The learning crisis

By Dr. Herman M. Lagon

TRANSFORMING Philippine education is not just a lofty ideal but an urgent necessity. The recent State of Education Report by the Philippine Business for Education (PBEd) has exposed the grim reality of our education system. However, let us not mistake this for an education crisis; it is a learning crisis. And that is a crucial distinction.

Our education woes are not new; they predate even the COVID-19 pandemic. Shocking statistics show that 9 out of 10 ten-year-olds struggle to read simple texts. This learning crisis has far-reaching consequences, from non-readers in high school to senior high students unable to compose a decent essay.

It is a matter of access too. While over 80% of Filipinos complete primary education, that figure plummets to 30.5% for secondary education and a meager 24.4% for a bachelor’s degree. The disparity between the rich and the poor in accessing higher education is stark, with only 17% from the poorest decile able to pursue higher studies.

International assessments like PISA and TIMSS place the Philippines at the bottom, reflecting many school leavers and out-of-school youth. Our learners must catch up to their global counterparts in reading, math, and science.

The impact of malnutrition cannot be ignored too. Decades of struggling to address this issue have hindered cognitive development, affecting students’ ability to learn effectively. The pandemic, unfortunately, has only worsened the situation. With school closures and the shift to blended learning, access to education became a concern, leaving over a million students unable to enroll.

I had the opportunity to be part of the PBED consultation held at the SEDA Hotel, along with select educators from Western Visayas. It was an eye-opening experience highlighting the gravity of the issues plaguing our education system. The conversation affirmed the crisis that the country has faced for decades already.

To address this learning crisis, PBEd proposes the establishment of a Learning Task Force led by the government. It should be a collaboration of educators, policymakers, parents, business leaders, and civil society united in their passion for quality education.

The Learning Task Force should focus on critical areas for reform. Attracting and retaining high-quality teachers through better education programs and support is crucial. Investing in education to match job market demands will ensure our workforce remains competitive. Enhancing education governance to align efforts across sectors is also essential for progress.

The business sector has a vital role in supporting education reform. Collaboration with organizations like PBEd and the government allows businesses to contribute expertise and resources for transformative changes. A more robust education system will yield a more skilled and competent workforce, driving economic growth and prosperity.

So let us heed the warning signal from PBEd’s State of Education Report. It is time to take decisive action and form the Learning Task Force. We must unite to transform Philippine education and give every Filipino student the quality education they deserve. This is our call to action for a brighter future for our nation. Together, we can make a difference and pave the way for a truly educated, much so learned, Philippines.


Sir 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. He is a physics and math professor of ISUFST, an educational leadership student of USLS, a retired Principal of Ateneo, and an alumnus of UP, UI, and WVSU.


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