A Stubborn Grip of Poverty on Education

Claiming on one hand that an education reform is not a panacea while at the same time, insisting that changes that have been taken are designed to deliver a "quality, equitable, culture-based and complete basic education", should really make us pause and reflect to see if these changes are indeed good. A thorough evaluation obviously requires data. Unfortunately, informative results from the Philippines are not available. What one sees instead is a continuing shortage of resources. Worse, with the introduction of two additional years in high school, the number of educators in college losing their jobs and the number of students actually enrolling in senior high school are both up in the air.

The Educators Forum for Development (EfD) has called for a review of DepEd's K to 12 in the Philippines. These educators also add that the government should focus on "basic education that contributes to the building of a self-reliant economy, based on genuine agrarian reform and national industrialization". The Manila Bulletin writes in a two-sentence report that newly elected president, Rodrigo Duterte is asking for a month to study and discuss the basic education curriculum with his incoming DepEd secretary:

Above copied from the Manila Bulletin

It is at least comforting to hear that a study of DepEd's K to 12 will be made. We could only hope that this study is based on sound data and evidence.

Even without good data from schools in the Philippines, it is still possible to arrive at what public school education can and cannot do based on results from other countries. Poverty is one important factor that affects learning outcomes. And poverty is everywhere even in developed countries like the United States. Data from the US regarding how poverty impacts basic education can be enlightening. Take, for instance, "How Much Can High-Quality Universal Pre-K Reduce Achievement Gaps?", a report from the Center for American Progress.

The following table tells us how much a high quality preschool program can improve learning outcomes for minorities and poor children:

For both, African American and Hispanic, the gap in reading is almost completely erased. The math gap is cut almost in half with African Americans and with Hispanics, it is close to an eighty percent reduction. On the other hand, even with high quality preschool, children from poor households are still way behind in math and reading. This is how stubborn the grip of poverty is on education especially when one looks at what the study considers as a high quality preschool program. Below is an example:
Boston Public Schools’ Pre-K Program is also considered high-quality. In addition to having an adequate level of teacher compensation and overall funding, the program utilizes research-based curricula and continuous teacher coaching throughout the year. All teachers in Boston’s program must have a bachelor’s degree to obtain initial licensure; after that, teachers have five years to obtain a master’s degree and become professionally certified. Boston’s pre-K teachers are paid on the same pay scale as K-12 teachers. Prior research has found that classrooms in the Boston program are of high quality as measured by emotional and instructional interactions between teachers and children. All children are served in full-day classrooms.
The above already stands in stark contrast with the kindergarten year of DepEd's K to 12.

There is likewise daycare or preschool in the Philippines. The College of Human Ecology at the University of the Philippines, Los BaƱos, provides training for early childhood learning:
The College maintains teaching laboratories and daycare centers to enhance the competence and practical management skills of teachers and their apprentice students. It conducts capacity building for daycare workers and child care practitioners to equip them with appropriate knowledge, skills, and attitude in teaching daycare students and with proper understanding of daycare administration and operation. 
The Child Development Laboratory (CDL), which was established in 1965 and the Day Care Laboratories (DCL), which were established in 1994 are extension programs that provide learning experiences for the holistic development of young children. These also serve as venues to enhance the competence and practical management skills of teachers and apprentice students and to test educational materials.
In one of the seminars given to daycare workers, what a child can learn at home is highlighted. The following is a chart made by some of the attendees to illustrate how a kitchen inside a home can be used for a child's learning.

Above copied from the
Facebook page of Paete's Municipal Social Welfare and Development Office
With this chart alone, it is easy to see why poverty significantly influences early childhood learning. Poor households often do not have a source of drinking water, much less a refrigerator.

Poverty definitely needs to be addressed. Its effects are already present right on day one of formal schooling. DepEd's K to 12 looks at the wrong end of basic education and focuses on adding years to high school when the country needs to ensure first that young children are able to develop foundational academic skills. This is what equity means, when each and every child is given a fair shot at success.