Poor state of primary education

Posted December 12, 2020

A report on the assessment of primary education in six Southeast Asian countries was recently released which indicates the Philippines as doing very poorly.

The report shows the result of the assessment of the proficiency of Grade 5 students in primary schools in the Philippines, Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, and Vietnam in the three learning domains – reading, mathematics and writing – conducted by the South East Asia – Primary Learning Metrics (SEA-PLM), a Program launched by the Southeast Asian Ministers of Education Organization (SEAMEO) and UNICEF East Asia and Pacific Regional Office. Collaborating in the assessment is the Australian Council for Educational Research.

The assessment, including sampling, applied international methods, processes and quality assurance mechanism to ensure credible measure of learning outcomes and context. The assessment was made based on a sample of children that is representative of the entire Grade 5 school population in each country. A minimum of 150 schools in each participating country were sampled. From each of these sampled schools, one Grade 5 class was selected at random and all the students in the selected class were assessed.

Grade 5 was chosen as a common grade where all children would still be in primary school. Among the participating countries, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam, Grade 5 is the end of primary school; while in Cambodia, Malaysia and the Philippines, Grade 6 is the end grade. The sampling includes private schools, but public schools predominate to the extent of 90% to 96% collective range. The assessment data were collected towards the end of 2018/2019 school year and the assessment was done in November 2019.

In summarizing the results, the proficiency scales developed by SEA-PLM were used. The proficiency scale for each learning domain has several bands, the total number of which varies for each domain. The children who were assessed to belong to the highest band are considered likely to have mastered the fundamental skills expected by the end of primary school, which is equivalent to the minimum expected at the end of primary school under the applicable UN Sustainable Development Goal.

The report shows a summary for each learning domain of the proportion of the Grade 5 students assessed to belong to the highest band. Vietnam is No. 1 among the six countries in the proportion of its Grade 5 students assessed to belong to the highest band in all three learning domains: 82% of its school children in reading, 92% in mathematics, and 32% in writing. Malaysia is a consistent No. 2, having 58%, 64% and 11%, respectively, of its school children in the highest band. On the other hand, the Philippines is No. 5 in reading with 10% of its assessed school children belonging to the highest band, No. 4 in mathematics with 17%, and is in tie with Cambodia and Laos for Nos. 3 to 5 in writing with just 2% their respective school children in the highest band.

Ben Punongbayan, Chairman and Founder of Buklod, a national political party, expressed his great lament in the very poor result of the assessment of the literacy proficiency of Philippine children in primary school. This finding is clearly consistent with the assessment of the Philippines as having the lowest rank in an assessment made a couple of years ago by the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) among 100 or so countries. With these two inter-country assessment results, it is abundantly clear that there are many things terribly wrong in our education systems, he said.

Punongbayan suggests that our primary and secondary schools’ education systems be declared in crisis so that we can allocate the necessary and adequate resources to greatly improve their present very lamentable poor condition.

The Grade 5 assessment report includes recommendations, expressed in broad terms, for the needed improvement. Punongbayan said that our government must seriously study those recommendations and break them down into detailed, executable forms.

Among other things analyzed in the report, in the Philippines as well as in the other countries, there is a significant difference in the proficiency level among school children in such factors as socioeconomic setting, living in urban vs. rural areas, having their own textbooks vs. not having or sharing textbooks. Those children in the higher socioeconomic setting, living in urban areas and having their own textbooks have higher proficiency than those in the lower socioeconomic setting, living in rural areas and having no or sharing textbooks. Punongbayan said that there are clearly overlaps in these factors from which a common identity can be read from them: those school children belonging to families who are economically underpriveleged are doing poorly than the others. He said, as part of the remediation measures, those school children must be given additional assistance, like free meals and transportation and their own textbooks and other school materials. These assistances may produce equalizing effects, he added.

Punongbayan expressed that the Philippines must provide good education to our school children, most of whom belong to families in the lower economic strata. Otherwise, economic inequality will be perpetuated. To reduce inequality, those citizens at the lower end of the economic spectrum need access to good education to enable them to gain higher paying employment or engage in worthwhile entrepreneurship in their adulthood.

Without such mobility by the poor, inequality will persist. More so, because those citizens in the higher end of the economic ladder will continue to send their children to the much better but expensive private schools, resulting in making permanent the present wide economic inequality that currently exists in our society, Punongbayan concluded.




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