By Atty. Joey D. Lina
I read last Sunday a feature article about the remarkable eight-year-old Io Aristotle Nikolai Calica, a gifted child whose math wizardry puts him at par with students more than twice his age in the college algebra and calculus classes where he sits in every Friday at the University of the Philippines in Diliman.
Also immensely talented in music, Calica can play the piano, violin and guitar. The boy with amazing abilities is the son of UP Clark professors Melissa and IanneCalica of Balanga, Bataan. At his young age, his feats are spectacular. Calica has competed in music and math contests, winning 30 medals and seven trophies so far.
“When he was 6, we had him undergo a series of tests…it was revealed that Io had computational skills of a 19-year-old,” Calica’s mother said. The tests conducted by Dr. Leticia Ho, a clinical neuropsychologist who founded the Philippine Center for Gifted Education in Manila, led to the conclusion that Calica “had superior memory, problem-solving and pattern-recognition skills beyond his age group.”
“He likes to be challenged or else he gets bored. So Dr. Ho suggested that we bring him to UP to find him a tutor,” the boy’s mother said as she explained how Calica ended up taking lessons in advanced calculus, called Math 54, meant for college sophomores majoring in math or engineering.
The amazing story of Calica got me thinking of those who are not as gifted, those who are not born to intellectual parents who may pass on superior genes to their offspring, those who are average students constantly engaged in a battle for survival of the fittest especially after they finish school and start looking for employment.
For those within the top ten percent of their class, life after school could be easy. Those from top schools and who are graduates of courses in high demand find it easy getting jobs. Many employers seek them out even before graduation.
But for average graduates competing with other jobseekers, various factors hinder or reduce employment chances – stiff competition due to oversupply of graduates in certain fields, and continued mismatch between jobs that are in demand and the corresponding skills required of graduates.
Still another handicap affecting graduates is the lack of critical thinking, initiative, and effective communication skills, according to a study of the People Management Association of the Philippines which said that four out of ten graduates do not get hired due to deficiencies in these “soft competencies.” Could the deficiencies in the so-called soft competencies be a reflection of the quality of our current education system?
The newly-enacted RA 10931 providing free college education in state colleges and universities is indisputably a game changer that would open doors towards improving the lives of impoverished students aspiring to reach greater heights. The new law is in line with Art. 14, Sec. 1, of the 1987 Constitution: “The State shall protect and promote the right of all citizens to quality education at all levels and shall take appropriate steps to make such education accessible to all.”
But while the fundamental law of the land clearly states the goal of “education accessible to all,” it also points out another key phrase – “quality education at all levels.”
So what kind of quality does our education system have? The president of Philippine Business for Education, Dr. Chito Salazar, made a disturbing revelation in 2014 when he said that a general aptitude test administered among college freshmen who are mostly graduates of public schools “found that only 3 percent were ready for college.”
“A deeper analysis of the results showed that most were entering college with only Grade IV to V reading and math competencies,” Salazar wrote in a published article. “The overall mean percentage score of fourth year high school students in DepEd’s 2011-2012 National Achievement Tests was 48.9, when the goal was a score of 75. The scores were 46.37 and 40.53 for mathematics and science, respectively. These are all evidence of a weak basic education system.”
He explained the key reasons for the low quality of education are “insufficient amount of public resources invested in education, resulting in inadequate provision facilities such as classrooms, textbooks and toilets; not enough quality teachers or quality teacher training opportunities; and the short, 10-year basic education cycle.”
While RA 10533 or the K-to-12 Basic Education Program is already addressing the need for lengthier basic education like that in most countries, the need to address other factors still affecting the quality of Philippine education is imperative.
But here’s the quandary: Should government pour its limited funds into free tertiary education or should meager resourcesbe used to first improve the quality of elementary and secondary education?
Many believe that public spending should focus more on raising the quality of basic education. This is where the bulk of Filipino students are in at present and it is where the minds of the Filipino youth are greatly affected during transformative years.
Besides, as CHEd Chair Patricia Licuanan said, free college education might not really benefit the poor. “The poorest of the poor are not yet in college. They have been knocked out long ago and enrollment of the poorest quintile in higher education is only 8 percent. So it’s not going to benefit the poor,” she said in a TV interview.
Aside from lack of classrooms, quality teachers, and learning materials, the lack of adequate infrastructure and transport also adversely affect poor students as they have to walk for hours to reach school. It is imperative to address accessibility problems and all other factors affecting quality of basic education if we are to build a solid foundation for our very young during their transformative years.
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