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Thursday, November 30, 2023

DepEd head must be a professional heavyweight

“Real political will is required.”

As in past post-election scenarios, the minds of the Filipino people are focused on the appointments to the economic-cluster Cabinet positions (Secretary of Finance, Secretary of Socio-Economic Planning and Secretary of Budget and Management) and comparatively little attention is paid to the incoming President’s choice of DepEd (Department of Education) head.

This is a great pity. DepEd should be accorded very high priority – and the incoming Chief Executive should appoint as Secretary of Education a professional heavyweight for three reasons.

The first of these reasons is administrative in character. Appreciating the importance of education and the tendency of the drafters of the annual GAA (General Appropriations Act) to practice economy at the expense of DepEd (once known as the Department of Education, Culture and Sports), the 1971 Constitutional Convention mandated that education be allocated the largest share of the GAA. This is as things should be because, with its complement of over 600,000 individuals, DepEd accounts for the bulk of its civil service and its constituency consists of millions of Filipinos enrolled in the nation’s basic and secondary schools. To get a good idea of DepEd’s size and the scope of its administrative mandate, one only has to recall media reports and images of classes being held under mango trees due to budgetary constraints.

The second reason for the pity about education’s not being accorded the highest priority is the role that education plays in the development of Philippine society and the growth of the national economy. At one end of the education spectrum are the three Rs of basic education and at the other end is STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics). A self-respecting country cannot, in today’s world environment, afford to have an educational system that produces semi-illiterates and near-morons. “Educate or decline” is the catchphrase of today’s increasingly competitive world.

The third of the reasons why DepEd should be accorded very high priority, and why the incoming Secretary of Education should be a professional heavyweight, is the very poor standing of this country’s education system as determined by international development and financial institutions. In one of the cruelest assessments of Philippine education of the World Bank, one of the DepEd’s biggest sounds of financial assistance, declared in 2020 that approximately 80 percent of Filipino basic-education recipients “don’t know what they are expected to know.” PISA, the education rating system of OECD (Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development), has repeatedly given the Philippines a very low score in its periodic rating of developing country educational systems. And there are other bad international assessments of the Philippine education system.

Seen against the background is the nomination of Vice President – elect by President-elect Ferdinand Marcos Jr. as Secretary of Education can only be viewed as regrettable. The nomination of Sara Carpio means two things: (1) that Mr. Marcos does not think that Philippine education has serious problems and (2) that Ms. Carpio is capable of solving whatever problems beset Philippine education. Marcos is wrong on both counts.

It is not overstating the case to say that Philippine education is in a very bad state. Its problems are broad and deep. Real political will is required. It cannot be business-as-usual after June 30, 2022. Certainly, Philippine education’s status cannot be improved by treating the position of Secretary of Education as a political arrangement.

Sara Duterte-Carpio, a lawyer by training, is undoubtedly a highly intelligent person. And she has abundant administrative experience as mayor and vice-mayor of a mayor of a Philippine city. Plus lots of political smarts.

But those qualifications are not nearly adequate for the task of stopping the rot in Philippine education and raising its standing in the international education arena. Earlier in this piece, I used the phrase professional heavyweight; the profession involved here is educational system management. The Secretary of Education must be a manager of a large body of financial, human, and physical resources. Sara Duterte Carpio’s Davao City experience has not made her a professional heavyweight.

With a sincerely heavy heart, I say that the appointment of Sara Duterte-Carpio as Secretary of Education is a bad appointment. The Secretaryship of Education is a very big job. Ms. Carpio will surely do her best, but her best almost certainly will not be good enough.

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