PISA 2018 and 2022

PISA 2018 and 2022

In March of 2012, Brother Armin Luistro, then the Secretary of the Department of Education (DepEd) was the Keynote Speaker at the Annual Membership meeting of the Philippine Business for Education. The theme was “The State of Basic Education: Gaining Ground.” In his speech, he articulated as his Vision for the Department of Education was that by 2030, the DepEd would be globally recognized for good governance and for developing functionally literate and God-loving Filipinos. Moreover, his mission statement read: “To provide quality basic education that is accessible to all and lays the foundation of lifelong learning and service for the common good.”

To achieve his vision and mission, he launched a reform program called, the Basic Education Sector Reform Agenda (BESRA) with five Key Reform Thrusts (KRT), namely: School-Based Management (SBM), Teacher Education and Development; National Learning Strategies, Quality Assurance and Accountability; and lastly, Organizational Development.

Of the five Key Reform Thrusts, Brother Luistro considered the 5th KRT, Organizational Development as the Key Reform Thrust which would determine the success of the first four KRTs. More specifically, under the 5th KRT, the DepEd must change its institutional culture towards greater responsiveness to the key reform thrusts of BESRA. If we may quote extensively from his speech, “If these reforms are to advance, take root, blossom and bear fruit, the institutional culture of DepEd will need to change… DepEd will need to move out of its worst centralized, bureaucratized, mechanistic, and simplistic mindsets and habits… for reforms to occur. The central insight of this reform thrust is that the culture of the institution behind the reform policies must change if the policies were to have a chance of eventually succeeding.”

Six years later in 2018, the DepEd joined the PISA Survey. The Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) is a triennial survey of 15-year-old students around the world that assesses the extent to which they have acquired the knowledge and skills in the core subjects of reading, mathematics, and science.

The results for the Philippines were devastating. Of the 79 countries participating, the Philippines ranked dead last (ranked 79) in reading and second to dead last in Mathematics and Science (ranked 78). More importantly, scores were rated at six levels of achievement with Level 1 being the lowest and Level 6 the highest. The Philippines scored 340 in Reading (Level 1a), 350 in Mathematic (Below Level 1), and 357 in Science (Level 1a).

The initial reaction of the DepEd was then Secretary Leonor Briones demanding — and getting — an apology from the World Bank for prematurely releasing the results of the survey. Talk about punishing the messenger!

Honor satisfied, the DepEd launched a program to improve our scores in the next PISA Survey.

On Dec. 3, 2019, the DepEd announced that it would lead the national effort for quality basic education through Sulong Edukalidad by implementing aggressive reforms in four key areas: 1.) K to 12 review and updating, 2.) Improvement of learning facilities, 3.) Teachers and school heads’ upskilling and reskilling through a transformed professional development program; and, 4.) engagement of all stakeholders for support and collaboration.

Ahead of the release of the PISA 2022 results and anticipating no significant improvement over the 2018 scores, DepEd Spokesperson Michael Poa said they had asked to realign the proposed P150 million in confidential funds to the National Learning Recovery Program (NLRP) to improve students’ skills in reading, mathematics and science — subjects covered by PISA and other global assessments.

As dreaded, the 2022 PISA results showed that the Philippines ranked third from the bottom in science with an average score of 356 (357 in 2018), sixth from the bottom in mathematics with an average score of 355 (350 in 2018), and sixth from the bottom in reading with an average score of 347 (340 in 2018).

When a crisis occurs, or in this case persists, certain principles of management apply.

In the first place, you do not assign the person or organization under whose watch the crisis occurred to solve the crisis. The fact that the crisis occurred under their watch is prima facie evidence of managerial incompetence. Secondly, assuming, without conceding, that there exists a modicum of managerial competence to deal with the crisis, if given the responsibility to solve the crisis, the organization will spend half the time explaining why they are not responsible for the crisis. The other half will be spent arguing that given more money and time they will solve the crisis.

Thus, one of the excuses for poor performance is a classroom shortage, 159,000 classrooms to be exact. The proposal is to be given a yearly budget of P100 billion for the next eight years and the crisis will be solved. This proposal would entail building schools over five years, costing twice as much as a private school and accommodating students who will learn less than in the private school. Using school vouchers will remove the need to spend P800 billion, cost half the price per student (public schools cost twice as much as private schools to teach students) and result in higher levels of learning.

School vouchers will also solve the other education crisis. The PISA survey highlights the poor performance of our students who are presently studying. The other education crisis is the out-of-school youth whose learning levels PISA does not measure. The Bergen Project shows that the Philippines has the highest drop-out rate in the ASEAN. For every 100 students who enter Grade 1, only 51 finish Grade 12.

Outstanding educators such as Brother Andrew Gonzalez, Dr. Edilberto De Jesus, and Brother Armin Luistro who served as DepEd Secretaries sought to reform DepEd, a lumbering bureaucratic behemoth of a million employees from within — to no avail.

The National Learning Recovery Program (NLRP) is the third attempt of the DepEd to solve the education crisis. The second attempt was the Sulong Edukalidad under Secretary Briones, and the first attempt was the Basic Education Sector Reform Agenda under Secretary Luistro. The first two attempts failed miserably, giving us no confidence that the third will succeed.

The DepEd seems to share our view. In 2019, when it launched Sulong Edukalidad, they promised improvement in the 2022 PISA scores. Now they are making no promises on the upcoming PISA surveys in 2025 and 2028. According to DepEd Undersecretary for curriculum and teaching Gina Gonong, “We may only start being at par with other Southeast Asian countries by 2029 onwards.”

In dealing with the education crisis, the Department of Education is the problem, not the solution.

As stated in our previous column (“LGUs: Dealing with the education crisis,” BusinessWorld, Sept. 3, 2023), the public elementary and high schools should be devolved to local government units. Transfer responsibility for solving the education crisis to them. Admittedly, some will perform poorly, but many will perform exceedingly well. We prefer islands of excellence to a vast ocean of mediocrity.

As also stated in our previous column (“From FAPE/PEAC to PhilEd,” BusinessWorld, Nov. 13, 2023), it is time to separate the financing of education from the DepEd by creating the Philippine Education Development Fund or PhilEd. This again involves transferring the responsibility for the crisis to another organization, in this case PEAC (Private Education Assistance Committee). PEAC has been the bright spot in the management of our school voucher program. The management of PEAC should be the incoming management of PhilEd.

As further stated in our previous column (“Senator Sherwin Gatchalian and the ARAL Bill,” BusinessWorld, Dec. 12, 2023), we plead with our business taipans to rescue the children of their employees from learning poverty.


Dr. Victor S. Limlingan is a retired professor of AIM and a fellow of the Foundation for Economic Freedom. He is presently chairman of Cristina Research Foundation, a public policy adviser and Regina Capital Development Corp., a member of the Philippine Stock Exchange.