By Manolo Serapio Jr.
Policymakers, including local mayors, should take the lead in pushing for reforms to improve the education of Filipino children whose competency is among the weakest in the world and could worsen as the pandemic keeps schools closed.
“More than ever, in this time of the pandemic, mayors must be aggressive in taking the driver’s seat in crafting the COVID-19 response for education,” Valenzuela City Mayor Rex Gatchalian said during the first day of the 14th Washington SyCip National Education Summit on Thursday.
With the theme “Learning from our Best to Defy Gravity”, the two-day virtual summit organized by Synergeia Foundation and the United States Agency for International Development was aimed at addressing the problem of Filipino students falling behind their international counterparts. It was streamed live on Synergeia’s Facebook page.
Fifteen-year old students from the Philippines ranked lowest among 79 countries in reading proficiency and second lowest in mathematics and science in the 2018 Programme for International Student Assessment.
And a 2019 study done by the United Nations Children’s Fund showed that only 10% of Filipino Grade 5 pupils had achieved the reading literacy skills expected at the end of primary school, versus 82% in Vietnam and 58% in Malaysia.
“In defying gravity, it’s not just the children that must defy gravity. I really believe that policymakers like us must try to defy gravity by shaking up the status quo,” Gatchalian said.
While the national government has provided the basic framework for distance education amid a health crisis, Gatchalian said it gave local governments a lot of leeway in implementing reforms to improve and ensure learning among children.
“Local chief executives must use political capital to engage multi-sectoral stakeholders to mobilize distance learning goals” from local radio and cable TV operators to barangay officials and teachers’ associations, says Gatchalian. Mayors should also work with schools division offices to come up with innovative education solutions, he said.
Valenzuela is among the 421 local government partners of Synergeia that is working to improve the quality of basic education. Believing that it takes a village to educate a child, Synergeia engages local governments, the Department of Education, schools, teachers, parents and students to enforce systemic programs that will boost learning and reduce dropouts.
A key vehicle for these programs is the Local School Board (LSB) which Synergeia partners like Gatchalian have taken to heart. Through Valenzuela’s LSB, he was able to enhance the city’s education system by implementing remedial reading and mathematics programs as well as training parents to be teachers at home.
“We used to think that parents were so disengaged, but apparently if you put so much time and effort in them, give them a sense of belonging in the organization, they can be a very potent tool,” he said, citing Valenzuela’s pioneering training program Nanay-Teacher Parenting camp.
As the pandemic shut schools, Valenzuela has been helping students with their learning modules through teaching videos streamed on Facebook Live from the Valenzuela City School of Mathematics and Science.
In areas where the Internet is weak and there are fewer to zero cases of COVID-19, Synergeia has been pushing its local government partners to hold in-person learning sessions in the purok, or small community areas, to help students cope with remote education.
These are being done in parts of Iloilo, Maguindanao, Lanao del Sur and La Union provinces.
“We can defy the downward pull of the pandemic,” said Synergeia Chairman Fr. Jose Ramon Villarin.
The summit is also held in partnership with UNICEF, PLDT Smart, Seaoil Foundation and SGV Foundation.
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