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Lost in transition

01:22 AM September 17, 2015

The President should be congratulated for introducing the K-to-12 expanded basic education program. It was a much overdue step. But I don’t think the same sort of acclaim can be given to the bureaucracy tasked to introduce it and get it working.

At first I couldn’t understand why there was so much opposition to it, particularly from teachers, who I thought would be at the forefront of supporting fuller education. The measure was signed into law in 2013 although the expanded basic education curriculum was implemented for Grade 1 and first year high school students in 2012. The senior high school program will start in 2016. There’s been four years to get ready, but the school system isn’t ready. It’s that simple. So what is the President going to do? He’s the one who can ultimately decide.

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Look at some of the figures: Total entrants for 2014 include some 21 million public school students—1.8 million for kindergarten, 13.2 million for grade school, 5.9 million for high school, and around 200,000 for the alternative learning system.

The number of classrooms, many of which would not be in prime condition, is about half a million. That equates to more than 40 kids per class. In some provinces, the number of students per class exceeds 50. The ideal number of students per class is 25 max, so if we consider that figure, the public school system is an estimated 100,000 rooms short. The ideal 25 students per class must be aspired for if you are to really teach, not lecture. The essential personal touch in educating kids is missing when there’s more than 25. It’s something no administration has accepted to date. Whenever they talk about classroom shortage, they do so based on a class of 45—quite unacceptable. One thing they have done, though, for which credit is due, is to give scholarships to deserving students to pay for transfer to private schools. This covers very few; nonetheless, it’s something.

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Isn’t it puzzling that with five administrations after Edsa l, we still experience the same problems—lack of classrooms, inadequate (in number and content) books and other instructional materials, insufficient and dilapidated chairs and tables, too few teachers, etc.? The government allots less than 3 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP) to education, half the 6 percent of GDP recommended by Unesco (the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization). The Department of Education’s budget this year was increased by 18.6 percent, or by P57.6 billion to P367.1 billion.

Education does get the largest share in the national budget, as mandated by the Constitution. However, education’s 14.1-percent share of the national budget is still much less than the recommended 20 percent. If the government followed Unesco’s recommendation, then the budget for education would’ve been an estimated P550-P600 billion, and around P28,500 allotted for each student per year, instead of the meager P17,500 now. Even that P28,500 ($630) allocation per year per student, if achieved, still pales in comparison with what our neighbors like Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand allocate.

That is the primary problem. The secondary problem is one that affects everything in the Philippines: a government system that just can’t act swiftly and efficiently. Real major reform in the bureaucracy overall is not something this administration will achieve in its last few months.

I’m not going into all the other figures; they’ve been repeated often enough. Let me just say this: They’re bad. There’s a shortage of everything, and the few books provided are controversial in content (the horrors of the Marcos years are glossed over, for instance) with many errors reported. Computers, especially in rural areas, are just a gleam in the eye.

Now an extra two years has been added, with inadequate preparation for the estimated 1.2-1.6 million public school students that will enter senior high school, and too few teachers trained to teach them, or rooms in which to put them. To ease the teacher problem, senior secondary teachers will not have to be licensed (the Licensure Examination for Teachers is a requirement for K-to-10). This means that it should be easier for general-education teachers to transition to senior secondary. They should still be trained, however, as there is a fundamental difference in approach between basic and higher education. On the other side, you have all the country’s colleges with no students for two years, college instructors with no students to teach, and college staff with nothing to do.

Surely a possible solution for the Grade 7 students is to use college classrooms for two years while, hopefully (a dreaded word), new classrooms are built in a two-year program of a phased shift. Giving the college instructors the task of teaching these kids, though, is not as easy as it sounds because it’s a different curriculum to their training. And high school teachers earn less than college instructors. The only solution I see to this quandary is that no-no action, subsidy. The government may have no option but to do this. Deferment is certainly a possibility, but that doesn’t eliminate the college problem of no students, no income. It only delays it. So that still has to be addressed, and subsidy would seem to be the only way.

An urgent multiday conference is needed involving all the stakeholders: the government, represented by the DepEd, Commission on Higher Education, Department of Budget and Management, and Department of Social Welfare and Development; the private colleges and high schools; the public colleges and high schools; the teachers, and their unions, the students, the parents. That conference should be tasked with ending with a solution.

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Comments at [email protected] Read my previous columns: www.wallacebusinessforum.com.

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TAGS: Commission on Higher Education, Department of Education, education, K to 12
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