

Well, tell that to the Katipunan ng mga Anak ng Bayan Citizens Development Initiatives Inc. that has reported that the Philippine public education system is in crisis.

Citing 2004 figures, a Kaakbay CDI report on the quality of public education said that:

  • Only six out of every 1,000 Grade Six (elementary) graduates are prepared to enter high school.
  • Only two out of every 100 Fourth Year (high school) students are fit to enter college.
  • Only 19 out of every 100 public school teachers have confidence and competence to teach English.
  • One in every eight schools has teacher-to-pupil ratio of 1:50 and above, and one in every seven students does not have a classroom.

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NO EXCUSES: Kaakbay commented that “every child has an inherent right to quality education. To deny a child equal access to quality education is to deny his/her future.”

It added: “Education, being the most powerful instrument in poverty alleviation and economic advancement, needs to be accessible to every child.

“The limitations of government, wealth and borders must not hinder the task of providing quality education to an incoming generation.”

Kaakbay’s report was based on 2004 figures. But for trending, the statistics cited can serve as directional guides in the absence of official reports showing a substantial deviation from the trends on the charts.

The group culled figures from the speech of then Education Secretary Florencio Abad — who left the Arroyo Cabinet on a sour note — at the 24th National Educators Congress in Bacolod City in 2004.

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GRADERS FAIL: Abad reported that only 0.64 percent of some 1.4 million Grade VI students got a score of 75 percent and above in the 2004 High School Readiness Test (HSRT). The mean percentage score was 32.13 percent.

Kaakbay noted that 99.36 percent of elementary school graduates failed to get 75 percent and above in the HSRT, a 90-item competency test on elementary English, science and mathematics administered nationwide by the National Educational Testing and Research Center (NETRC) of the Department of Education (DepEd) in May and June 2004.

Only 7.9 percent got a score of 50 percent and above. The mean percentage score was 29.47 in English, 33.46 in science, and 33.46 in mathematics — three subjects that are now the focus of President Arroyo’s education program.

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HIGH SCHOOL: On the secondary level, Abad said that 97.9 percent of the more than one million Fourth Year high school students failed to get 75 percent and above in the National Achievement Test (NAT) in March 2004.

Kaakbay said the mean percentage score was 36.80 in science, 46.20 in mathematics, and 50.08 in English.

Abad added that 19 percent of 53,412 public high school teachers of English, science and mathematics earned a score of 75 percent or higher in Self-Assessment Test (SAT) for English proficiency administered by the DepEd in May 2003.

As many as 81 percent of public school teachers failed to earn a score of 75 percent or higher in the SAT for English, according to Kaakbay citing test results.

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THEY BEAT US: Kaakbay reported that in 2004, the Philippines was No. 41 in Science and No. 42 in mathematics among 45 countries surveyed.

According to a report of Boston College (Quadrennial Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study [(TIMSS]), in science, Grade 8 (equivalent of Second Year) Filipino students edged out only their counterparts in Botswana, Ghana and South Africa. In mathematics, they were ahead of those from the same countries plus Saudi Arabia.

In science, the Philippines got a score of 377 (international average was 474). In mathematics, the Philippine score was 378 (international average was 467). Singapore, South Korea, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Japan topped that worldwide survey.

TIMMSS is administered by the International Association for the Evaluation of Education Achievement.

The figures and scores are not current, but I have not found new data showing that the Philippine scores have improved significantly. In fact, I would not be surprised if we have sunk even lower in the ratings.

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TAYABAS AT PLM: In a related development, Dr. Ben Tayabas has reassumed the presidency of the Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila, reflecting a reiteration of Mayor Lito Atienza’s trust in his being administrator of the city’s grand plans for PLM.

The plan, now in an advanced stage, is to build a university system embracing all the districts in the capital city to include a science and technology institute and a polytechnic school on extension campuses.

The PLM main campus will be dedicated to graduate studies and leading edge research. Tayabas admits that he looks to such models as that system in place in Singapore.

The spreading out will make the PLM go out to the city government’s constituents instead of cramming their children of college age into the Intramuros campus. The new system will result in clearly defined areas of concentration, ensuring better quality of education.

* * *

RALLY FOR MINING: The huge prayer rally for responsible mining in Legaspi City last week resonated with a very strong message to the government, the Church, the Left, the mining industry, the anti-mining group, and the public.

With some 15,000 participants from a relatively small place, the rally may have shown that the poor want jobs first and foremost. I understand that the organizers wanted to keep the number more manageable at around 4,000, but the people simply wanted to press the issue.

To the poor, it seems that the issue is about them, their lives, their jobs and their future. Yes, they also would like to protect the environment, but when they see their children being deprived, which comes first becomes obvious.

This is one reason why we have fishermen who use dynamite and cyanide. That is the same reason why people do kaingin or slash-and-burn farming. There is more, but I am sure the point is quite clear: for the poor, survival is the issue and mining appears to offer a solution at least to those in the area.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of June 6, 2006)

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