The K to 12 Basic Education Program, a major part of the campaign platform of President Aquino, is also one of the most controversial administration initiatives.
The Department of Education (DepEd), citing Filipino students’ low scores in both national and international tests, and our graduates’ inadequate preparation for work and university, swiftly mobilized resources to pursue the program.
Statistics are dismal. As of school year 2009-2010, National Achievement Test (NAT) passing rates for sixth-grade and fourth-year students were only 69 and 46 percent, respectively.
The Philippines was often fourth from last, or worse, in the Trends for International Math and Sciences Study.
In 2009, a World Bank survey found that employers considered graduates with only 10 years of basic education lacking in essential work skills, like problem-solving and initiative.
Our professionals abroad often do not get the recognition and remuneration they deserve because most courses, particularly engineering, require two more years of study.
K to 12 has kindergarten as base, followed by six years of elementary (Grades 1-6), four years of junior high (Grades 7-10), and two years of senior high (Grades 11-12).
K to 12 hopes to decongest the curriculum, by spreading lessons over 12 years, instead of cramming them into 10.
K to 12 hopes to do away with college remedial classes, by improving the quality of high-school instruction.
K to 12 hopes to protect the rights of Filipino children who, at 18, are legally and emotionally still kids, unprepared for work or university.
Various sectors supported the initiative.
But there are others who say problems abound with K to 12. Lack of family, school, government resources; the herculean task of implementation; the need to address more urgent concerns such as early and massive dropouts.
Education Secretary Armin Luistro has been holding consultations with stakeholders—from schools and teachers, to scientists and vocational groups.
The addition of two years to basic education is supposed to impact public schools the most. But many private schools, even those with existing kinder, prep or Grade 7 programs, are also confused.
Some schools recalibrate their curricula. What are currently Grades 6 and 7, say, will become Grades 8 and 9 in the coming school year. Others hold multiple graduation rites. Still others, a bridge program. Many are too worried to do more than wait and see.
Why are the K to 12 implementing guidelines not clearer?
“If I prescribe one template for everyone, the private schools will be the first to shoot me,” says Luistro. “They know their clientele best. But DepEd has given them parameters, such as age. Students in kinder should be age 5, give or take a few months, and, with 12 additional years, they graduate from senior high school at age 18.
“Private schools also know their curriculum best. In the coming weeks, we will present our Grades 1 and 7 curricula to schools, and these can serve as bases.”
But many private schools, especially those recognized by the Philippine Accrediting Association of Schools, Colleges and Universities, already have quality curricula. Some of their programs are based on or include Advanced Placement or Singapore Math and Science.
Should they still follow the new curriculum?
Not necessarily, “as long as they can justify to us that their programs meet the competencies in ours,” says Luistro.
“In fact, we do not expect private schools to follow us totally,” he continues. “We expect many of them to go beyond what we prescribe. But they have to write to us and tell us what they are doing.”
Several parents and students are up in arms. Schools that have added more school time have seen their students leave or threaten to do so.
“I told private schools to continue to dialogue with their clientele,” Luistro says. “They need to convince parents and students and, again, they need to inform and explain to us their plans. How can we defend them if we don’t know what they are doing?”
Years 11 and 12
Many schools are currently not ready for Grades 11 and 12.
Aside from lack of classrooms, their teachers are not trained to handle higher-level subjects, like calculus for students who want to major in the sciences in university.
Should years 11 and 12 be handled by high schools or colleges and universities?
Luistro says schools have several options.
If they can handle the additional two years, then they should do so, or they can start training teachers and preparing resources for 2016, when the first group of K+12 students will reach senior high.
Or schools can just be very good junior high schools.
“There is nothing wrong if schools want to focus on basic education up to year 10,” Luistro says. “In fact, it would be good if they can introduce subjects like entrepreneurship, so when their students graduate, they can start their own businesses.”
Schools can forge links with colleges and universities so that by years 11 or 12, their students can apprentice, take classes or do research with professors and other experts.
Several higher education institutions endorse this idea, since it also addresses their fear of having no enrollment for two years, when students are in Grades 11 and 12, during the transition period.
K to 12 would be far more difficult to implement in already overcrowded and poorly equipped public schools, where many teachers are insufficiently trained, classes are often held in multiple shifts and most students struggle to make ends meet.
Does the government have enough money to build classrooms, buy books, pay teachers?
When kindergarten, the first strand of K to 12, started in June, classrooms were not enough in several areas, and some teachers were not compensated properly.
But Luistro affirms, “We have enough budget.”
The education budget has been increased to P238 billion for 2012.
As for kinder, implementation was reportedly 85-percent satisfactory, with less than 5 percent of schools reporting problems.
But teachers have to be trained, even retooled, to teach the new K to 12 curriculum properly. Is this doable on a huge scale?
“Training of teachers in DepEd is already being done,” Luistro says. “We will step up training for public school teachers.”
Work in progress
Luistro admits teacher training will take years, but implementing the curriculum is a work in progress.
“Nothing is set in stone. With kinder, for example, we found some issues, and we are tweaking it. No program is perfect, but we will continue to refine as needed.”
Is science really not included in primary school?
“Media labelled the move as ‘dropping’ science,’” Luistro says, “but we are not dropping anything.”
“Science has not been included in the public school curriculum for many years,” he says.
In public schools, science has not been for quite a while (and is still not) mandatory for Grades 1 or 2. Most private schools require science from Grade 1.
“Even if science is not a formal subject, its principles will be integrated into other areas,” Luistro says. “Living things, climate change, environment—these will be tackled in English, Mother Tongue, Mapeh (music, art, physical education and health),” he says.
And why is Grade 1 reduced to only half a day? In many countries with K to 12, Grade 1 is a full day.
“Unlike in other countries, many of our Grade 1 students spend hours walking to and from school,” Luistro says. “They are tired when they reach school. I want them to enjoy school, not (to feel) that (it) is imposed on them.”
However, Luistro points out that half a day for Grade 1 is just the minimum.
“Several public schools with enough resources, and certainly most private schools, will still require a whole day for Grade 1 students,” he says.
The biggest problem of K to 12 has always been, and will always be, the cost.
Even if public education is free, families have to spend for transportation and supplies. An additional two years is a burden for most Filipino families, who want their children to finish school quickly so they can work.
But Luistro points out, “How can graduates get good jobs if they do not have enough skills?”
A decade ago, DepEd tried the well-intentioned Bridge Program for students who failed the NAT, only to drop it because of massive protests from student leaders, teachers, groups and parents.
If the Bridge Program, which was supposed to be just for a year, never got off the ground, how can K to 12 succeed?
Well, this time, “things are different.” No less than the President supports it. (Mr. Aquino signed into law recently Republic Act No. 10157, the Kindergarten Education Act, making kindergarten “the first stage of compulsory and mandatory formal education.”)
Many sectors, such as the Makati Business Club, Philippine Business for Education, and the Coordinating Council of Private Educational Associates, have welcomed K to 12.
So have many lawmakers.
But what about other more urgent concerns like high dropout rates? How can K to 12 help?
Luistro says this is why K to 12 started with kinder in June.
“Studies show that children who are not ready for Grade 1 are more likely to drop out early. With kinder, they should be more prepared,” he says.
In K to 12, children will also be evaluated when they reach certain milestones, such as Grades 3, 6 and 10. “If they have not learned the competencies by those levels, they will be given special help. In this way, we hope to prevent dropouts,” the secretary adds.
Luistro acknowledges that regular evaluation for millions of students, while laudable, is very difficult. But he is optimistic.
“We are working with groups to help students who do not finish school. In K to 12, by Grade 10, students have a choice of going to work, training or higher education. The Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (Tesda) and CHEd [Commission on Higher Education] are working with us on these options,” Luistro says
“We respond to the needs of the people,” he adds.
Aren’t we all going too fast?
The problems of kinder will be addressed this June, a not too easy task coupled with the gargantuan implementation of Grade 7, which will surely cause more problems.
Shouldn’t we slow down?
Lengthening years without “changing the behavior,” as National Scientist and economist Raul Fabella puts it in BusinessWorld, is “more of the same rotten banana.”
“I still have to see evidence (perhaps I did not look hard enough) that the additional two years of high school will improve learning performance,” Fabella says. “[K to 12] must go slowly and gingerly beyond the kindergarten segment and abort any segment unsupported by evidence of learning improvement. It should be open to the two years being added … on the basis of private benefit-private cost.”
Moreover, DepEd has often championed reforms, often following shifting paradigms of Western education, that look good on paper.
But National Scientist and mathematician Fr. Bienvenido Nebres, SJ, has long pointed out that these were haphazardly done, with lopsided results. (See “Math mastery comes with balance of why and how,” Sept. 19, 2011)
What will happen to K to 12 if Luistro is no longer secretary and we have a new president?
But apparently, K to 12 is not a new idea.
During the American occupation, studies showed that 10 years of schooling was not adequate. In 1949, a survey conducted by the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization called for the restoration of Grade 7. It was mandated in the Education Act of 1953.
Time and again, education think tanks called for additional years. The 2008 Presidential Task Force on Education recommended the benchmarking of years 11 and 12 with programs around the world.
“So far, it is only this administration that has the political will to back fully K to 12,” Luistro says. “So we have to move now.”
“When the structure of K to 12 is set in place and it becomes law, then … K to 12 will already be the framework of Philippine basic education.”
E-mail the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.