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Why teachers want the next DepEd secretary to stay above politics

MANILA, Philippines — Teachers have rallied behind the call for the next Department of Education secretary to be capable of rising above the political fray to make education reforms work — which one political science professor said has been difficult under the “divisive” term of outgoing education secretary Sara Duterte. 

After nearly two years of wrestling with years-long problems in the basic education sector with the resources of the government’s biggest bureaucracy, Duterte on Wednesday announced that she is stepping down as DepEd secretary, a job given to her by President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. in 2022 despite her reported request for the defense portfolio.

Duterte refused to provide clear reasons for her exit from Marcos’ Cabinet, but she said in a press conference that her resignation was not “out of weakness” but “compassion for teachers and students.”

The vice president has openly and repeatedly admitted to not having an educational background, which required her to tap her DepEd undersecretaries and education experts to review the newly launched Matatag curriculum in 2023.

Teachers group Teachers’ Dignity Coalition (TDC) said in a statement on Thursday that DepEd must be led by a non-politician or an individual not actively involved in partisan politics so the department can be “spared from political bickering” and “divisive political fighting.”

TDC Chairperson Benjo Basas said he hopes the next DepEd secretary will have actual classroom experience and “whose heart is truly a teacher's.”

“Aside from this, the next secretary should be an excellent manager since that person will be managing the largest bureaucracy in the country, with the most personnel, the most geographically dispersed, and the greatest resources,” Basas added.

As a result of her non-education background, some of Duterte's policies, such as removing educational posters in classrooms, have not been "educationally sound," said Mercedes Arzadon, faculty member of the University of the Philippines Diliman College of Education, in a message to Philstar.com.

Besides Duterte’s no-decoration policy, DepEd under her leadership implemented the weekly “Catch Up Fridays” program.

Read more on philstar.com