MANILA, Philippines?The Oct. 10 Inquirer editorial claimed that the K+ 12 plan of the Department of Education had become a ?divisive and debated topic.? It would be important then for the Inquirer to help all parties in the debate and the general public locate the points of division and the areas of agreement.
Free universal Kindergarten for 5-year-old children, for instance, is not a disputed point. In her 2004 State of the Nation Address, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo announced, to much applause, that she would support a pre-school or K year. But at the end of six years, pre-school benefited barely 20 percent of the target cohort. The task remains for President Aquino to complete.
It is the DepEd plan for a two-year Senior High School (SHS), after completion of the four-year high school, that has provoked much discussion. But this plan is not the ?shiny new plaything? described by the Inquirer editorial as a distraction for the DepEd. It dates back to the American colonial period, when the Philippines already had seven years of elementary, and four years of secondary, education.
Later official studies of basic education, including the 1991 EdCom report, noted the two-year gap that had opened up between the Philippine system and the emerging K+ 12 global norm. The 2008 Philippine Task Force on Education focused on this deficit, but declined to address the problem at its source, preferring to lodge additional years at the tertiary education level, as though the basic education weakness posed a problem only for college-bound students.
A review of the ?debate? on the K+ 12 plan shows a much closer convergence of views than media analysis suggests. All stakeholders agree that the country?s educational system is in a state of disrepair. They all share the concern about the high number of children dropping out of school before completing secondary or even primary education and the dismay at the gaps in learning of even those who finish high school.
Business complains that high school graduates generally lack the thinking and life skills required for gainful employment. Colleges complain that they come unprepared for tertiary-level academic work. But everyone recognizes the many problems besetting the DepEd that contribute to the low achievement level: overcrowded classrooms, insufficient learning materials, sub-standard facilities, inadequately-trained and poorly motivated teachers.
K+ 12 advocates agree that the government should address these problems. But they maintain that the additional two years will help children and teachers more effectively manage the learning process. Our current system puts both under the unreasonable pressure of cramming into 10 years what their counterparts in other countries learn in 12. Adopting the K+ 12 system would help level the playing field.
Remedial courses in the first two years of college compensate for the basic education deficit, but at the cost of extending the college programs and making them more expensive. Those who cannot go beyond the 10 years of basic education leave school too young to be legally employed and, more important, lacking the skills wanted in the labor market.
Those against K+ 12 do not appear opposed to giving more time for education. Their objection is conditional: two more years would be useless, if nothing else changes. But K+ 12 will necessarily change some things; high schools will graduate more mature 18-year-old, instead of 16-year-old, students. An additional two years is also a change that should facilitate coverage of content and mastery of skills: both require time-on-task.
Parents will have to cover the supplemental costs of additional schooling. The DepEd can make the SHS optional for parents who want to improve the chances of their children to finish college or to find a job.
Most business companies will hire only those who have completed at least two years of college. But they will consider hiring those with SHS diplomas. Exemption from remedial courses now required of first and second year students will benefit SHS graduates going on to college.
The K+ 12 plan will cost an estimated annual investment of P30 billion over five years. This amount will increase the DepEd?s share of the national budget from about 12 percent to 14 percent. But the DepEd had received as much as 18 percent of the budget before. Countries considered poorer than the Philippines invest in K+ 12 for their children. Filipino children deserve no less.
There is a strong equity concern in P-Noy?s support for K+ 12. Our elite private schools give their students one or two years of pre-school and seven years of grade school. The advantage of longer schooling pays off when these students move on to the secondary and tertiary levels.
The best public schools, like Philippine Science High School and UP, rightly enforces a merit-based admissions policy. But this also favors the economic elite. Families with the financial means can spend on more schooling for their children to give them better chances in the entrance examinations of the best schools and better job prospects upon graduation.
?I want at least 12 years for our public school children to give them an even chance at succeeding,? P-Noy declared in his Sona. Surely, this goal should not be subject to divisive debates.
Edilberto C. de Jesus is president of the Asian Institute of Management.