Raising the Philippine score in international learning assessments

 President Bongbong Marcos was expected to announce the new DepEd Secretary last week but postponed the decision, emphasizing we need someone capable of raising the Philippines' scores in international assessments. This is indeed a very tall order for the incoming Secretary, given that since the 1990s, when the country began participating in the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), we have consistently ranked near the bottom. However, with a well-crafted strategy and comprehensive approach, the aspiration can be doable. It is crucial that this responsibility is not relegated to a small bureau like the Department of Science and Technology (DOST), but instead becomes a concerted national effort.

A strategic starting point would be to focus on the Southeast Asia Primary Learning Metrics (SEA-PLM), which provides assessments that are more contextualized for our region. Test providers have identified that the language of testing significantly impacts student performance, and as a result, they are planning to trial the use of local languages in upcoming SEA-PLM assessments. 

Learn from China and Canada. China strategically selected major cities to participate in PISA while excluding rural areas. Similarly, it was reported in 2015 that Canada sampled only about half of its 15-year-old population for PISA, excluding areas with highly disadvantaged populations. It's important to note that PISA guidelines allow for the exclusion of students who are not native speakers of the testing language. In the Philippines, schools in Makati City and certain areas in the Cordillera region have demonstrated high performance, suggesting that a targeted approach in choosing test locations could lead to better results. 

Learn from Vietnam, too. In PISA 2018, Vietnamese students were among the top 10, and they used a paper-and-pencil format despite PISA being primarily computer-based. This highlights the significance of accommodating different test modalities. Filipino school principals have reported that students required practice sessions to become familiar with computer-based testing, indicating that the modality can significantly impact outcomes. 

The language of testing is another critical factor in student success. In Malaysia, students took the PISA test in both Malay and English, with elite private school students opting for English, while others used Malay. Spain used Basque, Catalan, Galician, Spanish, at Valencian languages.  It’s really time to seriously consider using other languages for testing. If we continue to use English for assessments, it is crucial to offer accommodations such as using the more conversational or Philippine English version with and parenthetical Tagalog explanations for complex terms (legitimate accommodation). This approach aligns with the practice of our teachers who use English terminology but explain concepts in local languages to ensure better understanding.

Finally, we can learn from countries like India and Austria, along with over 100 others (like Egypt, Ecuador, Kuwait, Venezuela, etc.) that choose not to participate in PISA. If we are really serious in improving education outcomes, we can improve our Early Language, Literacy, and Numeracy Assessment (ELNA) and the National Achievement Test (NAT) so that they can provide more valid and reliable data to inform policy and practice. Education isn't a beauty contest where we aim to flaunt the most impressive scores; it's about fostering relevant education (therefore we should not align our curriculum to PISA) and equitable opportunities for all learners.


In anticipation of PISA 2021 results announcement in December

 The latest PISA 2021 results will be released anytime soon. After being apprised of the initial results, education officials have preemptively tempered expectations, announcing that DepEd “is not expecting high scores.” Like the previous PISA 2018 results, the Philippines will most likely remain at the bottom. PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) is held every three years and intends to assess 15-year-old school pupils' performance in mathematics, science, and reading. We also join similar international studies like the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) and Southeast Asia Primary Learning Metrics (SEA-PLM). The results are pretty much the same. Notably, the SEA-PLM results formed the basis for asserting that 91% of Filipino children are grappling with learning poverty, a condition when one cannot read a simple text by the age of 10. Curiously, these assessments, including PISA, were conducted in English, even though English is the home language of only 6% of the Filipino test takers. The choice of English as the medium of testing is reminiscent of the 1925 educational survey by the Paul Monroe Commission. The study found that the reading ability of high school graduates was equivalent to that of a 5th grader in the US. Take note that the American Thomasite teachers were still here, and English was the only language used in school. The Monroe Commission reported that the restrictive English-only policy was the main culprit for academic underperformance due to a lack of productive discussion in the classroom.

A critical question arises. What precisely are our educational planners aiming to measure? Is it proficiency in math, science, reading, or English? If the goal is to produce English-speaking graduates for global employment, language proficiency tests like the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR) or the locally administered Department of Education’s Teacher English Proficiency Test (TEPT) would be more fitting. By the way, the TEPT results reveal that only 2% of our teachers are proficient in English, and the rest are either low (45.95%) or nearly proficient (51.09%). Given that the TEPT results have been unchanging for the past 12 years, expecting teachers to prepare students to meet PISA standards in English seems unrealistic. The PISA standards expect students to be able “to explain phenomena scientifically, evaluate and design scientific inquiry, and interpret data and evidence scientifically,…apply scientific knowledge in the context of real-life situations.”   

If we are indeed serious about developing science, math, and reading skills, then the government should invest more in education (among the PISA 2018 participating countries, Philippines has the lowest spending per learner). Decentralized intervention is also recommended. Each region should have a strategy with defined goals and milestones based on its performance and resources. The regional strategy must define what pedagogy, languages, materials, and testing modalities to use based on its context. Recent studies show that what works well with multilingual children is multilingual and multimodal pedagogy and assessments.

If we persist in participating in international tests, there are models to consider. Vietnam, a low-income developing nation, ranked fourth in science and 13th in reading, surpassing wealthier OECD countries. Vietnamese students took a paper-and-pencil test with questions contextualized in Vietnamese. It must be noted that in the 1970s, Vietnam decided to let go of French and used the Vietnamese language in all subject areas across all educational levels (with a provision for the mother tongue for ethnic minority groups). China was another topnotcher but they selected participants from four wealthy cities only. Multicultural countries like Malaysia chose Chinese, Malay, and Tamil (for SEA-PLM). 

Most likely, when the new PISA results come in, we will go through another cycle of self-flagellation. At some point, I was resigned to the thought that we had the worst system, but I found it incredible that 91% of our 4th-grade pupils could not read a simple text. True enough, the basis was an English reading test. Despite decades of bad news, we should remain hopeful that things can change, but we should find the appropriate way to measure what our children really know. In the first place, PISA was meant for wealthy OECD countries, and only less than 40% of the countries participated. India abstained from joining PISA for the past 12 years because they felt that it was not culturally appropriate. And yet India has been instituting massive educational reforms through its New Education Policy (NEP) 2020, shifting the focus from rote learning to holistic, relevant, and problem-solving education. I hope that our policymakers, through the EDCOM 2, will do no less. 

This is the letter I sent to Inquirer.Net. Due to space limitation, they removed some parts. You can read the published form here - https://opinion.inquirer.net/168641/anticipating-pisa-results-on-dec-4-will-self-flagellation-follow 


Conference Workshop on the International Decade of Indigenous Languages and the SDGs

 Join us in 𝑰𝒍𝒐𝒊𝒍𝒐 𝑪𝒊𝒕𝒚 (𝑷𝒉𝒊𝒍𝒊𝒑𝒑𝒊𝒏𝒆𝒔) on 𝑭𝒆𝒃𝒓𝒖𝒂𝒓𝒚 21-23, 2023

𝟮𝟬𝟮𝟯 𝗖𝗼𝗻𝗳𝗲𝗿𝗲𝗻𝗰𝗲-𝗪𝗼𝗿𝗸𝘀𝗵𝗼𝗽 𝗼𝗻 𝗜𝗻𝗱𝗶𝗴𝗲𝗻𝗼𝘂𝘀 𝗟𝗮𝗻𝗴𝘂𝗮𝗴𝗲𝘀 𝗮𝗻𝗱 𝗦𝗗𝗚 as a presenter and/or participant (organized/sponsored by 𝗨𝗣-𝗩𝗶𝘀𝗮𝘆𝗮𝘀, 𝗧𝗲𝗯𝘁𝗲𝗯𝗯𝗮, 𝗔𝗕𝗖+, 𝗨𝗡𝗘𝗦𝗖𝗢-𝗝𝗮𝗸𝗮𝗿𝘁𝗮 & 𝗧𝗮𝗹𝗮𝘆𝘁𝗮𝘆𝗮𝗻-𝗠𝗟𝗘)

Theme: Carrying out the Global Action Plan and the 2030 Agenda

Plenary speakers:
𝗣𝗿𝗼𝗳𝗲𝘀𝘀𝗼𝗿 𝗙𝗲𝗿𝗻𝗮𝗻𝗱 𝗱𝗲 𝗩𝗮𝗿𝗲𝗻𝗻𝗲𝘀
UN Special Rapporteur on Minority Issues at United Nations
𝗨𝗻𝗱𝗲𝗿𝘀𝗲𝗰𝗿𝗲𝘁𝗮𝗿𝘆 𝗚𝗶𝗻𝗮 𝗢. 𝗚𝗼𝗻𝗼𝗻𝗴, 𝗣𝗵𝗗
Department of Education Curriculum and Instruction Division
𝗣𝗿𝗼𝗳𝗲𝘀𝘀𝗼𝗿 𝗔𝗹𝗹𝗮𝗻 𝗕𝗲𝗿𝗻𝗮𝗿𝗱𝗼, 𝗣𝗵𝗗
University Fellow, De La Salle University Manila
𝗚𝗿𝗲𝗴𝗼𝗿𝗶𝗼 𝗱𝗲𝗹 𝗣𝗶𝗹𝗮𝗿, 𝗣𝗵𝗗
President, National Research Council of the Philippines
𝗩𝗶𝗰𝗸𝘆 𝗧𝗮𝘂𝗹𝗶 𝗖𝗼𝗿𝗽𝘂𝘇
Executive Director, Tebtebba Foundation
Former UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples
𝗝𝗼𝗵𝗻𝗺𝗮𝗿𝘁 𝗦𝗮𝗹𝘂𝗻𝗱𝗮𝘆
President, Nagkakaisang mga Tribu ng Palawan Inc.
𝗥𝗼𝗻𝗮𝗹𝗱𝗼 𝗔𝗺𝗯𝗮𝗻𝗴𝗮𝗻
Chairperson, UPAKAT Chairperson and Timuey of Erumanen ne Menuvu
𝗔𝗻𝗴𝗲𝗹𝗶𝗻𝗲 𝗢𝗿𝘁𝗶𝘇
Silingang Dapit sa Sidlakang Mindanao (SILDAP)
𝗝𝗼𝘀𝗲 𝗔𝗻𝗱𝗼𝗻𝗶 𝗦𝗮𝗻𝘁𝗼𝘀
Policy Advocacy Manager, Philippine Business for Education
For more details, visit the Conference Facebook page