BACOLOD CITY, Negros Occidental, Philippines — Negros Occidental Third District Rep. Jose Francisco Benitez stressed the need for a “whole-of-society” approach to address what he called as an education crisis, since the issue involves the entire country.
The solon also added that Philippine learners are behind their global counterparts by at least six years despite spending more time in school.
Benitez made these observations during the Local School Boards Summit involving education stakeholders which he hosted in partnership with Synergeia Foundation, Inc. The summit, held last 30 March 2023 in Talisay City, was attended by 13 local government units, and three from the private to look at the critical issues affecting student performance – participation, retention, cohort survival, reading comprehension, numeracy, stunting in children; and discuss challenges faced by the education sector in the province.
Benitez cited a pre-Covid-19 pandemic report by the World Bank showing that the Philippines has a learning poverty rate of 90%, with nine out of ten students not performing at their appropriate grade level.
The congressman highlighted the importance of gaining a deeper understanding of the potential impact of education reforms within localized contexts. The recent Mandanas-Garcia ruling, which devolves education to LGUs, has caused confusion among various stakeholders, including the National Government, Congress, and LGUs themselves.
Synergeia Foundation’s goal is to help transform leaders, institutions, communities to become sustainable partners towards achieving effective and efficient educational governance systems.
Benitez, who is also the Commissioner of the Second Congressional Commission on Education (EDCOM 2), warned against the dangers of inaction, citing the potential for continued learning loss among children and long-term consequences for the country’s labor market.
“But in that space of not knowing we cannot wait… If we do not do anything, this will bite us in the butt in at least 10 to 15 years,” he said.
The congressman said, “Today is just the beginning. The idea is that if you go back to your localities, there will always be a tension between abiding by national standards and localizing it to what we need in our own context, the issue of devolution has to be a balancing act.”
Benitez also emphasized pointed out the need for balancing national standards with local needs through the concept of devolution.
He said that measurable targets and outcomes, linked with clear mechanisms, are essential in achieving this balance. To that end, he suggested four categories: prioritizing learning outcomes, enabling teachers to perform their tasks, providing sufficient inputs for the learning environment, and involving the local community in decision-making through school councils and local school boards.
Benitez expressed gratitude to all participants and Synergeia and challenged all to go beyond the workshop and work on the implementation of the action plans.
Emphasizing the importance of prioritizing the learner’s needs and placing them at the center of all activities, he said, “We should always take into account that at the center of everything we do has to be the learner.”
Capping the summit was a workshop and action planning where participants tackled initial plans on what the Local School Board can do to improve their local educational system.
Representing Synergeia in the summit were President and CEO Dr. Milwilda “Nene” Guevarra; and mentors, Phil. Red Cross Governor and former Silay Vice-Mayor Francis Joseph “Jay” Jalandoni, former Negros Occidental Governor Rafael “Lito” Coscolluela, former Mamburao, Mindoro Occidental Mayor Bambi Villarosa, former E.B. Magalona Mayor Alfonso “Diding” Gamboa, and former PhilHealth president Reynaldo Aquino.
Among the participants were President of the Negros Occidental Association of Chief Executives (ACE) and Victorias City Mayor Javier Miguel “Javi” Benitez”, Murcia Mayor Gerry Rojas, Isabela Mayor Irene Montilla, Sipalay Mayor Maria Gina Lizares, La Carlota City Mayor Rex Jalandoon.and Vice-Mayors Nicolai Jalandoni (Talisay), Eric Matulac (E.B. Magalona), Justin Gatuslao (Himamaylan), Juan Miguel Montilla (Isabela).