The road to world-class Philippine education
BREAKTHROUGH - Elfren S. Cruz (The Philippine Star) - July 4, 2013 - 12:00am

The Philippines is the ONLY country in the whole of Southeast Asia with only ten years of basic education and pre-university education. The other countries with their corresponding duration of basic education and pre-university education are Cambodia (12 years of primary and secondary and 1 year pre-university or a total of 13 years); Laos (11 years primary and secondary and 1 year of pre-university or a total of 13 years); Myanmar (11 years of primary and secondary and 1 year of pre-university or a total of 12 years); Timor-Leste (12 years of primary and secondary); Indonesia (12 years of primary and secondary and 1 year of pre-university or a total of 13 years).

 The two advanced economies in SE Asia are Singapore (11 years of primary and secondary with 2-3 years of pre-university or a total of 13-14 years) and Malaysia (11 years of primary and secondary and 2 years of pre-university or a total of 13 years).

Whenever I hear people say that extending the number of years of basic education in our schools from 10 to 12 years is premature, I find this a tragic viewpoint. It means we have Filipinos who believe that we cannot even be capable of giving our young people the same duration of education as even countries poorer than ours such as Myanmar, Timor, Laos and Cambodia.

The principal victims of this obviously inadequate duration are primarily the children of the poor and the middle class. The so-called “exclusive” schools like La Salle and Xavier have been historically offering 12 years starting with Prep to Grade 7 in elementary and 4 years in high school. The very rich send their children to foreign schools in the USA or Britain where 12 years is the basic duration.

The idea of extending the duration of basic education is not new. As far back as July 28, 1949, a UNESCO Educational Commission to the Philippines released a report that included a conclusion that 6 years of elementary school and 4 years in the secondary is not adequate. The group proposed eventually this should be increased to 12 years.

After almost 64 years, the 2-year extension, as proposed, finally became law. On May 15, 2013 President Benigno Aquino III signed into law Republic Act No. 10533 entitled “An Act Enhancing the Philippine Basic Education System by Strengthening the Curriculum and Increasing the Number of Years  for Basic Education, Appropriating Funds Therefore and for Other Purposes.”

The improvement of the education program, through K to 12 will benefit not only the student but also their families. The additional 2 years has allowed the curriculum to be revised and decongested. In the old curriculum too much knowledge, skills and values were expected to be learned by students within a limited period of time.

Under the new program, graduates will also be better prepared for higher studies. We have students who are entering college at the age of 15 to 16 years. In most countries, the normal age for entering college is 18 years.

Under the new program, high school graduates will be better equipped to work and will, therefore, be more employable. Under the present situation, two years of college or even a college degree is required even for semi-skilled jobs.

According to Secretary Luistro the implementation of the K to 12 has been carefully calibrated. When we talk of the additional 2 years, Grade 11 will be implemented in school year 2016 and grade 12 will begin in school year 2017. The change in curriculum was started two years ago and is being done grade by grade.

Secretary Luistro explains: “The first graduates [of the K to 12 program] would actually be March of 2018. But if you look at the new curriculum.... those who will be graduating [grade 12] in 2018 entered Grade 7 with the new curriculum. They never went through the new curriculum from kindergarten to Grade 6. That’s what I mean by you needed a minimum of 7 years. But the real reform, the first fruits of those, we will see in the grade 1 students who started using the new curriculum 2 years ago. They will be the first graduates of the full new K to 12 curriculum.”

Together with the K to 12 program, the DepEd is also ensuring that by 2016 there will be no more shortages in the five learning inputs — classrooms, teachers, learning materials, chairs and water and sanitation facilities. The main reason is that there is now sufficient financial support. In the past, around 10,000 additional teachers a year were being hired. This year we needed 61,500 teachers and the DepEd has already hired around 90% of this target.      

The K to 12 program, the revision of the curriculum, addressing the shortages and the retraining of teachers are all geared towards a world-class educational system that will graduate globally competitive Filipinos. Secretary Luistro says that his vision is a public school system whose quality will be as good as our best private schools.

The program will take seven to twelve years before we see its full fruits. For the sake of a vision of a country where every Filipino is given the means to live a life of human dignity by being given the competencies to take advantage of all the opportunities available, I feel that it is only right that we have already embarked on this bold and sorely needed education reform program.  Its inevitable success and fruits will prove that the Philippines can be, and will be, a world-class nation. 

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