Public elementary schools would have closed down their classrooms by this time and released for the summer break the roughly 13.2 million pupils who had enrolled for the 2011-2012 school year. About 1.86 million of these pupils obtained their elementary school diplomas. Perhaps, 1.25 million, or about two-thirds of this cohort, will proceed to high school in June. Following the Department of Education’s plan, these pupils will be the first to have the opportunity to complete the K-12 Basic Education System.
Some quarters still oppose K-12, the flagship education program of the Aquino administration. The objections vary. There are those who want a miracle cure that will by itself instantly heal all of the ailments afflicting basic education. They demand proof that K-12 will reduce the classroom shortage, improve teacher quality and raise learning outcome among students. This, despite the repeated assurance of the education secretary, Br. Armin Luistro FSC, that K-12 is only one in the DepEd’s 10-point basic education reform agenda.
Others criticize the government’s haste in implementing the program. Many have forgotten that the Philippines already had an 11-year basic education cycle during the American colonial period. But the Commonwealth government, believing 11 years of pre-university studies inadequate, decided to reduce elementary education to six years, which was done, and to add two years to high school, which was not. We have been waiting over 75 years to extend the basic education cycle beyond what we had in the 1930s.
In the meantime, the rest of the world has implemented the K-12 system. Do we need to do more research to follow suit? The entire world, of course, can be completely wrong about K-12. But we are not determining the “truth” of K-12 as a physical law or philosophical principle that must have universal application. We are considering the advantages and efficacy of a practical system that involves trade-offs and will be better managed by some groups rather than others.
A number of our ambassadors have expressed concern that our 10-year basic education cycle will work against the interests of Filipino workers seeking employment abroad. Perhaps, these countries are building non-tariff barriers against our export of labor. But when all the vehicles in the road are moving in one direction, prudence would seem to dictate that we do not insist on driving against the traffic.
What is also difficult to comprehend is the complaint that K-12 is an elitist measure to align our system to those of developed countries and make it easier for wealthy students to gain admission to their schools. These students will indeed benefit from the program. But even developing countries have invested in additional years of basic education. In the Philippines, the best private schools require 11 years of basic education, against the 10 years in public schools. K-12 will help level the playing field for those who cannot afford the elite schools.
With two additional years at Senior High School (SHS) or Grades 11 and 12, students going to Philippine schools will begin college better prepared to handle tertiary-level materials. If colleges and universities do the right thing, they may be able to complete most college courses in a shorter period of time and, therefore, at a lower cost.
According to DepEd data from 2001 to 2010, only 68 percent of the pupils who enroll in a Grade 1 public primary school continue on to high school and only 51 percent receive their secondary school diploma. A 2005 DepEd survey indicated that only 56 percent of graduating high school students were planning on pursuing a college education. Only about 29 percent, therefore, would benefit from the SHS pre-college courses.
Fortunately, the DepEd plans for the SHS program include more than just the preparatory academic courses for college-bound students. It will also offer options for those with the talent for sports and the arts, as well as a technical-vocational track for those who want to compete in the labor market after K-12. The government-funded SHS will help the 22 percent of high school graduates who lack the financial means, or the ability or the interest in academic subjects to acquire additional skills for the world of work.
The SHS Program may also help keep in school the 17 percent of the Grade 1 cohort who drop out or fail the high school academic requirements. Between 2008 and 2009, according to the USAID Philippine Education Sector Assessment Project, secondary school enrollment dropped by only 5.7 percent, but this still numbered nearly 315,000 students. About 66 percent of the dropouts were among the male students who may be disposed to trade off pre-college physics and algebra for the technical-vocational track.
Those concerned with the competitiveness of the country’s human resources, with the effectiveness of its higher education system, and with issues of equity and inclusive development should support the K-12 program.
Edilberto C. de Jesus is president of the Asian Institute of Management.