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200 days

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200 days

That’s the number of days that teachers and their students will have in the coming school year to learn and master the skills and competencies prescribed in the curriculum. Actually, the number of school days in any academic year has remained more or less the same since 1947, when Executive Order No. 94 renamed the Department of Public Instruction into the Department of Education. Through the years, however, the competencies that students needed to acquire started to grow exponentially due largely to the pressures that come with social progress. Prior to World War II, a typical school day for a grade school pupil meant reading, language and arithmetic classes with plenty of free time in between. Back then, 200 days of school was more than enough time for students to learn and be proficient in the so-called core subjects, to the point where they actually were qualified enough to be teachers in their own right.

Nowadays, the typical grade school student needs to learn—and hopefully master—something like 200 or so competencies prescribed in five core subjects (i.e., English, science, math, Filipino, and social studies/history) as well as a few more “practical” skills like basic home economics, carpentry, and computer literacy.

Today, 200 days seems nowhere near enough. This is primarily why for the greater part of this decade the education reform community—led by such great minds as Dr. Edilberto de Jesus, Dean Mike Luz and the late Mario Taguiwalo—campaigned successfully for a shift to a 12-year basic education cycle.

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In its current iteration, the new curriculum that guides today’s learners is called the K-6-4-2, or more popularly, the K to 12 curriculum. With the stated aim of preparing learners for life and work in the 21st century, the full-blown K to 12 curriculum actually gives students more time to assimilate and reflect on what they are being taught at every grade level. The change will start to be felt this school year, when K to 12 starts phasing it at the Grade 1 and Grade 7 levels. However, the results will not be evident in just one academic year. The more optimistic academics and educators that I have spoken to believe that tangible results should become evident after three years, when K to 12 curriculum developers have had more time, experience and empirical data to fine-tune their handiwork.

As things stand today, Grade 1 and Grade 7 teachers in both public and private schools are neck-deep in preparations and training for implementing K to 12 in time for the opening of classes in June. There are tons of details to take care of: the teaching materials, the scheduling, the seemingly endless orientation sessions and a myriad of important minutiae. To compound matters, the teachers and their wards will be facing endemic issues like overcrowded classrooms, mind-numbing noise levels, strength-sapping heat, inadequate plumbing, no libraries, and all the other “horrific” items plaguing public schools that the media love to pounce on and highlight this time of year. Of course, now is as good a time as any to sound the call for communities to sign up for Brigada Eskwela, which kicks off with a motorcade on May 21. (Brigada Eskwela, also known as National Schools Maintenance Week, is a yearly community event organized by the DepEd to seek the citizenry’s voluntary assistance to help repair and refurbish our public schools. We may not be able transform our schools into world-class facilities, but at least through Brigada Eskwela, we can give our beleaguered teachers and school administrators some breathing room.)

And while we’re at it, may I invite you to the 2012 Training-Workshop on Bridging between Languages in Mother-Language-Based Education under the New K to 12 Curriculum, to be held on May 14-26 at St. Louis University (SLU) in Baguio City. This international course is being organized by SIL International, the 170+ Talaytayan MLE Inc., and SLU-Baguio City. The resource speakers are Dr. Susan Malone and Dr. Dennis Malone of SIL, DepEd officials and experienced professors from, among others, the University of the Philippines, Philippine National University, Ateneo de Manila University, and SLU. The event is part of a series on planning for strong and sustainable mother-tongue-based bilingual and multilingual education (MTBMLE) programs. For elementary teachers and administrators, the goal of the course is to leave you with a firm grasp on how to implement MTBMLE in kindergarten and in the early grades in your schools under the new K to 12 curriculum. For tertiary educators, the added objective is to help you design your teacher training programs according to principles of first-language-based instruction. (You may contact Prof. Jane K. Lartec at 09192470035 or enaj2911@yahoo.com or Ms Lucy Cruz at 09163944870 or lucycruz618@yahoo.com.)

By my reckoning, K to 12’s first year of implementation will probably feel like hang-gliding just before you jump off the cliff: A part of you is scared out of your mind that you want to turn back, but the prospect of soaring through the air seems so liberating.

Butch Hernandez (butchhernandez@gmail.com) is the executive director of the Eggie Apostol Foundation.

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TAGS: Butch Hernandez, Commentary, education, K+12, opinion
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