(YEARENDER) DepEd sets sight on improving Filipino lives through quality education

The start of the Duterte administration boded well for the education sector.

From the start of her term as education secretary, Leonor Briones recognized the challenge of delivering quality services in education with a budget that is "inadequate in terms of international standards".

In her message when she accepted the post from Bro. Armin Luistro, Secretary Briones said the Department of Education's (DepEd) 2016 budget allocation for education was small at PHP400 billion compared to international standards, which require that six percent of the GDP be spent on education.

Apart from the budget, the new education chief also saw the challenges of speeding up and cleaning up the procurement process, monitoring the progress of the newly launched Senior High School (SHS) program, expanding the Alternative Learning System (ALS), and ensuring that the department is "not infested with 'anay' (termites) and weakened by rot".

"Admittedly, we still lack school buildings, computers and tools, furniture and fixtures and additional teachers," she said.

To ensure that the department's budget is responsive to the needs of basic education and is reflective of the goals of the Duterte administration, Briones led the preparation of the DepEd's budget for 2017. She also convened a mid-year review of Project Procurement Management Plans to catch up on procurement, especially of big-ticket items, as well as form an Education Program Delivery Unit to ensure an effective, efficient and timely execution of programs, projects, and activities.

In defending her department's proposed PHP567.56 billion budget for 2017, Briones told Congress that the launch of SHS requires more resources, noting that PHP15.5 billion would be allotted to hire 53,831 teachers; PHP65.4 billion to construct 47,492 classrooms; PHP43.9 billion to build 17,562 laboratories; PHP7.3 billion to provide 7,260 TechVoc tools and equipment packages; PHP6.9 billion to secure 30,697 ICT packages; PHP4.5 billion to purchase 8,833 Science and Math equipment packages; PHP4 billion to fill up 13,266 non-teaching items; PHP3 billion to acquire 55.8 million learning materials; and PHP2.5 billion to purchase 51,492 sets of school seats.

Of the PHP3.35 trillion budget for 2017 approved by Congress and signed by President Rodrigo Duterte last Dec. 22, DepEd obtained the biggest slice of PHP544.1 billion. Some PHP58.72 billion was also allocated for state college and universities (SUCs).

The Commission on Higher Education (CHED) was given PHP8.3 billion so that tuition in the undergraduate programs of all SUCs would be free. "The intention is all state universities and colleges would no longer charge undergraduate tuition so that PHP8 billion is supposed to cover undergraduate tuition in all state universities and colleges," CHED Chairperson Patricia Licuanan said.

CHED also received PHP5.8 billion for such student financial assistance programs as the PAMANA Study Grant Program, Iskolar ng Bayan, Tulong-Dunong Program and scholarship grants for children of sugarcane workers and other small farmers.

Licuanan however said they are still drawing up the guidelines on how to implement the free tuition policy. "But right now, all the SUCs are going to be asked or instructed not to collect tuition so we have to distribute this to all as well," she added, clarifying that SUCs can still charge other fees and graduate school tuition.

K to 12 basic education

Meanwhile, committing to continue, add and build on the major education reforms that her predecessor began, Briones expressed support for the K to 12 program, pointing out that the former educational system in the country -- used since the 1940s -- must be enhanced and that now is the "time for change".

"Ako mismo (I myself), I want to continue it (K to 12 program). But of course, I have to give my own contributions," Briones said.

On June 13 last year, she and Luistro witnessed the opening of Academic Year 2016-2017 and the launch of the SHS program. "Together, we visited several classrooms, talked to the regional director, the division superintendent, the district supervisor, the principal, the school teachers and most important of all, the students. Together, we monitored reports from all over the country on the status of Senior High School enrollment, verified data on teachers reportedly laid off, and the state of school buildings, equipment and textbooks," she reported.

Briones emphasized that the continuation of the K to 12 program is neither to please the international market nor to cater to the private sector, but to serve the interest of the Filipinos and the country.

"K to 12 is not about simply adding school years to basic education to be at par with international norm, but more about the content and the intended outcomes in terms of upgrading education quality... Even as we foster responsiveness to the exigencies of a globalizing economy, modernization of education must be relevant to the most urgent needs at the national level," Briones told education ministers as she attended the 6th APEC Education Ministerial Meeting in Lima, Peru last October.

The education chief also reported that DepEd was able to deter the anticipated massive displacement of teachers and the dropping out of a large number of students with the full implementation of the K to 12 program. With the creation of 36,461 teaching items for the SHS program, DepEd hired 3,950 displaced faculty of higher education institutions, 928 of whom have availed themselves of the department's "Green Lane" for speedy employment. There were also more than 1.5 million Grade 11 enrollees.

Briones announced that many teaching items for Science and Math still need to be filled, saying that the demand for more K to 12 educators was still high despite the employment of 195,302 teachers between 2010 and 2016.

She pledged to continually monitor and assess the progress of the SHS program, in terms of learning outcomes and access.

Drug education

In response to the marching order of the President, DepEd reported that it was strengthening the preventive drug education component in Science and Health by "providing real-life lessons and alternative learning methods to make the delivery much more realistic and effective", starting Grade 4.

In a release issued on Nov. 11, Briones made it clear that all schools will not be subjected to the Philippine National Police's 'Oplan Tokhang'.

DepEd said it has started a statistical sampling scheme, where students, with the permission of their parents, and teachers tested would not be named. It said the scheme would determine the extent of the problem and by how much the size of the sample could be expanded.

According to Briones, the tests aim to help rehabilitate and not criminalize students and/or personnel. She further stressed that if a teacher has been identified with the habit, the policy is to advice the teacher to take a leave to prevent harm on students and to undergo rehabilitation.

The department also met with the Department of Justice to form a working group that would "forge a common legal position on drug testing for students and personnel" among the DepEd, the CHED and the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA), and carry out a comprehensive drug testing initiative in partnership with the DOH.

Meanwhile, the gender and development component of the school curricula, especially in relation to sex education and teenage pregnancy, and environmental awareness and disaster preparedness, are being reinforced, the department said.

Alternative learning

Aside from enhancing drug education, the department worked double-time to revive and expand the coverage of ALS.

According to Briones, the need to reach out to adults who failed to complete basic education, out-of-school children and youth has prompted DepEd to "do things out of the box because the problems are out of the box".

One measure that she readily implemented was the creation of an Assistant Secretary position that will focus on strengthening ALS and re-integrating adults, out-of-school youth and children in the formal school system.

The department also began to develop alternative learning methods for learners in drug rehabilitation centers and hard-to-reach mountain regions, small islands, and densely populated areas; and to establish ALS in countries where children of Filipino migrants do not have access to formal education.

Indigenous peoples

To enable all indigenous children to have access to and complete free and compulsory quality primary education, DepEd said it continues to strengthen the enabling conditions for culture-based education through its National Indigenous Peoples Education (IPEd) program. The department said it aims to provide basic education access to 300 priority IP areas and to construct 251 new public schools in school year 2016-2017.

"Through continuous capacity building for teaching and non-teaching personnel, contextualization of the curriculum, development of culturally appropriate learning resources, and increase in budget allocation and education infrastructure, the department strives to ensure that IP learners are well included in the fold of the country's enhanced quality basic education," DeEd said in a release.

HIV among youth

Meanwhile, with the alarming rise in the number of HIV patients in the 15-24 age bracket, the Department of Health (DOH) floated the idea of distributing condoms through school clinics to reach out to those who are sexually active at a young age.

In a statement issued last Dec. 7, Briones said that while the department recognizes the need to promptly address the surge in the spread of HIV/AIDS among the youth, her department has to hold "thorough and careful discussions" with the health department, regarding the latter's plan to distribute condoms in schools next year.

"Through the series of discourse, the department will want to identify and study whether this move to arrest the epidemic is appropriate to cover schools and learning institutions, and if not, what are other measures that we can explore without compromising, first, the parents' right and responsibility to educate their children against the dangers of engaging in pre-marital sex, and second, the State's mandate to protect minors from any form of abuse," she said, adding that DepEd will also have to look into "how and why, despite progressive mindset in other countries, this approach is not implemented by all".

She said the department continues to uphold the values rooted in the country's culture and how these remain relevant amid the changing times, and to enrich sex education within the frameworks of human rights, safety and well-being of learners through age-appropriate and developmental reproductive health education as early as Grade 1.

Teachers' welfare

Meanwhile, the department made sure that DepEd teaching and non-teaching employees got their performance-based bonus (PBB), which ranged from PHP5,000 to PHP35,000 based on performance or contribution to the achievement of education targets and commitments; their annual productivity-enhancement incentive (PEI) worth PHP5,000; their year-end bonus equivalent to one month's salary; and the annual additional cash gift worth PHP5,000.

"The President's promise of increasing the salaries of 763,000 teachers nationwide is being duly recognized and considered by the department, but not without considerations," Briones said in a statement. "Given the widening salary gap with private schools and with other service sectors, the inflationary impact, the premium on teachers in Science and Math and senior teachers, and the huge department population, DepEd must ensure that the fulfillment of this promise is carefully planned in terms of policy and financial requirements."

Looking forward

For long-term reforms, the department met with the secretary of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) to reconstitute the Joint Technical Working Group on the Basic Education Facilities, that would hopefully speed up the construction of school buildings under the 2017 budget.

According to the department, it has also begun establishing an Integrated Financial Management Information System (IFMIS) to track the status of the department's budget releases and disbursements in real time. It vowed to introduce changes in the current planning templates to address inflexibility in costing standards and delays in the field validation of planned projects.

"No organization can succeed without an appropriate financial management system, which will be used to fund our dreams, promises and programs," Briones said.

The education chief also emphasized the importance of integrating, reflecting, and expressing the Philippines' rich historical experiences in the educational system, acknowledging the challenges to move away from data and technology to innovation, creativity, critical thinking, and acceptance of and adjustment to changes.

She noted during the APEC meeting in Peru that while Science and Technology is also being offered to students as early as Grades 3 and 4, DepEd is loyal not only to the culture and arts but also to Philippine history and the directions of the development program.

Reiterating that DepEd's leadership will be active, transparent, consultative, collaborative and corruption-free, Briones said they intend to have a regular general assembly with the employees to update them on the developments in the department, along with briefings by undersecretaries and assistant secretaries with directors on current programs.

Briones said that by the end of her term as secretary in 2022, she hopes to see these education reforms fully implemented, enriched, enhanced and expanded.

"We are serious about the motto of 'education for all'. We keep on saying 'no one left behind' but so many are left behind. We also have to make room for them, (and) this is where the three of us (DepEd, CHED and TESDA) are working together," Briones said.

Source: Philippines News Agency

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