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World Bank Withdraws Education Report on The Philippines for Now

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The World Bank published a report about the education in the Philippines. But this overview of the Philippine education system received vocal backlash from the authorities, which considered to be “insulted“. The World Bank recognized the “inadvertent release of the report” and momentarily withdrew it without refuting the conclusions.

In Early July, local Philippine news media reported the World Bank overview of the Philippine education system. The publication highlighted that 80 percent of students fall below minimum levels of proficiency, which first alarmed and then made the country’s authorities angry.

The poor learning results in reading, writing and mathematics among students were based in various international assessment program observations, two of which the Philippines had recently joined.

According to the Philippine Department of Education, the World Bank recognized the error of publishing “old data based on 2019 PISA scores” which “has inflicted harm on DepEd and the government“.

The OECD Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) is a triennial survey of 15-year-old students in 79 education systems. In 2018, “fifteen-year-old students in the Philippines scored lower in reading, mathematics and science than those in most of the countries and economies that participated” in the programme. Moreover, the survey showed that almost two thirds of students reported “being bullied at least a few times a month“, compared to 23% on average across OECD countries.

However more recent data isn’t available as OECD member countries and Associates decided to postpone the PISA 2021 assessment to 2022 because of Covid-19.

School in the Philippines
The World Bank report "insulted" the Philippines according to the Department of Education of the country

The Philippines in the bottom of education assessments

In 2019, TIMSS, an international program evaluating achievements in mathematics and science among 4th graders (students who are usually 9 or 10 years old) showed the Philippines had the lowest performance of all 58 countries.

Unicef‘s Southeast Asia Primary Learning Metrics 2019 for grade 5 learners (students usually 10–11 years old) showed that reading, math and writing were below the average scores of other participating countries.

Leonor Briones, the Philippine Department of Education Secretary, demanded public apology from the World Bank that “insulted” and “shamed” the country. The 80-year-old academician considered the report took old information into consideration and didn’t regard the country’s efforts in improving the education system since 2019. Moreover, the World Bank didn’t follow the standard procedure of consulting DepEd officials about the findings before the publication. The organization apologized to the secretary but she required a public one. The Department of Finance supported the call for a public apology because it causes “undue reputational risk to the Philippine education sector“.

The World Bank regrets a publication earlier than scheduled

The authorities regret that “reforms strongly supported and financed by the government, local partners, country partners and multilaterals” were not acknowledged or that it didn’t brought up “a loan agreement for a major program to address teacher upskilling is being negotiated with the World Bank“. The department refers to the Teacher effectiveness and competencies enhancement project, estimated to be a US $120 million loan whose concept dates back to 2018, which was supposed to be implemented in July 2019.

Since 2020 and the Covid-19 crisis, chances of recent dramatic improvement is low though. “Covid is affecting all school systems in the world, but here it is even worse“, said Unicef education chief in the Philippines to the Inquirer last March.

In early July, the education undersecretary Nepomuceno Malaluan accepted the results of the report “as a challenge” with “alarming” results. The calls for apologies aim to defend the work of the administration. The undersecretary regretted the report didn’t acknowledge the reform initiatives from the government and that “the challenge in the quality of education is a product of historical development“.

Because the department of education couldn’t defend its work, the World Bankregret that the report on education was inadvertently published earlier than scheduled and before the Department of Education had enough chance to provide inputs“. The institution doesn’t mention regretting the conclusions or the use of data from 2018 and further mentions it is “aware of the Department’s various efforts and programs to address the challenges of education quality“. Instead, it rather “recognizes the inadvertent release of the report“.

The World Bank temporarily removed the publication from the website.

As the Department of Education stated, “giving a snapshot of the current situation without its historical context can easily give the impression that it is the present administration that is to blame“.

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