Next DepEd chief: OJT students should be paid

Inday Espina-Varona, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jun 06 2016 08:43 PM | Updated as of Jun 07 2016 12:47 AM

Schools and companies should stop the practice of letting on-the-job students pay for their training, according to President-elect Rodrigo Duterte's appointee to the education portfolio.

Prof. Leonor Briones, a former national treasurer, said interns should be paid by firms that use their labor. Briones, a long-time activist, pointed out that earning income while honing their craft would ease the burdens of families facing two additional years of tuition and other costs under the K-12 program.

The K-12 track for technical and vocational education includes on the job training in the 11th and 12th grade to improve graduates’ absorption into the workforce. If the paid OJT proposal is implemented, it would need the involvement of both the Departments of Education and Labor and Employment, Briones said.

Briones, however, said the incoming administration would monitor the situation before making the decision to continue, suspend, or abolish the K-12 program.

The Supreme Court earlier junked six separate pleas to issue a temporary restraining order (TRO) on K-12, freeing the outgoing administration of President Benigno Aquino III to implement the program on June 13. 

Compulsory kindergarten was implemented in 2012. The following year, President Benigno Aquino signed into law the Enhanced Basic Education Act, which mandated the addition of grades 11 and 12 to meet with international standards.

Militant organizations oppose K-12 on grounds that it allegedly strengthens the country's labor-export policies, leads to displacement of teachers, and cause more dropouts of students from poor families.

The Association of Concerned Teachers (ACT), which wants a full turnaround on K-12, noted four years ago at the start of the kindergarten program that longer years cannot create better students with schools bursting at their seams.

The government acknowledged a shortage of 50,000 classrooms but it refused to delay the K-12 program until resolution of infrastructure and poor teacher-student and book-student ratios.

'No one left behind'

President-elect Duterte's most explicit instruction so far, is ensuring “that those who are out of the loop must not be left behind."

Even before K-12, 50 percent of children who start primary education never graduate from high school, Briones stressed. The government's 2015 figures state that this has dropped to 40%, still high for a country with a largely young population.

Poverty, as well as dearth in infrastructure and teachers willing to serve in far-flung areas, deprive youth of education needed for upward mobility,

Briones, meanwhile, acknowledged that K-12 has made some challenges tougher.

“A few years ago, nakita na ang high drop out rate ng mga bata, kasi by the age of 15-17, youth drop out of school,” said Briones. (A few years ago, the high drop out rate was apparent.)

"They go work in the farms and agriculture firms. In cities, they are on streets, doing anything to earn a living,” added Briones, the founder of Social Watch, an advocacy group focused on pushing for government budgets responsive to the country’s urgent needs.

"So the suggestion at that time was, say, in agriculture, that they get paid while doing agriculture training. The same if they are in manufacturing. The practice now is, the students pay for that training,” she said. “I think it is a sound idea and could help ease the burden of parents."

OJT is normally associated with tertiary education. Under the technical-vocational track, the last two years of high school prepare students for employment by honing work skills.

Social Watch has long lobbied to increase the education department’s budget allocation, which already represents the biggest slice of the national pie. It also works for the streamlining of education and other budget needs like welfare, health and nutrition. The group requested for an additional P45 billion to the 2016 education allotment of P365 billion.

Even if granted, Briones stressed, it would fall short of the international standard of providing education with funds equivalent to six percent of the gross domestic product (GDP).

“Education for all is an urgent goal,” the incoming secretary said. “It is a tremendous challenge for all who believe that education is not just an international goal but a valuable part of our culture. Parents, whether peasants, keep drivers or fisherfolk, always want their children to be educated because they want them to have better lives."

Displacement

Briones, who also chairs Siliman University in Dumaguete, Negros Island, and the Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila, said the education department has been implementing K-12 in stages since 2012.

“It’s not something that’s just going to hit us on June 13,” she said. The current administration will preside over the opening of classes this school year as the Duterte administration only comes in on July 1.

When the government pushed the program in 2012, Briones said, "the assumption was that shift would be ready by 2016."

“There has been a desperate need for more funding for senior high school since 2013,” she said. “It is hard to notice its implementation because the focus in on curriculum building. It is not just a matter of inserting two years. The entire curricula is undergoing tremendous change.”

This year marks the launch of grade 11 and the implementation of new curricula for Grade 5.

“One can never say that preparations are fully complete,” said Briones, citing concerns published on social media by various education advocacy groups.

Briones said both DepEd and the Commission on Higher Education have crafted a program to ease displacement of permanent-status freshmen and sophomore teachers in state colleges and universities.

Those willing to teach Grades 11 and 12 have retooled their skills and added basic education courses to meet the requirements for high school teachers. Those who want to stay on with the universities have been aided with scholarships for post-graduate courses, Briones said.

But the Suspend K-12 Coalition and the Council of Teachers and Staff of Colleges and Universities in the Philippines submitted a letter addressed to the President-elect, urging him to stand pat on his earlier opposition to the program.

Duterte has since said he has been advised on K-12 merits but continues to be concerned about the burden on parents.

The group called the K-12 law “ill conceived” and said the Aquino government did not take into account its negative impact on education stakeholders.

“Many faculty and staff are being retrenched or have fallen prey to redundancy, diminution of salaries and benefits, early forced retirement, labor contractualization and other violations of labor rights.

“Parents and students, who were not properly consulted while the law is being crafted, are being made to shoulder the additional cost of education,” the statement added. It said the voucher system that tries to address the infrastructure and personnel deficit only provides P22,500 aid, which is not enough to meet education needs, especially for rural youth who have to temporarily relocate to the cities.

A 2010 report by the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said a fifth of parents of early elementary school drop-outs cited high costs as the reason, "despite the fact that elementary school attendance is mostly in public schools where there are virtually no school fees.”

"This highlights the commonly forgotten fact that there are other costs besides school fees that have prevented school-aged children from attending school,” the report said. That problem balloons substantially for students now facing two more years of high school.

The administration has expanded its conditional cash transfer program to cover families with high school students. The poorest students, however, from far-flung farming and fishing communities do not have access to nearby senior high schools. The living expenses of temporary relocation to towns — coupled with the loss of a productive family worker — are seen to outweigh the monthly dole-outs from the P102-billion program of the Department of Social Welfare and Development.

Briones said she had never met Duterte before he introduced he as an incoming secretary. She had actually published a note recommending a holdover term for Luistro to ensure smooth implementation of K-12.