Back to School with the K12 Program: Independence from Poverty
Less than two weeks to go and summer in the Philippines will officially be over. Kids will be trooping back to school starting Monday, June 4, and when they return to their classrooms, they will go down in history as the first batch of students to start the school year under the new K-12 Basic Education System.
Simply put, the K-12 curriculum adds two years to the previous 10-year program, which had long been in place in the Philippines. According to the Department of Education or DepEd, K-12/K12/K+12 means “Kindergarten plus 12 years of elementary and secondary education. “ By kindergarten, they mean 5-year olds who go through a standardized preschool curriculum, while elementary refers to six years of primary schooling. Secondary education then entails four years of junior high from Grades 7-10 or 1st to 4th year high school, followed by two years of senior high from the 11th to 12th grade or HS Year 5-6.
The new model for basic education in the Philippines, set to be implemented in phases, quietly got underway last year, with the introduction of universal kindergarten. Phase 2 kicks off this June, with the introduction of new curricula for incoming 1st graders, as well as junior high school or 7th grade students. The 3rd Phase involves the complete migration to the K-12 system, with DepEd’s first batch of 11th graders expected in classrooms by academic year 2016-2017. If everything goes as planned, the country should see its first graduates from the six-year high school program in 2018, and the initial batch of full K-12 students completing basic education by 2024.
So why is the Philippines finally moving from its long-standing 10-year curriculum to this new model? According to the Department of Education’s 2010 discussion paper on the Enhanced K-12 Program, the need for additional years of basic education had already been raised as early as 1925, when studies noted the inadequacy of the 10-year model. The matter has only become more pressing over the years, as indicated by alarmingly low achievement scores and rankings of Filipino students. Despite a 24% increase from the 2005-2006 passing rate, the 69.21% mark of 6th graders in the National Achievement Test (NAT) for school year 2009-2010 could certainly be better. The high school situation is even less encouraging, with the 46.38% NAT in 2009-2010 showing a slight dip from the 47.40% rate in the previous academic year.
International meets like the 2003 Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study or TIMSS show an even more discouraging and disparaging picture. In 2003, the Philippines was 23rd out of 25 participating countries in both 4th grade Math and Science. Second year high school students didn’t fare any better, coming in 34th in a field of 38 nations in Math, and placing 43rd among 46 in Science. In 2008, the country was dead last among 10 participants in Advanced Mathematics, despite sending only representatives from the science high schools to the competition.
DepEd attributes the sad state of the country’s basic education partly to the congested nature of the 10-year curriculum. Because students are forced to learn what is meant to be taught over 12 years in just 10, they do not get the benefit of sufficient time on task or period of instruction. As such, they are ill-prepared to take on the world of employment or entrepreneurship, or even the pursuit of higher education. Many still need remedial and high school level classes in colleges and universities, while those who opt to look for jobs either by need or by choice, often do not possess the basic competencies and emotional maturity necessary for work. Data in the World Bank Philippines Skills Report of 2009 seems to support this, as a survey of employers revealed serious gaps in critical skills such as problem solving, initiative and creativity, and to a lesser extent, even job-specific technical skills of graduates. And because of the old curriculum’s 10-year setup, majority of basic education graduates get out of high school before turning 18, making them too young to enter the labor force, easy prey to exploitative labor practices, or unable to legally enter into contracts and set up their own businesses. The condensed education system likewise poses similar problems for Filipinos wanting to study or work abroad. They are discriminated against and not automatically recognized as professionals by countries that consider the 10-year basic education program lacking and insufficient. In Asia, the Philippines is the lone country with a 10-year curriculum, and is one of only three left in the world with such a system.
Such shortcomings, disadvantages, and deficiencies believed to be a direct result of the compressed 10-year model, have brought to light the urgent need to enhance and elevate the quality of the country’s basic education system. With this in mind, and under the direction of President Benigno S. Aquino III and his administration, the Department of Education has developed the Enhanced K-12 Program for Basic Education. Its express purpose is to provide quality education – to which, every Filipino is rightfully entitled – via a more comprehensive 12-year setup. The goal is to equip Filipinos with essential skills and competencies for both lifelong learning and employment, in accordance with President Aquino’s thrust of making quality education a long-term solution to poverty.
“We need to add two years to our basic education. Those who can afford, pay up to 14 years of schooling before university. Thus, their children are getting into the best universities and the best jobs after graduation. I want at least 12 years for our public school children to give them an even chance at succeeding,” President Aquino said.
Envisioning “holistically developed learners with 21st century skills,” the K-12 curriculum according to the official DepEd brochure, is designed to promote both mental and physical health, solid moral and spiritual grounding, essential knowledge and skills for lifelong learning, critical thinking and creative problem solving, contribution to the development of a progressive, just, and humane society, pride as a Filipino, appreciation and concern for the environment and dedication to a sustainable future. To this end, the decongested K-12 will be research-based, learner-centered, practical, and responsive to the students’ interests as well as the needs of the local industry.
“We are making it a real learning experience for the students, meaning, it will be less on memorization and more encouraging of critical thinking,” Education Secretary Br. Armin A. Luistro has said. He cites the new curriculum for incoming first year high school (grade 7) students, which he says will be more interactive and meaningful, with science instruction delivered in terms of its practical use in everyday living. He goes on to say that “as students go up the ladder, we want them to learn skills that are being demanded by employers while at the same time giving them the chance to appreciate and enjoy their lessons.”
Similarly, Professor Lorna Calingasan of U.P. Diliman’s College of Education says that K-12’s Social Studies curriculum will move away from traditional memory work (of dates, names, regions, capital, etc.) and focus instead on accumulation of facts and historical thinking.
Once fully in place, the Enhanced K-12 Basic Education Program is seen to benefit not only the individual learner, but the rest of the country as well. DepEd’s primer breaks down K-12’s social and economic benefits as follows:
To Individuals and Families
• A decongested academic workload, affording students more time to master competencies, engage in co-curricular activities, and participate in the community, resulting in a more holistic development.
• Graduates possessing skills and competencies relevant to the job market. In addition, they will be able to acquire Certificate of Proficiency, Certificate of Competency, or National Certification in their areas of specialization, in accordance with TESDA training regulations.
• Graduates who are better prepared for the pursuit of higher education.
• Affordable education, with the additional two years of high school being less expensive than two years in college.
• Higher potential annual earnings for a K-12 graduate over that with a 10-year basic education. Studies in the Philippines reveal that an additional year of schooling increases earnings by 7.5%.
• Graduates who are finally recognized abroad as professionals, or as being sufficiently equipped for employment.
For the Society and the Economy
• Economic growth as a result of the better quality of education. Several studies indicate that improved education will increase
GDP growth by as much as 2%.
• Mutual recognition of Filipino graduates and professionals in other countries, since the Philippine education system will finally be at par with international standards.
• Society that is better educated, thus serving as a sound and solid foundation for long-term socio- economic development.
On paper, the Enhanced K-12 Basic Education System seems poised to help Filipinos become more competitive in the pursuit of further education, business, or employment. Graduates possessing improved skills and competencies, trained in critical thinking and creative problem solving, and able to enter a level playing field in the global scene will have more of the necessary tools and opportunities to land good, steady jobs, or start and grow their own business. This in turn, can translate to better wages, increased income, and a genuine chance to improve their quality of life. This is what the K-12 program eventually hopes to produce – more Filipinos engaged in gainful employment or operating thriving companies, able to realize their dreams and enjoy the life they deserve and desire.