K to 12 lengthens the suffering, increases the burden
It’s true that the Philippines is one of the few countries that have only four years of secondary education. It’s also true that with a conservative figure of 35 students per teacher in high school, the Philippines has currently the worst teacher-student ratio in the secondary level of education in East Asia and the Pacific. Malaysia and Singapore have a ratio of 14 pupils per teacher, Thailand 19, Indonesia 12, and Vietnam 18.
It likewise cannot be denied that the Philippines allocates a measly 2.6 percent of the annual Gross Domestic Product (GDP) to the total education budget in contrast to Indonesia, Thailand and Singapore, which allot more than 3 percent. Vietnam, on the other hand, allocates more than 5 percent, while Malaysia spends close to the ideal 6 percent yearly. Industrialized nations spend on average 6 percent of their GDP on education. The lack of adequate budget and resources has consistently been identified in the past as the main reason for the deterioration and demoralization of Philippine education. (All data cited represent the latest available from Unesco.)
Bhutan, the setting of the fictional Kingdom of Yangdon in the telenovela “The Princess and I,” underwent a transition similar to that which the Philippines will undergo under the so-called K to 12 program. In 2003, Bhutan lengthened secondary education from four to six years. It may be a poorer country than the Philippines in many respects but it seems to have a better sense of educational priorities. In 2001, two years before the change to six years, it increased public expenditure in education as percentage of GDP from 5.8 percent to 5.9 percent. After two years of implementing the transition, public expenditure for education rose to a very high 7.2 percent of the GDP. (This has since been lowered to around 4 percent.) In 1998 its teacher-pupil ratio was 38.6, but in 2006 this was reduced to 22.8 even with the additional two years of secondary education.
Having learned nothing from Yangdon, even as it implements K to 12 (which, the Department of Education estimates, will cost P150 billion), the Philippine government has made no significant increase in the education budget as a whole and toward improving such important indicators for quality as the teacher-pupil ratio.
But the fundamental question is: Does the Philippines really have to undergo such a transition to six years? A study by Felipe and Porio in 2010 has shown that the deplorable, bottom-rung showing of the Philippines in international math and science tests is not the result of merely having a shorter education cycle. It was discovered that students from countries such as Russia, Latvia, Hungary, Italy, Egypt and Iran with even shorter elementary cycles than the Philippines were easily able to surpass the Filipino fourth- and eighth-graders. It was also determined in another study that while Malaysia and Brunei had longer education cycles, the Philippines had actually allotted longer hours of instruction time per subject. But these longer hours of instruction did not translate to higher scores. The superior results of the other countries could probably be better explained by the higher percentages of GDP reserved for education as a whole and their use of more comprehensible national languages in math and science. The varied country experiences indicate that longer periods of schooling do not necessarily translate to higher quality.
The supposed “shortage” of time in teaching is simply not as urgent as the other major shortages that have plagued Philippine education for decades. The notion that the curriculum needs to be “decongested” implies that there is not enough time to learn everything that must be learned. But who or what dictates this “everything” that supposedly must be learned and the number of hours it must be taught?
In defense of K to 12, DepEd explains that the Philippines must lengthen secondary education by two years in order to comply (at least on paper) with “international standards” set by treaties such as the Bologna Process and the Washington Accord. The explicit principal intent of the Bologna Process is to make European universities “more competitive” internationally in drawing foreign (especially Asian) students. Ironically, our “compliance” with it is intended to make us more eligible buyers and “consumers” of the educational “products” that they offer. This has obviously nothing to do with developing the Philippine economy per se but is geared to meeting international professional standards that supposedly require 12 years of basic education for the practice of professions abroad.
Rather than spreading further the education budget for this big project, the state should concentrate its efforts and budget in basic education by improving quality, building science education, scholarships, and establishing centers for teachers’ continuing education. We can be certain that K to 12 will not raise the quality of Philippine education and will only lengthen the suffering of students in a miserably underfunded system. The additional two years will also constitute an additional and insupportable burden for the majority of poor families struggling to put their children through high school.
Finally, K to 12 will not redound to the benefit of the Filipino people because it firmly puts foreign interests before our country’s development priorities and educational needs.
Sarah Raymundo is general secretary of the Congress of Teachers/Educators for Nationalism and Democracy-University of the Philippines (Contend-UP) and assistant professor at the Center for International Studies in UP Diliman.
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