Special Features | National

Ready or not, K-to-12 curriculum starts

Grade one pupils at Dr. Alejandro Albert school in Dapitan, Sampaloc, Manila. (Bernard Testa/
The online news portal of TV5

Starting School Year 2012-2013, the Department of Education (DepEd) implements the enhanced K to 12 (Kindergarten to Grade 12) Basic Education Program, adding two more years to the existing 10-year basic education curriculum. (Last school year, the mandatory kindergarten education was put in place through a law that requires all five-year-olds to enrol and finish kindergarten education before going to Grade 1.)

The new program seeks to cure what ails the Philippine basic and secondary education system. But not everyone agrees that the additional years will result in better-educated, competitive, and employable graduates.

The K to 12 program starts this year against a backdrop of perennial woes: lack of teachers, shortage in classrooms, school buildings, and textbooks, a curriculum that needs overhauling, and a budget that even education officials call a “survival budget.”

Inadequacies of the basic education curriculum have been observed for many years. Proposals to restore Grade 7 or add an extra year to basic education have been put forward to the President Task Force on Education in 2008.

But even as Congress has yet to pass a law, the government is pushing forward K to 12. The public can simply put their faith on the government providing the necessary budgetary support to address the various infrastructural, instructional, and institutional reforms needed to make K to 12 work.

I. K to 12 basics

What is it?

K to 12 has kindergarten as base, to be followed by six years of elementary (Grades 1 to 6), four years of junior high school (Grades 7 to 10), and two years of senior high school (Grades 11 and 12).

Who will be affected?

The incoming Grade 7 this school year will be the first batch to graduate as junior high school in 2016, and if they decide to pursue their studies, they would graduate as senior high school in 2018.

Who are exempt?

Incoming second year, third year, and fourth year high school students will not be covered by K to 12 and will graduate when they finish fourth year. They can proceed to college after graduating from high school.

II. Why K to 12?

The Department of Education cited dismal statistics in pursuing the K to 12 program. As of School Year 2009-2010, National Achievement Test (NAT) passing rates for Grade 6 and 4th year students are only 69 and 46 percent, respectively.

In the Trends for International Math and Sciences Study (TIMSS), the Philippines often placed fourth from last.

A 2009 World Bank Study also found that employers considered graduates with only 10 years of basic education wanting in essential work skills, like problem-solving and initiative.

K to 12 hopes to decongest the curriculum by spreading the lessons of subjects over 12 years, instead of 10 years.

President Benigno Aquino III succinctly compared the 10-year basic education program to force-feeding: “You are given ten years to take in, to chew on, and to digest the lessons. There is no time for the children to savor the knowledge they are receiving. You just keep feeding and feeding them.”

“The result: information is not processed as well as it should be, context is not a given and thus not applied, and the implications on the greater majority of Filipinos are not explained. Which is why, sometimes, information enters one ear and exits the other; in a matter of days, what has been learned has been forgotten,” he said during the launch of the program in April.

Reality Bites: Additional years not equal to quality education

In an in-country study conducted by Abraham Felipe and Carolina Porio on the Length of School Cycle and the Quality of Education, they concluded that “there is no basis to expect that lengthening the educational cycle, calendar-wise, will improve education.”

Felipe, a University of the Philippines professor and former deputy minister of education, and Porio, executive director of the Fund for Assistance to Private Education (FAPE), focused on the TIMMS (Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study), where 4th and 8th grade students in several countries were tested for science and math.

For many years, the Philippines has ended up near the bottom of the list for all the tests, the dismal scores used to justify the additional two years in basic education.

Felipe and Porio presented many tables and graphs, but what’s glaring is their conclusion: Some countries with short cycles (years of education) had high TIMSS results; others with long cycles also had low TIMSS results. For example, Singapore and South Korea, with 13-year cycles, did better in the test scores that the United States, which has a 15-year cycle.

They further analyzed the statistics to show for example that a pre-school cycle seemed to be related to better scores for 4th grade, but not for 8th grade. But they also warned against concluding that pre-school inputs will improve competencies in math and science.

“Nothing is known about the relation of experiences during these early periods to competence in mathematics and the sciences, which are the subject of TIMSS. The importance of the pre-school sub-cycle is better interpreted to mean the presence of a strong economy and the value and support for good teaching,” they said.

Finally, they said that, “Many educators seem to expect too much of the 12-year educational cycle. More likely, lengthening the cycle is so concrete a step that it gives them the feeling they are doing something about a faulty system.”

“A friend who learned of the plan to adopt this proposal was reminded of the following Howie Mandel joke: ‘My wife does not know how to cook. So she went out and bought herself a microwave oven. Now, she does not know how to cook -- faster!’

“If the plan is hastily adopted, pretty soon the problem would be how to cut short a poor quality 12-year cycle,” the authors said in the study.

III. Is K to 12 sustainable?

Education Secretary Armin Luistro has hailed President Benigno Aquino III for having the political will to fully back K to 12.

“When the structure of K to 12 is set in place and it becomes law, then K to 12 will already be the framework of Philippine basic education,” Luistro says.

With K to 12 in place, the Philippine education system would be at par with international standards, following the Washington Accord and the Bologna Accord, and contributing to the development of a better-educated society capable of pursuing productive employment, entrepreneurship, or higher education disciplines.

Reality Bites: No law yet

Until a law on K to 12 is passed, sustainability of the program could not be guaranteed. What if the President changes his mind and decided he wanted another model? What if the President’s successor has other plans in mind?

While included as one of the legislative agenda during the February 28, 2011 Legislative-Executive Development Advisory Council (LEDAC) meeting, Congress has yet to pass the law on this.

For two years in the current 15th Congress, the administration-supported bills that aim to increase the number of years for basic education remain pending at the committee level.

Among these are Senate Bill 2713 of Senator Ralph Recto, House Bill 4219 of Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. and House Bill 4199 of Salvador Escudero III.

Lawyer Joseph Estrada, legal counsel of the Coordinating Council of Philippine Educational Associations (COCOPEA), says the lack of legislation is one of the worries of higher educational institutions in the private sector.

“One of our greatest worries is the lack of law to institutionalize K to 12. It’s now the 15th Congress, one year more and this Congress will finish, but this is crucial because next year is election year,” he says.

IV. How to fund the program?

For 2012, DepEd got the biggest chunk of the budget with P238.8 billion, including P2.4 billion for kinder.

In its presentation to the House of Representatives in March, the department said that to implement K to 12, it would need at least P363.29 billion in 2013; P361.17 billion in 2014; P377.21 billion in 2015; P423.04 billion in 2016; and P443.55 billion in 2017.

As the two additional years in senior high school will be offered for free in public schools, as announced by the DepEd, the additional budget is expect to be used to absorb the Grade 11 enrollees in 2016, which is expected to number to 1.2 million students.

The DepEd also vows to close the gap on seats and classrooms by School Year 2012-2013.

Acknowledging the need for resources for K to12, the DepEd called on the local government units and private partners to support the infrastructure development. Another scheme it is eyeing is to front-load all needed capital investments, take a grant or loan from government and private banks based on annual budget, and pay the amortization yearly.

It also proposed the following:

* Private partners can donate through our Adopt-a-School program that provides them a 150 percent tax rebate for their contribution.

* Individuals and institutions can take part in the TEN Moves! Campaign to build 10,000 classrooms by donating P10 per day for ten months.

* LGUs can follow the front-loading scheme using their Special Education Fund as collateral and the allocation as amortization.

* For teacher items, LGUs also help by hiring qualified teachers for our public schools and paying honoraria for them.

COCOPEA, which is composed of five associations of higher education institutions and with around 2,000 member-schools, is also at hand to offer possible solutions to the need for resources for K to 12.

“The government still needs the private education sector because they cannot do it alone in terms of resources to absorb all students and retain them for another two years,” Estrada says.

Estrada opens the possibility of public-private partnership in constructing new buildings for Senior High School and helping provide additional teachers for the new Grades 11 and 12 students. He says that leasing out some of the classrooms of colleges to government is also a possibility.

“I think we can partner with government, they can spend less by tapping the resources of the private sector for Grades 11 to 12,” he says.

Reality Bites: Shortage everywhere

According to Representatives Antonio Tinio of Act Teachers partylist and Raymond Palatino of Kabataan partylist, the government has yet to present a convincing program to remedy existing shortages in the education sector.

“Without first addressing these problems, the K-12 proposal would inevitably appear as a giant step in the wrong direction,” Palatino says.

“How can basic education qualitatively function in the context of the dire shortages? What benefit would K-12 bring if students, in the first place, have no sufficient classrooms to study in, chairs to seat on, teachers to learn from, and textbooks to read?” he asks.

ACT partylist said that as of School Year 2010-2011, the steady decline in education budget has brought about a glaring shortage of teaching manpower and supervisory personnel, translating in 54,060 teachers, 4,538 principals, and, 6,473 head teachers. The lack of budget also resulted in shortage in education resources and capital outlay in the form of 61,343 classrooms, 816,291 seats, and 113,051 water and sanitation facilities.

“While we value the intention of K to 12, we have some major concerns. One, we have existing problems in our public school system that have to be plugged, there’s the shortage in teachers, classrooms, etc., which are not yet resolved, not by a long shot,” Tinio says.

“Two, we have problems too in terms of performance of the10-year basic education system that is in place. For example, those who enrol in Grade 1 and finish high school only have a 50 percent completion rate. One of the most important challenges is still the completion of high school,” Tinio adds.

There are around 37,000 elementary schools in the country, 8,000 public high schools, and 5,000 private high schools. Tinio says that the government still has a lot to do to close the gap between the number of elementary schools and high schools to ensure that it can absorb students finishing Grade 6.

Another problem, he says, is that public high schools are  built mostly in populated centers, making it difficult for those who live in a number of rural communities to have access to education.

“These are concerns that are not directly addressed by K to 12, and if you implement additional years, expectedly, the education sector’s problems will just pile up,” he says.

Marilyn Yap, a teacher at the Ernesto Rondon High School in Quezon City agreed that there is much to address under the present curriculum.

“Educational facilities like school rooms, laboratory rooms and laboratory equipments and apparatus, computer rooms, voc/tech rooms complete with equipments and many other things are needed for the effective implementation of the new curriculum,” she says.

“If these officials will only visit schools instead of having meetings with the superintendents, they will know the roots of deteriorating education,” Yap adds.

V. Where will more, better-trained teachers come from?

The country currently has 510,000 public school teachers in elementary and high school who will need to go through some adjustments with the new curriculum.

From May to June this year, a total of 73,655 Grade 1 teachers and 70,227 Grade 7 teachers from public schools who will teach the new K to 12 curriculum have undergone training.

Teachers will not get an additional workload for the K to 12 implementation, as the Magna Cart for Public School Teachers provides that teachers should teach only up to six hours a day.

DepEd says that additional special teachers will be hired and existing teachers will be trained to teach core academic subjects and electives that will be offered in Grades 11 and 12 (Senior High School).

The department says it is exploring the possibility of utilizing existing technical and higher education teachers to teach Senior High School, particularly during the transition period.

Reality Bites: Exploitative condition, threat of displacement

As to the condition of teachers, Tinio goes back to his theory that current problems will not be addressed by the K to 12 program.

The rollout of the kindergarten program last year was best proof that the DepEd was ill-prepared for its implementation, he says.

For the one million kinder pupils who went to school, Tinio says the DepEd should have at least 30,000 teachers in place. Because of lack of budget, however, he said some public school instead hired volunteer teachers to teach, and who were paid only P3,000 per month, or P6,000 if the teacher took the morning and afternoon sessions.

“Imagine, P6,000 a month. The requirement is they should be education graduates, but I got reports that many of them are licensed teachers as well, and they do that in the hope that they will be absorbed as regular teachers,” he said.

“But it’s such a highly exploitative condition, pati paghuhugas ng pwet ng mga bata sila ang gumagawa, hindi lang sila nagtuturo (they even clean up after the kids, they don’t just teach). In other words, the K (kindergarten) program at the moment is possible only through the gross exploitation of these so-called volunteer teachers,” Tinio said.

According to him, DepEd has currently around 2,000 regular kindergarten teachers who receive at least P17,000 per month plus benefits.

COCOPEA is also worried about the displacement of private school teachers and personnel because of the expected lack of enrolment in colleges and universities in 2016 and 2017, when the first batch completes Junior High School.

Instead of going to a college or to a university, students will have to enroll for Grade 11 to finish Senior High School before being eligible to go to college.

“What will the college teachers do during those periods? The displacement of faculty and personnel is a real threat, and we’re not talking only of two years because it could be a continuous thing if students just opt to finish junior high school and then work, and no longer finish college,” Estrada says.

As a survival measure, Estrada says COCOPEA hopes that the DepEd would consider their proposal of allowing college instructors to teach in Senior High School even without a license.

Under DepEd regulations, all elementary and high school teachers must first pass the Licensure Examinations for Teachers to be able to teach. College instructors, meanwhile, need not get this and can teach as long as they are holders of any masteral degree course.

“In transition, we hope DepEd will extend the exemption of the licensure requirement for teachers so college instructors can teach in Grades 11 and 12, even just the core subjects like math, english, and science.

VI. Will K to 12 solve the country’s employment, development problems?

Vocational/technical education takes center stage in the K to 12 curriculum as it is institutionalized in the basic educational system. Starting Grade 9, the new curriculum will offer as an elective Technology and Livelihood Education that will give the students the option to take technical vocation subjects.

The goal, according to DepEd, is for a student who completes K to 12 to be “equipped with skills, competencies, and recognized certificates equivalent to a two-year college degree.”

After finishing Junior High School (Grade 10), the curriculum will enable students to acquire Certificates of Competency (COCs) and National Certifications (NCs) in accordance with the training regulations of the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA).

“This will allow graduates to have middle-level skills and will offer them better opportunities to be gainfully employed or become entrepreneurs,” according to DepEd.

There will be a school–industry partnership for technical–vocational tracks to allow students to gain work experience while studying and offer the opportunity to be absorbed by the companies, it added.

Reality Bites: Lack of college enrollees, promotion of labor-export policy

With the K to12 in place, COCOPEA expects to have greatly-reduced enrollment, if not zero enrolment, by 2016, when the first batch of students finishes Junior High School.

Estrada says zero enrolment will continue until 2018 because those who took Junior High School will need two years to finish Senior High School before they can go to college.

The trend of low enrollment can continue, he added, because some student may prefer to work and not anymore study in college.

According to Estrada, there are three streams under the new curriculum: one is be an entrepreneur or work right after graduating from Junior High School; two is proceed to Senior High School; and three is enroll in a college or a university, or work, after finishing Senior High School.

“In this sense, you can expect that only one-third of those who will finish Junior High School or Grade 10 will eventually pursue a college course,” he said.

Dr. Jose Paulo Campos, COCOPEA chairman, says that private tertiary schools in the country stands to lose about P128 billion over five years because of the K to 12 program.

“The effect is not so good, yet we are supporting it because there’s something bigger that we need to address than the concern of the individual schools. If we don’t do K to 12 now, it could backfire on us because our graduates would find it difficult to land jobs,” Estrada says.

Tinio and Palatino are alarmed that the new curriculum is oriented more toward the global labor market, which they say only feeds the labor-export policy orientation of the government.

“Whenever one thinks about the educational system, it should be about national development. Which path are we taking to become prosperous, is it through the export of our labor or through developing our own industries?” Tinio asks.

Palatino adds, “What does becoming globally competitive effectively mean in this light? It means producing a pliant work force to fill in the global demand for semi-skilled and cheap labor.”

“With the absence of national industries and sufficient jobs, many are forced to work abroad. DepEd’s plan to introduce vocational and technical courses in high school, using as argument the so-called fact that students no longer want to finish college, is essentially an endorsement for those students unable to enter college to make do with the voc/tech training and become for-export laborers,” Palatino says.


Despite all these problems, DepEd Secretary Luistro is positive the K to 12 is the right step towards getting education right. He acknowledges that teacher training will take years, and the new curriculum remains a work in progress.