Education reform advocates divided on K to 12 program

(The Philippine Star) - November 21, 2015 - 9:00am

MANILA, Philippines – Education reform advocates are divided on whether or not to defer the implementation of the K to 12 program, which is being rolled out despite electricity and water supply problems in hundreds of public schools.

Private sector group Philippine Business for Education (PBEd) said the lack of access to utilities should not stop the implementation of the senior high school program, one of the key features of the K to 12 Law.

The Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT), however, claimed the K to 12 program would not succeed unless the government addresses basic problems including electricity and water supply.

Another group, the Suspend K12 Coalition, said the government is not ready to implement the program and called for a higher education budget to resolve the longstanding problems plaguing the public school system.

The K to 12 law adds two years of senior high school to the country’s basic education system, allowing senior high school students to specialize in one of three tracks: academic, technical-vocational-livelihood and sports and arts.

Before K to 12, the Philippines was the last country in Asia and one of only three countries worldwide with a 10-year basic education system.

Some public schools, however, will be implementing the changes in the curriculum without being provided with basic services like water and electricity.

A total of 97 senior high schools will be established in schools that do not have access to electricity, education department data showed.

Data also showed that senior high school program will be rolled out in 250 educational institutions with no water supply.

Most of the schools are in Mindanao, particularly in CARAGA and in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.

Chito Salazar, president of PBEd, said the electricity and water supply concerns should not disrupt the implementation of the K to 12, which he described as “one of the largest and most important reforms in Philippine education.”

“We must offer basic education even in the communities where access to utilities is a challenge. The absence of an ideal situation should not be a hindrance to doing this,” Salazar said.

“If the point is we should address these problems first, solving these problems and the short basic education system should not be seen as either-or. We should address both, and as much as possible, simultaneously,” he added.

Long-standing problems

Other groups, however, do not agree, saying the quality of education will be affected if basic problems are not resolved.

“Many schools, especially those in rural areas, do not have the basics. The irony here is DepEd is claiming that it is ready for the K to 12 and senior high school when in fact, we still lack schools and some of the schools we have do not have water or electricity,” ACT party-list Rep. Antonio Tinio said in an interview.

“The lack of access to electricity and water is a huge obstacle to quality education,” he said, noting that students would not be able to learn computer skills without stable power supply.

Tinio said poor students in the province are further disadvantaged by the failure of the government to perform its obligations.

“We maintain our stand that K to 12 should be suspended,” the lawmaker said.

Rene Tadle, a professor at the University of Santo Tomas and head of the Suspend K12 Coalition, echoed this, saying the government is not yet prepared for the program.

“The basic infrastructure should have been addressed first. Surely, it will affect the learning environment of the students. We need not mention the perennial problems related to textbooks and teachers’ training, which up to now are not fully addressed,” Tadle said.

Last March, the Suspend K12 Coalition asked the Supreme Court to issue a temporary restraining order or writ of preliminary injunction against the K to 12 program.

“There are a lot of studies that will show that the quality of the learning environment affects the learning outcomes of the students. In effect, these deficiencies will defeat the realization of the purpose or objectives of K to 12 as claimed by the government,’ Tadle said.

‘Increase education budget’

Salazar said the government should continue to increase the funding for education to address the problems besetting the education sector, particularly schools in far-flung areas.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) recommends that five to six percent of the gross domestic product should be spent on education.

“We are still hovering at about three to four percent.  While the Aquino government has, more than any other, increased education’s budget, it and the next administration should continue doing so,” Salazar said.

Salazar said while there is strong support for K to 12, critics could easily find loopholes that can be questioned before the court.

“It’s also not too difficult to find problems in so massive a system. But generally, I believe there is strong support for K to 12, people want better education, and now the poor are going to have access to a 12-year system which all the elite institutions have had for some time,” he said.

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