First things first: A commentary on K+12
STAR SCIENCE - Angel C. De Dios, Ph.D. () - April 26, 2012 - 12:00am

For any overwhelming policy that involves dramatic changes and budget requirements, it is important that the policy is based on good data and statistics. The Philippines, with its financial condition, cannot afford to waste. The 10-year basic education program can work as demonstrated by a Philippine school in Qatar (see “Do Filipino schools make the grade?” The Philippine school in Doha, Qatar participated in PISA 2009 and their scores were: Science, 466; Math, 461; and Reading, 480. These scores place the Philippines near the average scores of participating countries.

The problems concerning basic education that developing countries face are enormous and complex. A few years from now, the international donor community will look at how close governments they have funded to improve education have reached the Millennium Development Goals (MDG). It is highly likely that the Philippines will not meet the second item in the MDG, universal primary education:

MDG (second bullet under item 19):

“We resolve that... To ensure that, by the same date (2015), children everywhere, boys and girls alike, will be able to complete a full course of primary schooling and that girls and boys will have equal access to all levels of education.” (

With regard to this goal, here are the indicators for the Philippines: Percentage of pupils starting Grade 1 who reach Grade 5, both sexes (last updated: 09 Aug 2011): 2001 (75.3), 2002 (73.4), 2003 (72.2), 2004 (71.5), 2005 (70.4), 2006 (73.2), 2007 (75.3).

(See Other data have been summarized, for example, in the following article in Business World

( It is understandable that the Philippine government is under tremendous pressure and it seems that a magic potion is required. However, what is lacking in most of the components proposed is a thoughtful and careful consideration of evidence and data. It is unfortunate that amid the lack of sound evidence, although this paucity in data has been emphasized and repeated so many times in published reviews and articles, various components have been incorporated in the K+12 plan with “panacea” stamped on them. The following paragraphs highlight specific examples.

The mother tongue based multiple language education (MTBMLE) is one example. In 2009, the US Supreme Court issued an opinion (Horne vs. Flores) that Structured English Immersion (SEI) works better than bilingual education. It was a narrow decision (five against four) so it is not a clear judgment against MTBMLE, but it sure is a clear sign that MTBMLE is not “panacea.” Recent news from the state of California also indicates that multilingual education is likewise not working well (see “English-Learning Students Far Behind Under English-Only Methods” The world experts in MTBMLE are careful in promoting MTBMLE. To make a strong case in favor of MTBMLE, data must show that high dropout rates are unquestionably due to using a second language as medium of instruction (Smits et al., 2008, I strongly recommend taking a closer look at Table A.1 of this study by Smits et al. because this

contains data pertinent to the Philippines. Specifically, the paper states: “The figures presented in columns 4 and 8 of the table give an indication of the part of the attendance differences that is due to differences in the background characteristics. For both age groups the reduction is 25 percent or more in 13 of the 22 countries. So in the majority of countries the background characteristics play a role of importance. This result provides support for hypothesis H1.” Hypothesis H1 of this paper is “The differences in educational outcomes among linguistic groups are (partly) due to socioeconomic differences and/or differences in urbanization of the place of living among the groups.” The Philippines lists 45 and 48 percent in columns 4 and 8, respectively. In this light, the Philippines is among the three odd countries listed that show very strong correlation between school retention and socioeconomic factors; the others are Ghana and Peru. In Table B1, page 41 of the paper, data from the Philippines clearly suggest that the various language groups in the country do not differ from each other in a significant manner in terms of dropout rates.

Another aspect of the K+12 plan that has been promoted without scrutiny is the length of instructional hours. This is intimately related to multiple shifts in schools. This area, as experts have warned, is likewise characterized by scarce good data. There are large amounts of data that contain information regarding the length of instruction and learning outcomes, but these data involve so many additional factors. Nonetheless, amid these complicated cases, one thing is clear: “... the amount of time spent engaged in learning tasks is related to student performance...”(Abadzi, “Instructional Time Loss in Developing Countries: Concepts, Measurement, and Implications” World Bank Res Obs (2009) 24 (2): 267-290, The issue of multiple shifts is important and could be a significant factor determining learning and one that definitely warrants a careful study. I know that anecdotal instances are not of any help, but when I was in grade school, I have always wondered why the top six students from the graduating class always came from the morning shift. In high schools, it was worse, students were placed in sections according to their past year’s performance, and the lower the section was, the later their shift was. In a school where three shifts were employed, the poorest of the learners took the late-afternoon-evening shift. Now, these are all anecdotal but these instances illustrate that these factors need to be studied carefully.

Would it satisfy the international donor community that the Philippines would embark on a heroic last-minute effort? My answer is that this question is the wrong one to ask. The Philippine government must do what is good for its citizens.

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

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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, antimalarial 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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