Elephants in DepEd’s room

By Herman M. Lagon

AS THE new academic year for basic education generally begins this August, the implementation of the “No Child Left Behind” policy of the Department of Education (DepEd) remains a pressing issue that demands urgent attention. While its intent to provide equal opportunities between disadvantaged and privileged students is noble, the controversial practice of mass promotion continues to cast a shadow over its effectiveness. This approach, aimed at preventing students from being left behind, turned out to be a double-edged sword, as it failed to address the underlying issues leading to poor academic performance. Instead, it exacerbated the problem, leaving students ill-prepared for the next grade level.

One of the most critical pitfalls of mass promotion is the widening learning gaps among students. The pandemic-induced disruptions, lack of proper school facilities, and high student-teacher ratios further compounded this issue. The shift to remote learning exposed the digital divide, with many disadvantaged students needing access to essential technology and resources for effective online education. Consequently, their learning suffered, and they fell behind their more privileged peers.

The pressure to promote students irrespective of their competency and preparation—one of the elephants in DepEd’s room—placed an impossible burden on teachers. With limited time and resources, educators faced the daunting challenge of bridging the widening learning gaps among their students. The lack of proper training, learning space, and support from the education system only exacerbated their struggle to meet the diverse learning needs of their pupils.

Moreover, teachers found themselves grappling with the overwhelming task of preparing students for higher grade levels without a strong foundation in the core subjects. Mass promotion inadvertently perpetuated a vicious cycle of unpreparedness, where students were passed on to the next level without acquiring essential knowledge and skills. As a result, teachers had to allocate valuable class time to remedial work instead of focusing on advancing the curriculum.

The policy’s overemphasis on standardized testing further complicated matters. Teachers were forced to dedicate a significant portion of their instructional time to test preparation, diverting attention from comprehensive learning experiences. The pressure to “boost,” even “cheat,” test scores—another elephant in DepEd’s room—led to a narrowed curriculum, with less emphasis on other vital subjects like social studies, science, arts, and physical education.

To rectify these issues and uphold the true spirit of “No Child Left Behind,” a comprehensive approach is necessary. Adequate investment in improving school facilities, reducing student-teacher ratios, and providing professional development opportunities for teachers—instead of securing confidential funds—is crucial. The pandemic revealed the urgency of DepEd investing in digital infrastructure to ensure equitable access to education for all students.

Additionally, the policy must shift its focus from one-size-fits-all standardized testing to a more comprehensive evaluation system. This can encompass qualitative assessments, portfolios, and project-based evaluations that capture students’ growth and progress. Moreover, as the policy emphasizes the shift from standardized testing to a holistic evaluation system, it must also acknowledge the importance of values formation in basic education. By recognizing the transformative impact of a comprehensive evaluation approach, the policy can better assess students’ overall development and prepare them for a well-rounded future beyond the confines of rigid testing methods.

Furthermore, targeted interventions such as learning camps, individualized support, digital applications, and remediation programs should be prioritized to address learning gaps effectively. Teachers need ongoing training and support to equip them with the necessary contextual and digital tools, strategies, and styles to cater to the diverse needs of their students. The government should also consider investing more in partnerships with private schools, edtech innovation companies, and accrediting institutions to bolster the school system’s improvement efforts.

The “No Child Left Behind” policy faced significant challenges, particularly in the “common knowledge” practice of mass promotion and the subsequent learning gaps among students—two enormous elephants in DepEd’s room. Teachers are burdened with the impossible task of preparing students without a strong foundation in the core subjects. A multifaceted approach, including targeted interventions, investment in education infrastructure, and teacher professional development, is essential to overcome these obstacles. Only then can the policy authentically fulfill its vision of providing a quality education for every child, indeed ensuring that no one is left behind


Doc H fondly describes himself as a ‘student of and for life’ who, like many others, aspires to a life-giving and why-driven world that is grounded in social justice and the pursuit of happiness. His views herewith do not necessarily reflect those of the institutions where he is employed or connected with.


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