Proposed K 12 Basic Education System in the Philippines

Is the K-12 model good for the Philippine education system?
by Sarah Katrina Maramag

ViaPhilippine Online Chronicles

The enhanced K-12 program, or the Department of Education’s (DepEd) proposal to overhaul the basic and secondary education curriculum by adding two more years to the system is arguably one of the most drastic and controversial programs of the Aquino administration.

The program is proposed to start in school year 2012-2013 for Grade 1 and first year high school students with the target of full implementation by SY 2018-2019.

K-12 has been met with criticism from youth and student groups, teachers, parents and the academic community. The DepEd, for its part, appears determined to enact the program with its proposed budget catering mostly to preparing the grounds for its eventual implementation.

The DepEd argues that the K-12 program will be the solution to yearly basic education woes and the deteriorating quality of education. Critics, however, counteract that the education crisis needs to be addressed more fundamentally and adding more school years would only exacerbate the situation.

Dissecting K-12

The K-12 model is an educational system for basic and secondary education patterned after the United States, Canada, and some parts of Australia. The current basic education system is also an archetype of American schooling but with a 10-year cycle.

DepEd reasons that it is high time to adopt a K-12 system, attributing the low achievement scores and poor quality of basic education to the present school setup. Following wide protests over the proposal, the department released its official position defending K-12.

Below are the main arguments and corresponding counter-arguments from critics.


1. The K-12 will solve the annual growing number of out-of-school youth. Students and parents, however complain that it would be an added burden to poor families.

While public education is free, a political youth group estimates that a student would still need an average of P20,000 per school year to cover transportation, food, school supplies and other schooling expenses.

Also, based on the latest Family Income and Expenditure Survey, families prioritize spending for food and other basic needs over their children’s school needs. Two more years for basic education would inevitably translate to higher dropout rate.

2. The K-12 will address low achievement scores and poor academic performance of elementary and high school students. DepEd says that the poor quality of basic education is reflected in the low achievement scores of students. Results of the TIMSS (Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study), however, negate the connection of the number of years to the performance of students.

According to results of the TIMSS, the length of schooling does not necessarily mean better scores. In fact, some countries with the same or shorter school cycle garnered the highest scores while those implementing the K-12 model or more years of schooling got lower scores.

According to a study released by former Deputy Education Minister Abraham I. Felipe and Fund for Assistance to Private Education (FAPE) Executive Director Carolina C. Porio, the DepEd’s arguments are “impressionistic and erroneous” because there is no clear correlation between the length of schooling and students’ performance.

The said study shows that fourth graders from Australia had respectable TIMSS scores despite having only one year of pre-schooling, while Morocco (two years of pre-school), Norway (three years) and Armenia and Slovenia (both four years) had lower scores than Australia. South Korea, which has the same length of basic education cycle as the Philippines, was among the top performers in the TIMSS, while those with longer pre-schooling (Ghana, Morocco, Botswana and Saudi Arabia, three years) had lower test scores.

Test scores of Filipino students, meanwhile, were lower than those garnered by all 13 countries with shorter elementary cycles, namely, Russia, Armenia, Latvia, Slovak Republic, Slovenia, Hungary, Bulgaria, Serbia, Romania, Moldova, Italy, Egypt and Iran.

In the high school level, Singapore that also has a four-year high school cycle, got the highest score. Ironically, the Philippines got a lower score together with countries that have longer high school cycles like South Africa, Chile, Palestine, Morocco and Saudi Arabia.

For the pre-college level, the Philippines also got a low score, but so did the United States, which has a 15-year basic and secondary education cycle. Students from Singapore, South Korea, Japan and Hong Kong, all with shorter education cycles, got higher scores than America students.

3. The DepEd has enough resources to implement the K-12. Interestingly, countries whose students got high scores in the TIMSS were the ones whose governments allotted high public spending for education.

Despite nominal increases in the total education budget, the government has been spending less per capita on education. The real spending per capita per day dropped to P6.85 in 2009.

From 2001 to 2009, education’s portion in the national budget has steadily decreased. This pales in comparison to neighboring countries – Malaysia, 7.4 percent and Thailand, 4 percent. It is also lower than the four percent average for all countries that were included in the World Education Indicators in 2006. The country is also lagging behind its Asian counterparts in public expenditure on education as a percentage of total public spending.

In a statement, President Benigno Aquino III said that his administration is prioritizing education and, as proof, the DepEd budget will increase by P32 billion in 2011.

However, according to Anakbayan spokesperson Charisse Banez, “Even if you combine the DepEd and SUCs (state college and universities) budgets, it will only equal to three percent of the GDP, a far cry from the six percent GDFP-amount advocated by the United Nations.”

The UN Educational, Cultural and Scientific Organization (UNESCO) recommend that governments spend at least six percent of their GDP for education.

Former Education secretary Mona Valisno stated in a separated study that DepEd needs at least P100 billion to fully address the shortage of 93,599 classrooms and 134,400 seats and P63 million for textbooks and scholarships.

Proponents of the program allude to the experience of St. Mary’s Sagada – a school implementing K-12 that has been topping the National Achievement Test in Mountain Province. However, aside from the K-12, the school also has a 1:20 teacher to student ratio and is not suffering any sort of shortage in faculty or facilities.

Critics of the K-12 assert that while government resources have been found wanting and insufficient for the present 10-year cycle, how will it be able to afford to fund a K-12 model?


4. The K-12 will open doors for more jobs for the youth, even without a college diploma.

DepEd says that a K-12 program will improve the chances for youth employment as it is aimed to improve technical-vocational skills through focusing on arts, aquaculture and agriculture, among others. The K-12, it further states, will ensure that students graduating at the age of 18 will have jobs, thus making them “employable” even without a college degree.

However, critics are quick to note that the Philippines, that has a predominantly young population, also has the highest overall unemployment rate in East Asia and the Pacific Region. According to World Bank study, the country also has the highest youth unemployment rate. Young Filipino workers are twice as likely to be unemployed than those in older age groups as they figure in the annual average of at least 300,000 new graduates that add up to the labor force.

The Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) reported in 2008 that 50 percent of the unemployed 2.7 million nationwide were aged 15 to 24. Of these, 461,000 or 35 percent had college degrees while about 700,000 unemployed youth either finished high school or at least reached undergraduate levels.

Therefore, the persistent high unemployment rates, may not be necessarily linked with the present 10-year cycle but instead with the country’s existing economic system and the government’s job generation policies.


5. Filipino graduates will be automatically recognized as “professionals” abroad. In the present 10-year cycle, the DepEd argues, the quality of education is reflected in the “inadequate preparation of high school graduates for the world of work or entrepreneurship or higher education.”

What the K-12 program aims to achieve, therefore, is to reinforce cheap semi-skilled labor for the global market. With young workers, mostly semi-skilled and unskilled workers now making up an estimated 10.7 percent of the total Filipino labor migrant population, it comes as no surprise then that the government is now programming its youth to servicing needs of the global market.

Labor migration, however, has resulted in the brain drain of Filipino skilled workers and professionals. Ironically, while the DepEd and the government mouths a so-called “professionalization” of the young labor force in foreign markets, their significance to domestic development and nation-building is sadly being undervalued at the expense of providing cheap labor under the guise of providing employment.

While proponents and advocates hail the K-12 model as the “saving grace” of youth unemployment, critics argue that it will only aggravate the country’s dependence on labor export and the inflow of remittances that do not necessarily contribute to substantive and sustainable nation-building.


A Filipino education

Lastly, the DepEd justifies the K-12 model by saying that the present short basic education program affects the human development of Filipino students.

Ultimately, regardless of whichever “model”, what the youth and country direly needs is for the development and establishment of an education system that caters to the needs of the Filipino youth and the society in general.

The crisis of the Philippine education system, in all levels, is stemmed not on the superficial, in this case the number of schooling years, but rather on the conditions and foundation on which it subsists. Unless the government addresses in earnest poor public spending, high costs of schooling, the predominance of a colonial curriculum, lack of transparency and accountability amid widespread corruption within the sector and the development of the country’s science and technology for domestic development, all efforts will remain on the surface.

And neither 10 nor 12 years would make much of difference.


Photos from POC files. Some rights reserved.

You may also want to read Dean Jorge Bocobo’s commentary On Proposed K 12 Basic Education system and Jane Uymatiao’s Why we need Dep Ed’s K 12 program.

Here is the proposed K 12 basic education from Department of Education

Proposed K-12 Basic Education System in The Philippines