The thing with change
Now that the elections are over and a new administration is set to take the reins for nation-building, we begin the hard work of continuing major reforms, paramount of which is the K-to-12 program. Much has been said about how this long-overdue reform in education can benefit the Filipino people. But what remains contentious is how such a sweeping initiative can be sustainably implemented while also tackling its attendant challenges in the short term.
Amid the commendations for the Aquino administration for finally paving the way for K-to-12, some critics remain cynical about the Philippines’ readiness for it, given various transition issues. These range from logistical limitations (e.g., insufficient classrooms and learning materials, etc.) to policy-level constraints (e.g., inadequate education budget, inefficient bureaucracy). While there is certainly merit in raising these issues, we must keep in mind that fundamental to any significant change are difficulty and confusion (think of the metamorphosis of a caterpillar into a butterfly, or the birth of a child). These challenges, however, do not stop change, and they should not do so now. This is why we need to talk about K-to-12’s early hurdles, if only to show that they do not warrant giving up the fight for a better basic education system for our youth.
Opposition to K-to-12 has focused on labor concerns, which, while valid, have already been tackled in multisectoral efforts. These include nationwide caravans by the Department of Education (DepEd) and regional dialogues by the Private Education Assistance Committee (PEAC), the Coordinating Council of Private Educational Associations (Cocopea), and Philippine Business for Education (PBEd). A range of comprehensive support programs has been developed by government agencies in order to mitigate the adverse impact on labor and to leverage the opportunity to upgrade Philippine higher education.
For example, in filling senior high school (SHS) personnel posts, the DepEd has established a “green lane” for the priority hiring of displaced faculty and staff. It has accommodated a total of 41,692 SHS faculty applications for 2016 alone, well beyond the 39,000 faculty members estimated to be displaced over a period of five years.
For those who will not join the SHS ranks, the Commission on Higher Education has allocated a total of 15,000 scholarship slots (8,000 masters and 7,000 PhDs), apart from the 13,606 faculty and staff development grants and 100 school innovation grants—all lodged under the Tertiary Education Transition Fund. Finally, the Department of Labor and Employment will facilitate the provision of financial and livelihood assistance to displaced personnel. It is thus inaccurate to say that the government is just willing to leave our teachers languishing during the transition.
In terms of access, we cannot deny the efforts made to decongest our schools, as evidenced by 2014 ratios of 1:34 in elementary schools and 1:48 in high schools. The remaining problem involving classrooms is now more one of distribution than supply. Moreover, from 461 elementary schools running on three shifts a day in 2011, we now only have 15 such schools in 2014. Similarly, the DepEd’s voucher program ensures that all 3.9 million junior high school finishers will have equitable access to SHS in 2016, regardless of their school of origin.
On the national policy front, while it is true that government spending on education remains below international standards, it has been steadily increasing in absolute value across the years. From P188 billion in 2010, the total education budget has nearly doubled to P371 billion in 2015, equivalent to a fifth of total new appropriations for the year. It is thus critical that we sustain the momentum and guarantee the optimal use of public funds.
The transition issues surrounding K-to-12—and the criticisms they inevitably draw—merely underscore one challenge for us all: ensuring that the next administration will also put a premium on education by pursuing the full and effective implementation of K-to-12, among other critical reforms of recent times.
Education Secretary Armin Luistro said it best: “One of the criticisms [for K-to-12] is ‘Why do you do it? You’re not ready.’ That’s fine, I think, when we think of it as a conceptual reform. But I come face to face with 5- to 6-year-olds. I can’t tell them, ‘Stop growing; wait until we have a solution.’ So we have to do it now. It will not be perfect. It may be makeshift. Maybe we’ll have to refine it the year after. But the urgency is there, because of them, our children.”
Indeed, the battle for real and lasting change in Philippine education can only be fought one classroom, one teacher, one student at a time. And the thing with such massive change is that the first few, wobbly steps are also the hardest.
Dr. Chito B. Salazar and Dylan Dellosa are president and research director, respectively, of the Philippine Business for Education.
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