Duterte's Choice for Education Secretary in the Philippines

The social news network in the Philippines, Rappler, has launched a crowdsourced vetting process for newly elected president Rodrigo Duterte's choices for cabinet members. Duterte has recently announced his list of possible secretaries and for education, he has picked Dr. Peter Laurel, president of the Lyceum of the Philippines University (LPU), Batangas and Laguna campuses, and the fourth son of Senator Sotero Laurel, the third son of former Philippine President Jose P. Laurel.

Above copied from Rappler
Rappler poses the following questions for its crowdsourced vetting process:
  • Does the nominee have the knowledge and experience for the job?
  • Does the nominee have conflict of interest?
  • Is the nominee facing or is linked to graft and corruption cases?
  • What do you know about the nominee's lifestyle?
The last three questions obviously address ethical issues and are outside the scope of my blog. Thus, in my comments, I would dwell only on the first question. The first question is very important as sincerity or honesty, albeit essential, is not sufficient to address the challenges Philippine basic education currently faces. Competence is key.

The field of basic education is an area of scholarly work. Oftentimes, education reforms do not materialize for one reason: The changes introduced are not firmly based on good research. Secondly, a record of scholarly work demonstrates that one is capable of addressing difficult problems and contributing to human knowledge. Thus, although it may sound elitist, considering an individual's citation record allows for gauging someone's record on tackling significant problems. Heading an education department should be no exception as such task should require previous scholarly work. 

Google Scholar is one way to broadly search scholarly literature. And with this tool, the results for Duterte's choice for education secretary, Dr. Peter Laurel, do not look promising.

The above is no different from the results obtained with outgoing DepEd secretary Armin Luistro:

Duterte's nominee for education secretary, Peter Laurel, like current DepEd secretary Armin Luistro, does not have any record of scholarly work. With this in mind, it is worthwhile to repost an article of Flor Lacanilao on this blog:

Suggestion to Solve Philippines' Basic Education Problems

by Flor Lacanilao

Studies on education abroad have shown that the best way to improve basic education is to improve first higher education. And the best way to improve both is to put only the right people in charge. Right people refers to those who have made major contribution to one’s field, as shown by properly published research works (that is, following internationally accepted criteria). At present, none of those in charge in higher and basic education has such minimum requirement.

For basic education, the above prerequisite will insure that (a) program components are based on tested studies abroad, (b) curricular changes are based on properly published studies of local problems, and (c) thay have undergone trial runs or verification at selected schools before nationwide implementation.

For more discussion, see “K+12 most likely to fail” (Inquirer, 17 Feb 2012) and “A critique of some commentaries on the Philippine K-12 program”.

[Dr. Flor Lacanilao obtained his Ph.D. (specialization in comparative endocrinology) from the University of California at Berkeley. He served as chairman of the Zoology Department at UP Diliman, chancellor of UP Visayas, and chief of SEAFDEC in Iloilo. Email florlaca@gmail.com]

With the above in mind, Duterte's choice for DepEd secretary is not good.

Dr. Peter Laurel is currently president of the Lyceum of the Philippines University (LPU), Batangas and Laguna campuses. These schools take pride in their accreditation by the International Centre of Excellence in Tourism & Hospitality Education. On one of the schools' webpages, it displays as achievements the following:

Above copied from Lyceum of the Philippines, Laguna
Dr. Peter Laurel is also an author of a presentation entitled "Key Takeaways from Family Run Educational Institutions".  One of the slides in his presentation is the following:

Above copied from Key Takeaways from Family Run Educational Institutions
Dr. Laurel's interests in privatized education is obvious. The universities he heads are likewise offering senior high school.

Above copied from Lyceum of the Philippines University
Thus, in spite of the fact that this blog tries to focus on research based aspects of education, a conflict of interest is undeniable.

However, to address whether Duterte's nominee for education has the knowledge and experience for the job, one must look at the major challenges faced by basic education in the Philippines. To this, we return to "First Things First":

First Things First:  A Commentary on K+12 
Published in two parts in Philippine Star:

The basic education system of the Philippines faces two major problems: (1) high dropout rates in primary and secondary schools, and (2) lack of mastery of specific skills and content as reflected in poor performance in standard tests for both Grade IV and Grade VIII (2nd year high school) students. Unfortunately, the proposed K+12 curriculum does not directly address these problems. Both dropout rate and poor performance in standard exams indicate failure in the early years of education. That these problems are caused by a congested 10-year curriculum is not strongly supported by currently available data. The international standard tests take into account both years of education and basic skills.  The standard tests ensure that students from all the participating countries had the same number of years of schooling.

Dr. Laurel's lack of background in basic education is without doubt a negative. The troublesome aspects of DepEd's K to 12 such as the spiral sequence, poor teacher preparation, poverty's grip on education, and lack of research-based practices, are outside Dr. Laurel's interests or experience. A secretary of education must at least be aware of these challenges and issues. Unsurprisingly, secretaries of education in other countries usually rise from the ranks of public school teachers, supervisors or education scholars.

It is urgent that the Philippines addresses correctly the problems of basic education. Duterte needs advice from competent people in this field. Unfortunately, Duterte's choice for education secretary does not appear to be a step in this direction.