Philippine education reform program faces challenges

By Ronron Calunsod, Kyodo News

Posted at May 09 2015 02:29 AM | Updated as of May 09 2015 11:28 AM

MANILA - Halfway through its implementation and even with the required legislation that gave it teeth, a new basic education system in the Philippines continues to face challenges from politicians and groups that find the government's preparations for it insufficient.

The K to 12 basic education program was first introduced by the Department of Education in 2011, with the rolling out that year of mandatory kindergarten education for children at least 5 years old as a prerequisite for Grade 1.

It is expected to be fully implemented by 2024, when kindergarten students in 2011 would have already completed Grade 12.

Aside from strengthening the basic education curriculum, the K to 12 program scraps the country's previous 10-year basic education system, consisting of six years of grade school and four years of high school. In its place, it mandates Filipinos to complete six years of grade school, four years of junior high school, and two years of senior high school.

According to the government, the Philippines was the last country in Asia and one of only three countries across the world that practiced a 10-year pre-university cycle.

In the senior high school level, students may take any of the following tracks: academic (that includes science and technology, engineering, mathematics, accountancy, business and management, humanities and social sciences, and general academic courses); technical-vocational-livelihood; arts and design; and sports.

This would prepare them to get jobs even without a college degree, something that business groups find vital especially with the economic integration of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations beginning this year.

"K to 12 is a means by which we are able to produce more mature and more competent high school graduates who can actually get employed, and at the same time, go to college," Cynthia Bautista of the Commission on Higher Education said.

After reporting the midterm implementation status of the program to the committee on education of the Philippine Senate on Tuesday, Education Secretary Armin Luistro told reporters that the pace of the transition, so far, is "manageable" and that the agency is actively dealing with the needed infrastructure and the program's other related issues.

With the opening of more than around 8,100 senior high schools across the country, the planned construction initially of 30,000 new classrooms, the hiring of 30,000 new teachers and 6,000 non-teaching staff, and the training of teachers for the new curriculum, Luistro is confident that next year's implementation of the Grade 11 component will definitely proceed.

The government projects some 1.2 to 1.6 million students will enter Grade 11 next year.

Luistro allayed fears that some 13,600 teachers and 11,400 non-teaching staff in higher education institutions who could be displaced by 2016 due to a lack of college enrollees will be left totally jobless.

"I don't see any problem in terms of displacement of teachers. In fact, we would be needing more teachers as we do this. We want to do a green lane for those that may be potentially displaced from the universities," Luistro told the Senate committee, stressing that the agency will prioritize them over new hires.

The displacement of college teachers and non-teaching staff has been the biggest concern for some groups opposing the K to 12 program. Petitions for the suspension of its implementation have even been filed at the Supreme Court, the most recent being initiated Wednesday by one senator and two congressmen.

"This is not just a simple restructuring of our education system. We are talking about the future of this country. Why risk it for a program that is likely to fail? We will do our best to suspend this program," Congressman Gary Alejano said in a statement.

The higher education commission's Bautista laments the reluctance of some sectors to embrace what she says is a long-overdue reform of the country's education system, saying that its postponement will certainly cause the Philippines to lag further behind its neighbors.

"Any implementation of anything, even of our own marriages, has kinks. But those kinks are what will make you move to the next step. What will happen to us if our neighbors start implementing their education policies? By the time we perfect (our plan) and start implementing it, they have already gone to another level which we will never get to because we never learned how to implement," Bautista said.

"Boxing has 12 rounds. Mornings have 12 hours. A year has 12 months. I don't understand why we don't want 12 years of complete education for our fellow Filipinos," Luistro, for his part, said.

At Camp General Emilio Aguinaldo High School in the Manila suburb of Quezon City, Jefferson Ortiz, who will enter Grade 11 next year, told Kyodo News that he and his parents welcome the program. "I can already be qualified to work even if I haven't gone to college," said Ortiz, who dreams of becoming a physician.

The school's principal, Olivia Dagdag, and Dominga Cabadin, the school's focal person for the new program, disclosed that Camp General Emilio Aguinaldo High School is among the schools that will start offering Grade 11 next year and Grade 12 in 2017, particularly the academic and technical-vocational-livelihood tracks.

Both officials are positive that the new program will produce "employable" senior high school graduates who can even meet international standards.

"I really hope this will succeed," Dagdag said.

By producing "competent workers," Bautista said the new basic education system will "launch our economy" in the long run.