Amid diverse and divergent views over efforts to implement a 12-year education program in the country, a school in a fifth class municipality in the Mountain Province may just be proof of how the plan can work.
In 2006, the St. Mary's School of Sagada implemented a 6-year high school program. This year, it topped the National Achievement Test for the second year in a row, besting 58 private and public schools in the Mountain Province.
The school authorities credit the school's 6-year high school program for earning the distinction.
"We topped the National Achievement Test twice in a row, including this year. The methodology is sound, my philosophy is sound, our teachers are doing a good job and it can be emulated across the country. I don't buy the excuse that [it's because] we are private school. I think it's just the ability to reach out to the kids and understand them and see how they respond to positive teaching," says St. Mary's School of Sagada Principal Dennis Faustino.
"Six years ago, we were graduating 15- and 16-year-old students and they're bright, but they drop out of college, they shift, they don't know what to do yet so I added a fifth year," Faustino says.
"At the age of 16, if they don't have the capacity or ambition, or on a legal point, if they aren't employable until they're 18, why force them to go college?"
"We're not those elite schools. We're struggling for every little improvement we can make. We need to invest in this basic education program," adds Dean Jorge Bocobo, the school's math and science curriculum director.
"Majority of privatized schools are struggling now, and Education Secretary Armin Luistro appreciates there is a fruitful partnership that can occur between the private and public schools. And that's a key part of this strategy of the DepEd [Department of Education] which we are supporting," Bocobo says, adding he and Faustino work very closely with public elementary schools.
"There ought to be a track where people take 2 more years after the present system so they can gain gainful employment both here and abroad and have the competitive edge," adds Bocobo.
Long overdue plan
Faustino and Bocobo support the government's move to add two years to the education cycle, adding that it is long overdue.
"The plan to add two years started during [President Fidel] Ramos' time. It was shelved because of the political turmoil that happened to the country. So when are we going to start? Add one more year. That's a good step to allocate the resources properly," Faustino says.
"We're the last country in Asia going into this 12-year system," Bocobo says.
"The last in the world...," Faustino adds.
"Everyone else has seen the wisdom of it. The DepEd has arranged it so there will be no disruption of the current system. We're going to align ourselves with international standards," Bocobo adds.
But with a student-teacher ratio of 20:1, Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) party-list Representative Antonio Tinio says, the St. Mary's School of Sagada may be too idyllic, adding it may not be feasible to implement the plan on a nationwide scale unless government addresses the chronic problems of classroom and teacher shortage that confront the education sector.
"We recognize the success of the experience of the school in Sagada. We're not closed to the possible benefits of adding two years to the basic education cycle, but at this point, we have to address the basic problems, and so far, the government is far from doing so."
Back to reality?
Tinio says he has yet to see the plan translated into the proposed 2011 budget. Citing the DepEd's figures, he says it will take an additional P150 billion to cover the additional requirements for the next school year.
So far, he already sees a disconnect, citing a basic shortage of high schools, and the DepEd's plan to hire 10,000 new teachers when they've indicated that they need 103,000 teachers to improve the student-teacher ratio.
"The government is not in the position to add 2 years to the basic education cycle when it cannot even adequately provide the minumum conditions for quality education in the existing 10-year system. I'd rather hear that this government has a national plan or strategy for providing access to high school and ensuring our youth complete high school," Tinio says.
Completion rates for the 10-year basic education cycle show, for every 100 students who enrol in grade 1 only 43 will complete high school.
"What's more pressing than adding two years, is for government to ensure that all our children who enter grade one will go on to finish high school," Tinio says.