First Things First: A Commentary on K+12

Dr. Angel C. de Dios

By Angel C. de Dios
Department of Chemistry
Georgetown University
Washington, DC 20057

(The views expressed here are those of the author and do not represent Georgetown University.)

The basic education system of the Philippines faces two major problems: (1) high dropout rates in primary and secondary schools, and (2) lack of mastery of specific skills and content as reflected in poor performance in standard tests for both Grade IV and Grade VIII (2nd year high school) students. Unfortunately, the proposed K+12 curriculum does not directly address these problems. Both dropout rate and poor performance in standard exams indicate failure in the early years of education. That these problems are caused by a congested 10-year curriculum is not strongly supported by currently available data. The international standard tests take into account both years of education and basic skills. The standard tests ensure that students from all the participating countries had the same number of years of schooling.

The proposed K plus 12 curriculum has various components. It is useful to look at each component in deciding whether it helps address the pressing problems Philippine basic education presently faces:

(1) Kindergarten: This addresses the problems. Early childhood learning when done properly does provide a head start for elementary schools. Kindergarten prepares the child emotionally, physically and mentally for grade school.

(2) No formal subject of science in K to Grade II: This is a waste of a great opportunity. Science education in early childhood is cheap. It does not require elaborate laboratories or equipment. Young children, in addition, are naturally inquisitive and the years of kinder to grade II are excellent for introduction of basic scientific curiosity and methods. Only having science as a formal subject can ensure that science will indeed be covered.

(3) Use of mother tongue as medium of instruction: This is very expensive. It requires competent teachers who can teach math and science using the mother tongue. There is no objection that the mother tongue must be taught as a subject in elementary schools since this allows a smoother transition from home to school. The question of what medium should be used in instruction is separate. One medium of instruction can unite the nation. English is the best option since course materials especially from the internet are usually in English. In this respect, Singapore is a good example to follow.

(4) Spiral curriculum: This type of teaching is highly applicable to elementary schools where both science and math are still treated as general approaches. In high school, both math and science diverge into separate disciplines. A spiral curriculum in high school will require teachers with knowledge in all these areas at a sufficient level. These required teachers are not going to be available in numbers so this program will be poorly implemented. A layered curriculum, on the other hand, is easier to implement – biology is taught in one year, chemistry in the next, physics is usually the last. In this manner, a high school can operate with a chemistry teacher, a physics teacher and a biology teacher, and each one need not be a master of all three disciplines.

(5) Discovery-based learning This type of learning requires longer hours and fails without sufficient guidance (see “An Analysis of the Failure of Electronic Media and Discovery Based Learning”, Clark, et al. (2009) media.pdf). The ideal is a mix between traditional and inquiry based methods. This is usually achieved in the sciences by having separate lecture and laboratory components. Guidance is provided during lectures and students work on their own or as a group in the laboratory.

(6) Last but not the least (in fact, this point is crucial), the proposed K plus 12 curriculum also involves short school hours. This seems to be an attempt to enable multiple shifts in the schools. This goes against decongesting the curriculum. It likewise does not make it worthwhile for schoolchildren especially those who have to travel far to attend school. This also opens opportunities for child labor as well as greater environmental (outside of school) influences on children education. Elementary schools in the US are full day so that students do have time to cover the material and, at the same time, it allows parents to work and be more productive. A full day in school means less television, less video games, less time on the streets, and less other activities that do not contribute to a sound education of the young.


Most countries have only ten years of compulsory education. Compulsory education in the US varies from state to state, but the average requires anyone who is under 16 years of age to be either enrolled in a school or home-schooled. This means that on average, the US only has 10- 11 (including kindergarten) years of compulsory education. The last two years in the US K-12 education already include courses in tertiary education. These are called advanced placement (AP) or international baccalaureate (IB) courses. Examples are calculus (up to multivariable) and AP chemistry. Students who take AP chemistry usually have already finished one year of basic chemistry and one year of advanced chemistry, so in sum, a student could have taken three years of chemistry while in high school. Some schools in the US can not offer these, and consequently, there is great heterogeneity among US schools.

Addressing basic education is a matter of prioritization. Adding kindergarten and two years to high school is estimated to cost more than 100 billion pesos. On the other hand, to solve the two pressing problems, as UNESCO has advised, 6% of the GDP must be assigned to education. At the current funding (2.3% of GDP) of the Department of Education (DepEd), additional years will only lead to a greater demand for resources. Adding two years to high school essentially increases the needs of a high school by 50% – teachers, classrooms, desks, toilets, learning materials, etc. The DepEd can only answer less than half of what UNESCO deems is necessary for the 10-year basic education program. Adding two more years will stretch the budget of DepEd even further.

Implementing a new curriculum requires strong leadership at the school level. The success of a school depends a lot on the principal. A significant fraction of public schools in the Philippines currently do not have a principal or a head teacher. This clearly needs to be addressed first before any reform in curriculum is initiated. Otherwise, a new curriculum has no hope of being implemented successfully.

Instead of trying to attack the problem at the end of high school, efforts must be focused on the early years of education. This is where the dropout rate begins to escalate and these are the years where students are failing to learn as diagnosed by the standard test scores. Resources are very much needed in the first ten years of education and kindergarten and DepEd can do a better job on these years if DepEd does not have to worry about the added senior years in high school. The government should allow its citizens to work out on their own a solution for the desired two years that aim to prepare students either for college or the workforce. College preparatory schools or community colleges can do this job and TESDA could address those who are leaning towards vocational training.

For any overwhelming policy that involves dramatic changes and budget requirements, it is important that the policy is based on good data and statistics. The Philippines, with its financial condition, cannot afford to waste. The ten-year basic education program can work as demonstrated by a Philippine school in Qatar (see “Do Filipino schools make the grade?” The Philippine school at Doha, Qatar participated in PISA 2009 and their scores were: Science (466), Math: (461) and Reading: (480). These scores place the Philippines near the average scores of participating countries.

The problems concerning basic education that developing countries face are enormous and complex. A few years from now, the international donor community will look at how close governments they have funded to improve education have reached the Millennium Development Goals (MDG). It is highly likely that the Philippines will not meet the second item in the MDG, universal primary education:


MDG (2nd bullet under item 19):

“We resolve that…
….To ensure that, by the same date (2015), children everywhere, boys and girls alike, will be able to complete a full course of primary schooling and that girls and boys will have equal access to all levels of education.”

With regard to this goal, here are the indicators for the Philippines: Percentage of pupils starting grade 1 who reach grade 5, both sexes (last updated: 09 Aug 2011): 2001 (75.3), 2002 (73.4), 2003 (72.2), 2004 (71.5), 2005 (70.4), 2006 (73.2), 2007 (75.3)
(see Other data have been summarized, for example, in the following article in Business World: It is understandable that the Philippine government is under tremendous pressure and it seems that a magic potion is required. However, what is lacking in most of the components proposed is a thoughtful and careful consideration of evidence and data. It is unfortunate that amidst the lack of sound evidence, although this paucity in data has been emphasized and repeated so many times in published reviews and articles, various components have been incorporated in the K+12 plan with “panacea” stamped on them. The following paragraphs highlight specific examples.

The mother tongue based multiple language education (MTBMLE) is one example. In 2009, the US Supreme Court issued an opinion (Horne vs. Flores) that Structured English Immersion (SEI) works better than bilingual education. It was a narrow decision (5 against 4) so it is not a clear judgment against MTBMLE, but it sure is a clear sign that MTBMLE is not “panacea”. Recent news from the state of California also indicates that multilingual education is likewise not working well (see “English-Learning Students Far Behind Under English-Only Methods” The world experts in MTBMLE are careful in promoting MTBMLE. To make a strong case in favor of MTBMLE, data must show that high dropout rates are unquestionably due to using a second language as medium of instruction (Smits et al., 2008, ). I strongly recommend taking a closer look at Table A.1 of this study by Smits et al. because this contains data pertinent to the Philippines. Specifically, the paper states: “The figures presented in columns 4 and 8 of the table give an indication of the part of the attendance differences that is due to differences in the background characteristics. For both age groups the reduction is 25 percent or more in 13 of the 22 countries. So in the majority of countries the background characteristics play a role of importance. This result provides support for hypothesis H1. Hypothesis H1 of this paper is “The differences in educational outcomes among linguistic groups are (partly) due to socioeconomic differences and/or differences in urbanization of the place of living among the groups.” The Philippines lists 45 and 48% in columns 4 and 8, respectively. In this light, the Philippines is among the three odd countries listed that show very strong correlation between school retention and socioeconomic factors, the others are Ghana and Peru. In Table B1, page 41 of the paper, data from the Philippines clearly suggest that the various language groups in the country do not differ from each other in a significant manner in terms of dropout rates.

Another aspect of the K+12 plan that has been promoted without scrutiny is the length of instructional hours. This is intimately related to multiple shifts in schools. This area, as experts have warned, is likewise characterized by scarce good data. There are large amounts of data that contain information regarding the length of instruction and learning outcomes, but these data involve so many additional factors. Nonetheless. amidst these complicated cases, one thing is clear: “….the amount of time spent engaged in learning tasks is related to student performance….”(Abadzi, ” Instructional Time Loss in Developing Countries: Concepts, Measurement, and Implications” World Bank Res Obs (2009) 24 (2): 267-290, The issue of multiple shifts is important and could be a significant factor determining learning and one that definitely warrants a careful study. I know that anecdotal instances are not of any help, but when I was in grade school, I have always wondered why the top six students from the graduating class always came from the morning shift. In high schools, it was worse, students were placed in sections according to their past year’s performance, and the lower the section was, the later their shift was. In a school where three shifts were employed, the poorest of the learners took the late-afternoon-evening shift. Now, these are all anecdotal but these instances illustrate that these factors need to be studied carefully.


Would it satisfy the international donor community that the Philippines would embark on a heroic last minute effort? My answer is that this question is the wrong one to ask. The Philippine government must do what is good for its citizens.

4 thoughts on “First Things First: A Commentary on K+12

  1. Dear Dr. de Dios,

    Thanks for your comments:

    Even as the DepEd has announced that it will start implementation of K to 12 (DepEd Order No. 16, s. 2012) in the coming school year 2012-2013, I suppose we can say that nothing is etched in stone. The plan needs a lot
    of fine-tuning as even academics like Dr. Ricardo Nolasco and politicians like Sen. Chiz Escudero think so.

    I truly believe we can improve what needs to be improved if we keep the
    dialog open and if we can convince DepEd and President Aquino to have an open mind on K to 12. You’re absolutely right: First Things First!

    Joe Padre

  2. Hello Joe,

    I admire your dedication to mother tongue education. You put
    a lot of effort on your websites. I think it is important that our world
    preserve its diversity in language.

    The problem is that DepEd is not open to a dialogue. The people
    behind the plan seem to be entrenched. The importance of data
    seems not to be a priority. The main difficulty I find in evaluating
    K+12 is that I do not see any study published in a peer-reviewed
    journal about the plan. Plans usually look good in drawing, but
    in a serious undertaking such as a complete overhaul of the
    educational system of a country, peer-reviewed studies are
    necessary. Unlike the US, the Philippines cannot waste money
    on reforms that will not work. When a reform cannot even estimate
    the costs properly, it can already be seen that it is poorly planned.

    I was told that the people behind K+12 agree with me on one thing,
    that is, the teachers necessary for K+12 to succeed are not available.
    With that, I do not know what else to say.

    Best regards,

  3. Dear Angel,

    Anaheim, CA, is not exactly the best place to mount an advocacy campaign for a place some 7300 miles away — but I try. DepEd Order No. 74 s. 2009 (Institutionalizing MLE from Kinder to Grade 3) was one of the rewards for trying.

    K to 12 is another animal in that it does not even start with a Presidential Executive Order and an implementing DepEd Order — nothing, zip, zilch. So, if there’s a legal or constitutional challenge to K to 12, DepEd or President Aquino can always shrug it off with a “What K to 12”? Your idea of a peer review of the circumstances, research, impact study, feasibility study, infrastructure, etc., of K to 12 is excellent, but you’d have to start with the question, “Peer review of what?” The implementing DepEd Order No. 16, s. 2012 is only peripheral and it assumes there’s already an Order — none of which really exists. At least, former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo issued Executive Order 210 s. 2003 with an implementing DepEd Order back in 2006 when she wanted English to be used as MOI in 70% of courses taught in high school. Man, that raised a hailstorm and the pro-Tagalogs/Filipinos vilified her for it. Even the same people who want Filipinos to be globally competitive assailed the teaching of English, the global lingua franca, whoa! But, there was an Executive Order and an implementing DepEd Order. K to 12, on the other hand, is a figment of Aquino’s and Luistro’s collective unenlightened imagination.

    I am about to post my Internet search re the lack of a legal basis for K to 12. The discussion thus far has been among those who can afford the additional 2 years and those ambitious and financially able to have their kids go to college. There’s this unexplainable urge to put up with the Joneses (even as Singapore with its students performing at the top of the past TIMSSes requires something like a grade school leaving exam to determine who gets to a 5-year high school and who would be streamed to the 4-year high school; of course, they have junior colleges and a 3-year pre-school system). The poor folks who are against K to 12 for a myriad of reasons don’t have the right pulpit nor the vote to make themselves heard. Come election time, the same folks, anyway, vote for some clueless “leader” who sometimes survive or go straight to prison.

    Your thoughts on the matter are welcome to Multilingual Philippines.



  4. Dear Joe,

    Yes, we’re both thousands of miles away.

    What I worry about is that the MTBMLE component of K+12 will
    be a curse and not a gift. It is like formalizing something without
    the goods. The mother tongue is more than just a medium (I did
    not elaborate on this in the article that I wrote), it is part of the
    identity of the child and must be nurtured and protected. What
    I thought was the first thing to do is to have the mother tongue
    as a formal subject (and not just in the early grades – in fact,
    the mother tongue must be formalized first as a subject in
    higher education. The mother tongue is part of the culture but
    with all these decades that it has been neglected, it cannot
    be magically resurrected in a glimpse. It will take years
    or even decades. And it must begin with developing the
    language first, not using it as a mere tool or medium. At
    least, this is my opinion. The plan of DepEd will damage the
    mother tongue because years from now, I am afraid, it will
    be shown that MTBMLE did not work.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s