14 March 2021

What does someone at age 15 know about math and science and how good is their reading? Since 2003, the OECD tries to answer these questions for an ever-growing number of countries. The exercise, called Program for International Student Assessment or PISA, is conducted every three years and the most recent report, that of 2018, was the sixth in the series. It was also the first time the Philippines participated.

For the 2018 report, 600,000 students participated in 79 countries. Before turning to the Philippines, these are some of the more striking findings in the three areas of math, science and reading:

• The top ten countries for both math and science include seven East-Asian countries; for reading, five of the top ten are from East Asia;

• Ranking is not determined by how rich a country is: The USA is ranked 38, 19 and 14 in math, science and reading, respectively;

• In South-East Asia, apart from the Philippines, five other countries participated: Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. With a 2nd place in all three of math, science and reading, Singapore did extremely well, and so did Vietnam (24-04-13). The others were placed as follows: 48-49-57 (Malaysia), 58-54-57 (Thailand) and 73-71-73 (Indonesia).

What about the Philippines? While the country deserves praise for having submitted itself to this comparison with other countries, the results are quite sobering. The country ranked second to the last in math and science, and last in reading.

In a reaction to the 2018 findings DepEd stated that it “recognizes the urgency of addressing issues and gaps in attaining quality of basic education in the Philippines” and “By participating in PISA, we will be able to establish our baseline in relation to global standards and benchmark the effectiveness of our reforms moving forward”. DepEd also issued a report that summarizes the findings .

The World Bank later followed with a detailed analysis of the PISA findings with policy recommendations that focus on teachers, the school environment, and a more holistic development of students (downloadable from World Bank site).

These findings are serious. We are depriving our youth from the chance to develop their full potential. Moreover, a poorly educated youth represents a huge loss of potential for the country as a whole. Unfortunately, there has not been a major public debate about the significance of these findings. Other countries, also in our region, show what is possible. While DepEd recognizes the challenges that lie ahead, unless they get the all-out support at the national level, they will not succeed in realizing their vision “that no Filipino learners should be left behind”. 




Gerry van der Linden is a former Vice President of ADB and is now active in microcredit and governance NGOs in the Philippines


Bruce Murray

28.03.2021 23:34

The status of public education in the Philippines needs some serious work. That will not happen the sons and daughters of politicians go to public schools so education gets a higher fiscal priority.


19.03.2021 11:24

Philippine govt, schools and universities should do more to offer free bursaries/pay later scheme to under privilege/low income. Rural/poor areas are overlooked.


14.03.2021 06:46

I have put my nieces through the "private" school system for the last 5 years, and what I have witnessed first hand makes me nauseous every and anytime I think of it. I have addressed my concerns to


14.03.2021 03:20

Education in the Philippines and the US have gone resolutely downhill for the last 60 years or so, with the learning gulf between rich and poor yawning ever wider.


14.03.2021 11:33

Online learning increasingly being facilitated by technology. Ideally, it should democratise education. But what if you can't afford a computer and your class has only one machine?