Seven Hopes on the First Day of Classes
30 August 2023 – Being hopeful is key to developing solutions and moving forward. Only with hope can we talk about children's and our planet’s future. As we start a new school year and as I transition out of my role of leading the Education Programme of UNICEF Philippines, I would like to share my seven hopes for the Philippine education system to tackle the learning crisis:
1. Sustain the focus on learning recovery and foundational skills. The MATATAG Curriculum is a key step in that direction, as it explicitly prioritizes numeracy and literacy and reduces the excessive number of learning competencies. UNICEF is proud to support DepEd in developing lessons exemplars for the new curriculum. Building capacities in teachers, schools and school divisions for its implementation is the next challenge. The adequate use of educational technologies will also help accelerate these efforts, especially with off-line solutions (e.g. Learning Passport) to reach rural, last-mile, and multigrade schools.
2. Re-prioritize early childhood education (ECE) for children 3 and 4 years old. The global and local evidence that children who attend preschool have better learning outcomes in basic education is vast and indisputable. Making ECE for children 3 and 4 years old universal, compulsory (but not a pre-requisite to access kindergarten) will increase the enrollment in ECE and facilitate the smooth transition of young learners from child development centers to kindergarten. Also, as the chair of the Early Childhood Care and Development Council Governing Board, the leadership of DepEd is essential to harmonize all sectors’ efforts under the MATATAG priorities and include the Department of Interior and Local Government in the Council.
At the local level, strong coordination between DepEd School Divisions and their respective LGUs through the local school board is critical. Increasing the contribution to the Special Education Fund beyond 1% is highly recommended, too.
3. Take care of our teachers. DepEd’s improvements to the career development and training of the most important actors in the education system are commendable. Pre-service training must be aligned with MATATAG agenda, with a focus on foundational skills and key methodologies to teach at the right level, with differentiated strategies, and digital skills.
The most challenging geographical areas have motivated teachers. The recent update on the Special Hardship Allowance will help them fulfill their duty and protect them from potential dangers going to school. UNICEF will continue supporting the refinement of the hardship index to ensure that the most deserving teachers have the support they need to continue delivering quality education in difficult circumstances.
4. Support parents to engage in their children’s education. At home, the parents are a child’s guide to their early education, development, and sustained learning. We can highly benefit from developing policies, as well as implementing communication campaigns and social and behavior change strategies, to strengthen the engagement of parents, their relationship with teachers, and coordination with other parents.
5. Support socio-emotional learning. Foundational skills and socio-emotional learning are strongly correlated as found in the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) 2018 and UNICEF Longitudinal Study (2022). Strengthening mental health and psycho-social support policies and creating a positive school environment are essential to make schools safe and allow children learn. Data shows that levels of bullying in school in the Philippines are significantly elevated (>60%) compared to other countries.
6. Keep equity as a top priority in education policies. Significant progress has been made to strengthen the Alternative Learning System (ALS) for out-of-school adolescents and youth. UNICEF is also supporting innovations for micro-certification, STEM education, and digital learning in ALS, which we hope can be continued and expanded. Specific policies and more support for children with disabilities and indigenous students remain a pending agenda. BARMM also requires more resources and specific policies to bring children back to school and improve the quality of learning.
7. Pay more attention to climate change. Climate change is already affecting the education of children, with more frequent strong typhoons that destroy schools and changes in temperature that disrupt in-person learning. Teachers and schools educating the next generations and empowering students to take action to save the planet shall be a top priority. Building more climate-friendly and resilient schools and classrooms is still a challenge. Nothing has ever been more urgent for our world than adapting and mitigating the effects of climate change, in which education is the main hope we can envision.
As I embark on a new journey in my career in another UNICEF office and my personal life with baby Olivia born in the Philippines, I wish that you will also have high hopes to keep going. With hope, we were able to safely reopen schools amid COVID-19 and continue our drive to collaborate and support education stakeholders, partners, and local governments for learning recovery. With hope, we imagined a better education system in the first-ever long-term education sector plan in the Philippines and working towards its implementation with the MATATAG agenda. With hope, we can achieve resilience. You can trust that UNICEF will continue its work with the education stakeholders and partners to uphold the right to quality education for children in the Philippines.
UNICEF promotes the rights and wellbeing of every child, in everything we do. Together with our partners, we work in 190 countries and territories to translate that commitment into practical action, focusing special effort on reaching the most vulnerable and excluded children, to the benefit of all children, everywhere.
For more information about UNICEF and its work for children in the Philippines, visit www.unicef.ph.