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Cayetano’s K-to-12 concerns

We should welcome Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano’s call for an evaluation of the K-to-12 program. On his initiative, the law launching K-to-12 mandates a midterm review, which helps reinforce the Department of Education’s (DepEd) accountability to monitor and evaluate the program and report on its progress. The DepEd has yet to reveal the results of the assessment it had commissioned the Philippine Normal University (PNU) to conduct on the first batch of senior high school (SHS) students who graduated last year.

Analyzing the PNU study would be a logical first step for Congress to take. Educational institutions and employers need to know how K-to-12 is doing, and the DepEd’s plans for the program as it moves forward. This information would help them understand how to support K-to-12 students and graduates. The program is barely halfway through its five-year transition, and we should accept that the initial results of K-to-12, however disappointing these might be, can only be a preliminary evaluation. Although only the first half of the game has been played, we still need to know the score.

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The K-to-12 review should focus on improving program implementation, not on producing reasons for parties that had resisted K-to-12 from the beginning to justify continued opposition. The 120-percent increase in the DepEd’s 2019 budget, for instance, does not appear excessive, considering the nearly 200-percent increase in the President’s confidential intelligence fund, which is now 900-percent higher than that given to the Aquino administration.

K-to-12 was a response to many problems arising from the K-to-10 system, among them the admission into colleges and universities of students inadequately prepared for higher education—who must then take remedial courses in college. But progress on this issue cannot be fairly measured with students who only added the two years of senior high school to their old K-to-10 curriculum. A more reliable assessment will come with SHS graduates who started the new K-to-12 curriculum from kindergarten.

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Cayetano rightly targeted the transition of SHS graduates into the labor market as a critical K-to-12 goal. It is also the most difficult to achieve because: (1) Most SHS students still aspire to enter the four-year college academic track; (2) the VocTech track leading to employment requires more resources to conduct effectively; and, (3) its achievement depends on the economy generating enough jobs and on employers prepared to employ people without college degrees.

Fortunately, the Citi Foundation and Philippine Business for Education (PBEd) launched last December the First Future initiative to advance precisely this objective—with early but encouraging results. Over a hundred partner companies have opened up nearly 20,000 positions to which SHS graduates can apply. Over 500 SHS graduates have taken up these jobs. Companies have also offered over 800 on-the-job training opportunities for SHS students.

The PBED’s Jobs Outlook Survey conducted in July among 80 companies in 20 sectors showed 60 percent of the respondents declaring that their hiring policies already focused on skills and capabilities, rather than simply academic credentials. An equal number affirmed that they had job openings available for appropriately qualified SHS graduates. These numbers need to ramp up.

Meanwhile, let us not overlook another critical K-to-12 goal. The DepEd estimates that only about 40-50 percent of K-to-10 graduates continue their schooling. At age 16 or 17, these dropouts are not old enough for companies to hire. Moreover, they have to compete against college graduates also looking for work. Cayetano had expressed fears that K-to-12 would increase the ranks of Grade 10 dropouts. In fact, K-to-12 arrested the dropout rate. In 2016-17, about 100,000 more students enrolled in Grade 11 than had entered the equivalent first-year college the previous year. The increase did not surprise K-to-12 advocates; SHS was tuition-free in public schools and subsidized in private schools—therefore, more affordable than college education.

K-to-12 has given K-to-10 graduates two more years of formal education to improve basic literacy, numeracy and life skills, thus enhancing their ability to learn on their own. The VocTech track can prepare more graduates for meaningful employment—if the government can give it sustained attention and support.

Edilberto C. de Jesus is professor emeritus at the Asian Institute of Management.

Business Matters is a project of the Makati Business Club ([email protected]).

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TAGS: Alan Peter Cayetano, DepEd, education, K-12, opinion
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