Editorial: It may not be language

LAST year, the Philippines decided to participate in the triennial survey, the Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa), of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). It is an examination for 15-year-old students on three core subjects: reading, mathematics and science. It intends to determine how ready are these teens to assume full role as responsible citizens in society.

What is, however, worth noting in the nature of the examination is that it measures a student’s proficiency “in an innovative domain,” and in 2018, specifically, that domain was “global competence.” So there were two challenges that our students, taking the examination for the first time, had to contend with: the “innovative” and the “global.” Needless to say the examination is taken using computers and online.

A reading comprehension examination, for instance, does not come in the usual manner: Given text from which answers to questions are drawn from. The Pisa’s reading comprehension tool is predominantly web-based in terms of interface. Reading skills are in application in an online platform—comprehension is determined by navigation skills, web research, curating content, integrating or cross-referencing information, etc.

While basic reading skills still come in handy, the examination interface may prove disorienting to students who may not have the proficiency to navigate through web text. One question, for instance, would require a student to review a website design for a new organization. He will be tasked to look over its pages and see if they have sufficient content. To do that, he would have to do research and integrate more information into the pages.

In its first take last year, the Philippines ranked lowest in the area of reading comprehension among OECD member countries, inspiring reactions from our local school boards, who have all the right to react to our students’ poor Pisa performance.

However, it may be a bit inaccurate and reductive to conclude that the poor performance was solely about language proficiency. A reading comprehension test given in the manner our students are used to may prove a rather optimistic result, but not this one with Pisa.

Department of Education 7 officer-in-charge Salustiano Jimenez, in a SunStar report, said: “It was the first time we joined. Perhaps our confidence level when we took the exam was not that high. It was a different examination, and our children are not used to the kind of examination that is computer-aided.”

Jimenez could be right. Just how proficient are our students in the use of computers when there is a dearth of such facilities in our schools?

One of Pisa’s rather dismal findings was that the Philippines had the lowest “expenditure per student” among all Pisa-participating countries, and 90 percent lower than the OECD average.

While the Cebu Provincial School Board pushes for the English language as the medium of instruction in our public schools, it is still best to raise the matter for thorough review, especially now that our education department is in the cusp of assessing its Mother Tongue-Based Multi-lingual Education (MTB-MLE) program, formulated in 2011. The manner the program is being implemented, studies show, leaves more to be desired. While it’s a national policy, there is much monitoring that needs to be done on the community level.

Language policies in our educational system have always been contentious and fluctuating one. What makes it worse is that they had been subjected to leadership whims. It may be helpful to build a community of experts that will provide sustainable inputs.