First things first: A commentary on K+12
STAR SCIENCE - Angel C. De Dios, Ph.D. () - April 19, 2012 - 12:00am

(First of two parts)

The basic education system of the Philippines faces two major problems: (1) high dropout rates in primary and secondary schools, and (2) lack of mastery of specific skills and content as reflected in poor performance in standard tests for both Grade IV and Grade VIII (second year high school) students. Unfortunately, the proposed K+12 curriculum does not directly address these problems. Both dropout rate and poor performance in standard exams indicate failure in the early years of education. That these problems are caused by a congested 10-year curriculum is not strongly supported by currently available data. The international standard tests take into account both years of education and basic skills. The standard tests ensure that students from all the participating countries had the same number of years of schooling.

The proposed K plus 12 curriculum has various components. It is useful to look at each component in deciding whether it helps address the pressing problems Philippine basic education presently faces:

(1) Kindergarten: This addresses the problems. Early childhood learning when done properly does provide a head start for elementary schools. Kindergarten prepares the child emotionally, physically and mentally for grade school.

(2) No formal subject of science in K to Grade II: This is a waste of a great opportunity. Science education in early childhood is cheap. It does not require elaborate laboratories or equipment. Young children, in addition, are naturally inquisitive and the years of kinder to grade II are excellent for introduction of basic scientific curiosity and methods. Only having science as a formal subject can ensure that science will indeed be covered.

(3) Use of mother tongue as medium of instruction: This is very expensive. It requires competent teachers who can teach math and science using the mother tongue. There is no objection that the mother tongue must be taught as a subject in elementary schools since this allows a smoother transition from home to school. The question of what medium should be used in instruction is separate. One medium of instruction can unite the nation. English is the best option since course materials especially from the Internet are usually in English. In this respect, Singapore is a good example to follow.

(4) Spiral curriculum: This type of teaching is highly applicable to elementary schools where both science and math are still treated as general approaches. In high school, both math and science diverge into separate disciplines. A spiral curriculum in high school will require teachers with knowledge in all these areas at a sufficient level. These required teachers are not going to be available in numbers so this program will be poorly implemented. A layered curriculum, on the other hand, is easier to implement — biology is taught in one year, chemistry in the next, physics is usually the last. In this manner, a high school can operate with a chemistry teacher, a physics teacher and a biology teacher, and each one need not be a master of all three disciplines.

(5) Discovery-based learning: This type of learning requires longer hours and fails without sufficient guidance (see “An Analysis of the Failure of Electronic Media and Discovery Based Learning”, Clark, et al. (2009) The ideal is a mix between traditional and inquiry-based methods. This is usually achieved in the sciences by having separate lecture and laboratory components. Guidance is provided during lectures and students work on their own or as a group in the laboratory.

(6) Last but not the least (in fact, this point is crucial), the proposed K plus 12 curriculum also involves short school hours. This seems to be an attempt to enable multiple shifts in the schools. This goes against decongesting the curriculum. It likewise does not make it worthwhile for schoolchildren especially those who have to travel far to attend school. This also opens opportunities for child labor as well as greater environmental (outside of school) influences on children education. Elementary schools in the US are full day so that students do have time to cover the material and, at the same time, it allows parents to work and be more productive. A full day in school means less television, less video games, less time on the streets, and less other activities that do not contribute to a sound education of the young.

Most countries have only 10 years of compulsory education. Compulsory education in the US varies from state to state, but the average requires anyone who is under 16 years of age to be either enrolled in a school or home-schooled. This means that on average, the US only has 10-11 (including kindergarten) years of compulsory education. The last two years in the US K-12 education already include courses in tertiary education. These are called advanced placement (AP) or international baccalaureate (IB) courses. Examples are calculus (up to multivariable) and AP chemistry. Students who take AP chemistry usually have already finished one year of basic chemistry and one year of advanced chemistry, so in sum, a student could have taken three years of chemistry while in high school. Some schools in the US cannot offer these, and consequently, there is great heterogeneity among US schools.

Addressing basic education is a matter of prioritization. Adding kindergarten and two years to high school is estimated to cost more than P100 billion. On the other hand, to solve the two pressing problems, as UNESCO has advised, six percent of the GDP must be assigned to education. At the current funding (2.3 percent of GDP) of the Department of Education (DepEd), additional years will only lead to a greater demand for resources. Adding two years to high school essentially increases the needs of a high school by 50 percent — teachers, classrooms, desks, toilets, learning materials, etc. The DepEd can only answer less than half of what UNESCO deems is necessary for the 10-year basic education program. Adding two more years will stretch the budget of DepEd even further.

Implementing a new curriculum requires strong leadership at the school level. The success of a school depends a lot on the principal. A significant fraction of public schools in the Philippines currently do not have a principal or a head teacher. This clearly needs to be addressed first before any reform in curriculum is initiated. Otherwise, a new curriculum has no hope of being implemented successfully.

Instead of trying to attack the problem at the end of high school, efforts must be focused on the early years of education. This is where the dropout rate begins to escalate and these are the years where students are failing to learn as diagnosed by the standard test scores. Resources are very much needed in the first 10 years of education and kindergarten and DepEd can do a better job on these years if it does not have to worry about the added senior years in high school. The government should allow its citizens to work out on their own a solution for the desired two years that aim to prepare students either for college or the workforce. College preparatory schools or community colleges can do this job and TESDA could address those who are leaning toward vocational training.

(To be concluded)


The views expressed here are those of the author and do not represent Georgetown University.


Angel C. de Dios, Ph.D., is currently an associate professor of chemistry at Georgetown University. At Georgetown, he has been teaching General Chemistry for the past 15 years in addition to graduate courses in molecular spectroscopy and quantum chemistry. His research interests include nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy, protein structure determinations, anti-malarial drugs, and math and science education. He was a recipient of a CAREER Award from the National Science Foundation and the Georgetown College Dean’s Award for Excellence in Teaching. A member of PAASE, he helped the residents of Paete, Laguna incorporate computers and the Internet into their public schools.

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