They say youth is the hope of the nation, yet about 265 million children do not have the opportunity to complete or even start school. Seven hundred fifty million more adults are illiterate, fueling poverty and marginalization. With this in mind, what kind of future are we trying to create? How are we going to break this cycle that leaves millions of people behind?
The COVID-19 pandemic has shown pre-existing inequalities in education by reducing the opportunities for the less privileged and most vulnerable people in our community - those living in impoverished areas, persons with disabilities, girls, and refugees - to participate in distance learning. On the other hand, this crisis has also revealed new approaches supporting education and its continuity - from radio to television shows, from online calls to take-home modules. These changes in learning modes cannot be separated from the fact that people are left behind. This is true for the people who lack resources to catch up, school personnel who have to learn new teaching methods for education continuity, and people who have always been struggling to have access to education.
In the hope of ensuring inclusive and equitable quality education at all levels, the United Nations declared 24 January as the International Day of Education. They ask for concrete actions towards accessible education to support everyone, including the out-of-school youth. However, quality education does not only mean that young people should be in school - 617 million children and adolescents cannot read and do simple math. Children have to acquire what they need to participate and learn: health care, food, and a conducive environment are just a few.
To provide accessible education, we must look closely and address the following issues: quality of education, the government budget for education, and affordability of education. Out of 79 participating countries, the Philippines scored the lowest in reading comprehension and second-lowest in Mathematics and Science in the 2018 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). The students' performance in the National Achievement Test (NAT) in 2018 also highlighted the declining quality of education when reports showed that the national mean percentage score among Grade 6 pupils was only 37.44, the lowest in NAT history. The problem is rooted in many factors: the student-to-teacher ratios and the large-scale shortages of equipment and facilities such as classrooms and textbooks, desks, and chairs. While the Philippine Constitution requires the government to devote the maximum proportion of its budget to education, the Philippines still has one of the lowest education expenditure allocations among ASEAN countries. Other than this, there is also a significant gap in academic success across socioeconomic classes. Those who cannot afford to adapt to the new learning method implemented amidst pandemic were forced to drop out. For instance, the 19.14 million students who enrolled for the academic year 2020-2021 in public schools was only 84.8 percent of last year's number, while the 1.5 million enrollment in private schools was just 24.3 percent of what it was a year before.
There must be reforms to address the issues mentioned. Ensure the advanced training of school personnel. Create policies that don’t favor the developed regions only by allocating budget for education across the country. Expand the scholarship programs offered in every school. Increase the salary of teachers from both public and private schools. We won’t have an inclusive and equitable education without fixing the broken system we have. This 2021, and to the more years to come, let’s leave behind the acts we do that deprive people of their rights.