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Wanted: Bold DepEd Secretary

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THE long foreseen departure of Sara Duterte as Education Secretary has left a significant gap in the Department of Education (DepEd). To address the learning crisis and lead the ailing department effectively, the next leader must embody the best qualities of former Secretary Raul S. Roco and Br. Armin Luistro Jr. This includes integrity, advocacy, decisiveness, transparency, equity, and the right kind of political will. The ideal candidate should be independent, unaffected by the political landscape, and have a deep understanding of the academic world, empathizing with teachers, parents, and students.

A crucial reform is establishing a hiring system free from favoritism, patronage, collusion, and bribery. Merit-based hiring ensures that only the most qualified individuals shape the future of our youth, eliminating the backer-system. This approach is vital for reinstating trust and integrity in the much-challenged education system. Additionally, creating a supportive and safe environment where whistleblowers can report corrupt practices without fear is essential for maintaining a transparent and accountable DepEd.

Investment in human and technological infrastructure is also critical. Doubling funding in these areas will modernize classrooms, provide up-to-date teaching materials, and ensure students have access to the latest educational technology. This commitment will bridge the gap between traditional and modern learning environments, leading to better educational outcomes.

The curriculum also needs an urgent update to align with industry demands and the digital age. The rise in Latin honors without corresponding improvements in teaching quality and alignment with industry standards is concerning. Our educational framework must focus on critical skills like problem-solving, creativity, digital literacy, and communication. Enhancing teacher training in technology integration, value formation, and para-counseling is pivotal. A strict National Teacher Certification Program, similar to Singaporeโ€™s National Institute of Education (NIE), will ensure educators meet high standards of competence and professionalism.

Implementing inclusive STEM education and English-Filipino language proficiency programs in every province is necessary to enhance studentsโ€™ competitiveness and communication skills. These programs are crucial for producing graduates who can thrive in both local and global contexts. Additionally, digitalizing and institutionalizing the library network and learning commons will provide easy access to information, supporting lifelong learning and academic excellence.

The new DepEd chief should consider a โ€œvillage to a childโ€ approach, emphasizing community involvement in education. Engaging local communities creates a supportive environment that nurtures and guides students, fostering a sense of ownership and responsibility. Another priority is improving special, peace, indigenous peoples (IP), and inclusive education. Tailored programs that address the unique needs of these groups ensure โ€œno child is left behindโ€ in its truest sense,  promoting diversity and equality without compromising the non-negotiable academic and developmental standards within the educational system.

Rolling out mobile and community learning labs, especially in depressed areas, will also bring the much-needed education to those who need it most. These labs will provide access to quality educational resources, bridging the gap for underserved communities and ensuring all children can learn and grow. Furthermore, incorporating Good Manners and Right Conduct (GMRC), patriotism, social justice, entrepreneurship, digital literacy, a global perspective, and the arts and culture into all subjects fosters intellectual, moral, and social growth.

To ensure policies are science-based, a thorough understanding of the educational environment can be achieved with a 360-degree digitalized monitoring and evaluation (M&E) system. This will highlight the advantages and disadvantages of programs and policies, enabling prompt corrections and continuous improvement. Transparency in this process is essential for accountability. Additionally, solidifying partnerships with NGOs and government organizations, particularly TESDA and CHED, will enhance these transformations by bringing additional resources and expertise into the education system.

The new Secretary may also champion the green and smart school initiative, integrating sustainability, digitalization, and multi-media technology into the learning environment. This promotes environmental awareness and equips students with skills for future challenges. Meanwhile, institutionalizing a data-driven school health and nutrition program may also addresses studentsโ€™ overall wellness, ensuring healthy students who are better learners.

All these innovations are useless if the implementor lacks the necessary qualities and boldness. For instance, Sen. Rocoโ€™s integrity was tested when he faced textbook suppliersโ€™ lobbying, yet he maintained transparent bidding processes in 2002. His advocacy for teachers was evident when he secured a tax amnesty and better loan terms for public schoolteachers. Br. Armin Luistro showed decisiveness during Typhoon Yolanda in 2013 by swiftly mobilizing resources for affected schools. The same he did in rolling out the globally demanded K-12 system. Transparency was crucial when Luistro openly communicated DepEdโ€™s budget and spending. Roco championed educational equity by enforcing free education policies, and he highlighted simplicity and efficiency by cutting through red tape to eliminate unnecessary fees for parents.

The next DepEd Secretary can transform the Philippine education system and address the learning crisis by embodying these qualities and implementing these proposed projects. The focus must be on integrity, advocacy, decisiveness, transparency, and a commitment to educational equity and simplicity. By putting these suggestions into action, our education system will meet 21st-century needs and promote learning, creativity, and innovation. Bold and visionary leadership is essential to guide DepEd toward a better, more inclusive, and equitable future, ensuring the future of Filipino youth and, by extension, our country.ฮฒฯ‰ฮฑ

Doc H fondly describes himself as a โ€˜student of and for lifeโ€™ 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 he is employed or connected with.|

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