Under new management: Sara Duterte on Education

By Bernardo Sta. Ana II

 Upon her appointment, her remarks indicated a lack of appreciation for the depth of the challenges she will have to address in the next six years. Despite pressing issues in the education sector, Duterte seemed preoccupied by other issues.

ENOUGH EDUCATORS saw the appointment of Vice President Sara Duterte as Education Secretary as a misstep on the part of President Marcos Jr., perhaps even a step backward for a bureaucracy that has already demonstrated its inadequacy to address the various problems revealed in recent years. The release of global rankings that have placed Filipino students among the poorest performing in the world had stirred public discussion about the urgency of responding correctly to the challenge. 

Duterte served two terms as Mayor of Davao City, a post previously held by her father, Rodrigo Duterte. She has a law degree and passed the Bar in 2005. Not surprisingly, her appointment was met with vocal criticism, with some questioning her qualifications and suitability for the role. 

Overall, the problems facing the educational sector in the Philippines are multifaceted and require comprehensive short-and long-term solutions. 

In June 2022, the learning poverty rate of 91 percent meant that 9 out of 10 Filipino children have difficulties reading or understanding simple written text. The pandemic, school lockdowns, the shift to digital classes, the lack of support for teachers have all exacerbated the existing deficiencies of learning in public schools. 

Upon her appointment, her remarks indicated a lack of appreciation for the depth of the challenges she will have to address in the next six years. Despite pressing issues in the education sector, Duterte seemed preoccupied by other issues. She called for the return of the mandatory Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC). When she defended her budget request in Congress, she asked for funds so she could seek the help of “the security cluster and the security sector to address the issues and challenges to basic education.” 

Language Issues

As reported in the news, the 2018 Program for International Student Assessment’s (PISA) noted the predominant use of English in the country. There has been pressure to retain English as an official language. Currently, English is still the language of public discourse in government as in media. Indeed, President Ferdinand Marcos called for “emphasis and facility in a global language.” 

The same study also found that students in Japan and South Korea excelled in reading, science, and mathematics, where English is not used in teaching as it is in the Philippines. PISA also showed the Philippines ranked among the lowest in each of these subjects. 

In what language should students begin their learning? 

In July 2022, news accounts described the use of local languages in the public schools in line with a long-established policy of “teaching in the mother tongue.” 

Reports noted the Enhanced Basic Education Act of 2013, which states that Mother Tongue-Based Multilingual Education (MTB-MLE) should be implemented from kindergarten to Grade 3. Media cited various sources, including the Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) partylist, and academics from the University of the Philippines and Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila, who all argued for the use of local languages as the medium of instruction. 

This issue involves complex concerns given the various mother tongues that are used in the different regions in the country. DepEd needs to address this challenge and implement the policy with sufficient materials or provide teachers with support so they can make their own grade-appropriate modules.

Mandatory ROTC 

The restoration of the controversial program triggered complaints from groups who were concerned about possible violations of children’s rights, as well as the harmful practices that had been identified in the past. 

Other accounts recalled the murder of Mark Welson Chua, a University of Santo Tomas student, who had exposed the corruption within his unit in a university publication. He was killed, a victim of violent hazing. His death raised questions about the good of the program as well as the abuses in its implementation. 

Referring to the UN Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict, reports noted that ROTC has also been criticized for violating international laws protecting children and for risking harm to students through hazing practices.

The review led to schools adopting ROTC as a voluntary, rather than mandatory program, offering different kinds of social and community services in which students could participate. 

PHP100 Billion Request

With all these issues reported by the media, Sara Duterte, as 

Education Secretary, promised to end all education-related problems in six years if she is given an additional PHP100 billion in the agency’s budget. 

CMFR cheered Rappler for exposing the claim as unrealistic even as CMFR observed how the “House of Representatives (HOR), with hardly any questions had approved for Duterte’s two offices, the Department of Education (DepEd) and the Office of the Vice President (OVP), a total of PHP712.3B appropriation in the national budget. . .” The request for the additional PHP100B request was still pending. 

Bonz Magsambol who wrote the report consulted other sources who provided the necessary context on the problems hounding the public education system. This kind of background information helps the public judge whether Duterte’s remarks should be taken seriously. 

Anyone familiar with DepEd would know enough to regard the remark as an empty boast. The problems of public educational system were built up through time and it would take more time and more expert attention to even begin to solve them.