Thursday, March 6, 2014

Improving education, Salceda style

A lamentably small number of people, it seems, truly understand that the roots of the nation’s education problem lie deep in the system. Any cosmetic change that is introduced, therefore, would never truly improve our students’ academic performance in the long run. The best that these can do is to momentarily make us conscious of the problems; at worse, they can even exacerbate the situation.

Albay Governor Joey Salceda, however, apparently knows where to start. Alarmed by his province’s dismal performance in the National Achievement Test (NAT), he set out to implement a number of measures to genuinely improve education in Albay—not just its test scores. A child of two teachers, he is aware that merely suggesting to schools to conduct more intensive reviews would be insufficient. These reviews, after all, only serve to refresh students of what they already know. Students are generally no longer receptive to any new information that is introduced in these reviews, especially when such data is crammed down their throats weeks before the exams.

Salceda’s noteworthy response to Albay’s educational dilemma was to establish the Provincial Education Department. The first of its kind in the country, this body had the primordial duty to improve the academic performance of Albay students.

He also gave incentives to top-performing teachers, students, principals, and schools, encouraging to work for their own improvement.

With the help of local government officials, he lobbied for greater coverage of pro-poor programs, as he believes that nutrition impacts student performance.

Salceda considers these educational innovations his legacy—and they are. As he graduates from his stint as governor, these seeds of change that he planted will grow, and his constituents will be eternally grateful as they harvest the fruits.

What is strange, however, is that while Albay was able to dramatically enhance its academic performance, using the NAT results as a barometer, many provinces have not followed his lead. Many still subscribe to the idea that building a few classrooms, and handing out a few books is enough educational assistance. Some choose to completely leave the problem into the hands of the DepEd.  Others, meanwhile, unwittingly allocate much of the Special Education Fund (SEF) on athletic equipement and uniforms, using the fund as a milking cow. Hence, there are recurring reports about graft and corruption involving the meager resources that should be allocated for education.

Salceda is a local leader who dissected the age-old problems that plague our educational system. With his innovations, he went into the heart of the matter, attacking the issues right from where they spring. Others would do well to follow his noble example.

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