Reforms first or K+12 means nothing

By Ricardo Ma. Nolasco, Ph.D.
Philippine Daily Inquirer, Posted date: October 16, 2010

R. Nolasco

MANILA, Philippines—The results of the 2008 Functional Literacy, Education and Mass Media Survey (FLEMMS) are finally out. As expected, there are good tidings as well as bad. Among Filipinos between 10 and 64 years old, the ability to read, write and compute went up from 84.1 percent in 2003 to 86.5 percent in 2008. Comprehension skills likewise increased from 66 to 70 percent.

This means that the number of those who cannot compute went down slightly from 16 percent in 2003 to 14 percent in 2008. The percentage of those who cannot understand what they read went down from 34 to 30 after five years. This is the good news.

The bad news is that the number of individuals lacking in counting and comprehension skills actually grew. This was due to a higher population base of 67 million in 2008 compared to only 57.6 million for 2003. Translated into absolute figures, non-numerate Filipinos in 2008 stood at 9.1 million, which was almost the same as in 2003. Those who lack comprehension abilities increased from 19.6 million in 2003 to 20.1 million individuals in 2008.

Computation and comprehension skills were tested in the FLEMMS survey through a self-administered questionnaire accomplished by a sample of around 70,000 individuals throughout the country.

The questions for testing counting ability were as follows:

If a kilo of rice costs P25, how much will two kilos cost?

If a kilo of sugar costs P38, how much will half a kilo cost?

Those who answered these questions correctly were classified as functionally literate at level 2.

To test comprehension ability, respondents were made to read the following paragraph in English or its version in 26 Philippine languages:

“The depletion of our forests is one of the most serious environmental problems of the Philippines. It causes frequent floods and loss of fertile soil. Crops and property are destroyed and many lives are lost because of frequent floods.”

Based on the paragraph you read, what are the effects of forest depletion?

Those who answered this question correctly were classified as functionally literate at level 3. In the survey, high school graduates or those with higher education were also considered functionally literate at level 4.

How could so many people fail to answer such simple problems in arithmetic and comprehension? These are the kind of issues in education that people would like to see the Aquino administration solve. Any plan to extend the educational cycle from the present 10 years to the internationally accepted standard of 12 years must be clearly shown to relate directly with fundamental issues, like improving learning outcomes, reducing the drop-out rates, low-quality textbooks, poor teaching methods and lack of classrooms.

This is the reason why some people like former Education Undersecretary Abraham Felipe doubt that lengthening the education cycle from 10 years to 12 years (K+ 12) is the right first step in fixing our education woes. He reminds us that in 1976, a Department of Education study, called the Survey of Outcomes of Elementary Education (Soutele), reported that Grade 6 pupils as measured by achievement tests knew just a little bit more than Grade 5 pupils. Thirty-four years after Soutele, this situation has shown no remarkable improvement. Dr. Felipe warns that if the K+ 12 plan were hastily adopted, pretty soon the problem would be how to cut short a poor quality 12-year cycle.

The point that is sorely missed about the K+ 12 plan is that it can only work if other reforms in the basic education reform agenda are also put in place and implemented. One of these is mother tongue-based multilingual education which became the fundamental education policy since July 14, 2009 but has not been mentioned at all by President Aquino.

Another initiative that will surely go a long way is improving the quality of research, especially in education. It is recognized worldwide that evidence-based or research-based policy environment is the only means to rationally and scientifically approach problems and issues in all fields of inquiry.

The Fund for Assistance to Private Education (FAPE)—Philippine Education Assistance Committee has spearheaded the setting up of an online Philippine Education Research Journal (PERJ) to promote and encourage original empirical studies on education. The goal is that scientific-based research on education, supported by systematically collected data and the use of powerful quantitative tools, can give a better picture of the educational realities in the country. PERJ aims to help our country’s lawmakers and education planners in charting the course of Philippine education and in improving the country’s school system.

FAPE executive director Carol C. Porio says that PERJ (http://www.perj.org) is a freely accessible, peer-reviewed, scientific online publication that reports and discusses important educational issues affecting the Philippines. PERJ publishes original empirical studies or researches that address substantively significant issues in theory and/or practice, with the use of rigorous methods. Its scope also includes such areas as human development, human capital formation, formal and informal education, and lifelong learning. PERJ maintains a battery of 18 editorial consultants from a wide range of disciplines, known and respected in the academic world.

Ricardo Ma. Nolasco (rnolasco_upmin@yahoo.com) is an associate professor in linguistics in UP Diliman.

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