Why we need DepEd’s K-12 program

“We are the LAST country in Asia and one of only three countries in the world with a 10-year pre-university program.”(Source: SEAMEO Innotech 2011)

This was a statement in one of the K to 12 (K-12) slide handouts distributed by Department of Education (DepEd)Secretary Bro. Armin Luistro at a media press conference and open forum last December 12, 2011.

This came as a shock as we still hold with pride the fact that we are an English-speaking nation and that other Asian countries used to send their children to our country in the 60s and 70s to study since the Philippines was a premier educational destination. What has happened to us since then? How did we get from being the country of educational choice to last place? Why are our students now ranked among the lowest in Asia when it comes to key subjects like Math and Science?

Here’s another thing. Why can’t our high school graduates now land any decent jobs? When I was growing up, it was always a wonder to me how Americans could get summer jobs or opt not to pursue a college education and yet qualify for work. And here we are requiring a college degree or equivalent for even the most clerical of tasks.

DepEd is trying to correct the situation and bring our educational standards up to par with global standards through the K-12 program which will be implemented in phases beginning with the school year (SY) 2012-13.

K-12 is a catch-up attempt to put the Philippines at par with the rest of the world.

The K-12 system aims to be a catch-up for the Philippines, seeing that most other countries already have 12 years of pre-university education. We cannot continue to insist on our current 10-year program if some of our graduates are looking to working or taking further studies abroad.

According to DepEd, “A 12-year program is found to be the adequate period for learning under basic education and is a requirement for recognition of professionals abroad (i.e., Bologna and Washington Accords)”.

Countries like Singapore have 11 years of compulsory education but depending on the track that one takes, total pre-university education can be from 12 to 14 years.

The public schools will feel the change more than most private schools which, as of now, already offer at least 12 years of basic education: 1-2 years of kindergarten, 6-7 years of elementary, and 4 years of high school.

K-12 will better equip students with skills for future employment

We have always ranked in the bottom when it comes to Math and Science. Even our so-called English advantage is slowly being eroded. We see an influx of Korean youth studying English in our country. China is now encouraging its citizens to learn English. And I heard from a relative returning from a trip to Cambodia that many street people he encountered could engage tourists in English as well as other languages.

Our curriculum has been criticized as being fraught with rote memorization. K-12 is expected to change all that.

Critical thinking is going to be key in the K to 12 program according to Secretary Luistro. The acquisition, and mastery, of lifelong skills will become the focus of teaching compared to the present congested curriculum which compresses 12 years of education into 10.

For those aiming for technical-vocational courses, TESDA plans to download some of its basic technical competencies while CHED will transfer general education subjects to basic education. Students who finish the 12 years of education then are better equipped vocationally or technically to apply for employment even without pursuing higher education.

Special schools such as science high schools and trade schools and high schools for the arts will have enriched curriculum but focus on their specializations will continue.

Implementation of K to 12 will be done in phases.

Beginning with SY 2012-13, K to 12 will be introduced slowly. Initially, the new curriculum will be introduced only in Grade 1 and Grade 7 (High School Year 1). Every school year thereafter, another level would introduce the new curriculum. So by SY 2017-18, all levels would already be teaching the new curriculum.

The law mandating Kindergarten is still pending in Congress but once passed, it will become a requirement for Grade 1. DepEd, however, has began offering Universal Kindergarten beginning with SY 2011-12. Parents with 5-year old children are being encouraged to enroll them already so that they can develop skills they’ll need for Grade 1.

Objections and Anxieties

Despite what seems like a logical realignment of our educational system to stay competitive in the labor force worldwide, the K-12 program has met with resistance, a lot of which come from the youth sector and the parents themselves.

Let’s check out some of the objections/issues raised.

Issue # 1: Additional 2 years = added cost to parents – Grades 11 and 12 (HS years 5 and 6) are being offered free in public schools so there is no real financial impact on those whose kids go to public schools except probably in the area of transportation and meal allowances for those added years.  However, this program should not be seen merely from a short-term view (the potential additional cash output of parents) but from a longer horizon, i.e., the children will be better trained and will acquire more skills that qualify:  them for more professional and better paying jobs in the future. K-12 graduates get a national certification from Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA).

Issue # 2: DepEd lacks resources such as classrooms and teachers – DepEd aims to close this “resource gap” in five years since the K-12 implementation will be phased in slowly. DepEd says it enjoys an increased budget as well as support from local governments, private partners and donor agencies (the House-approved budget for 2012 is P238.8 billion including P2.4 billion for Kinder). They also claim they have enough time to provide additional classrooms, teachers and instructional materials till SY 2016-17 when the full-blown K to 12 will be in place.

Issue # 3: Some parents can’t wait to have their children start working – True, the age when high school is finished is raised to about 17 years old from the current 15 years old. But with the greater skills and improved curriculum that the graduates will gain, the quality of jobs that they are likely to get here and abroad would also be better. Graduates will now be able to show completion of a 13-year education, making them more competitive in job employment.

Issues that Need Watching

While I am for the implementation of K-12, there are a few questions that I am grappling with:

  1. Will the additional budget requirement be achieved by DepEd? Will the private sector support being counted on to fill in that budget gap really materialize? And what if the target budget is not met? What then?
  2. With the free education for the additional two years, won’t we see students currently in private schools moving to the public schools due to the rising tuition of private schools? Has this possibility been factored into the budget requirements of DepEd?
  3. With moves by governments like the United States, which is currently suffering from a high unemployement rate, to curb outsourcing and employment of non-nationals, will we be affected despite being educationally qualified with a 12-year education?

There are true challenges to a successful implementation of the K-12 program but what is important is that we stay focused. Insisting on continuing a 10-year education will just relegate us further down the ladder of employment choices, whether we like it or not. If we want a fighting chance of staying in the employment game, we need to hold our own with the rest of the world.

When one encounters a strong wind, simply staying put will force you backwards. The only way to keep moving is to press forward.

Photo of Sec. Luistro is the author’s. Photos showing K-12 schematics were taken from DepEd’s document. “Discussion Paper on the Enhanced K+12 Basic Education Program”.