The Philippine government is implementing widespread educational reforms to turn out better students

Aimed at modernising an outdated system and providing students with an education that better equips them to participate in an increasingly competitive world, the K-12 programme is receiving full support from the government. Part of President Benigno Aquino III’s 10 Point Education Agenda, the K-12 programme turns the existing 10-year system into a 13-year one, including mandatory kindergarten and two years of senior high school education.

One of the main areas of change and improvement, therefore, is the curriculum. At senior high school (SHS), students are expected to take two years of specialised courses bases upon aptitude, interest and the capacity of their school, allowing them to follow a certain vocational direction if desired. SHS offers subjects included within the core curriculum, often referred to as “general studies programmes”, and more specialised, “tracked” curriculum options.

The core curriculum includes languages, literature, communication, mathematics, philosophy, natural sciences and social sciences. However, students may also select from three tracks, academic, technical-vocational-livelihood and sport-art combined. The academic track is broken into three different paths, namely, business, accountancy and management; humanities, education and social sciences; and science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

K-12 TRAINING: In addition to new curricula, which allows students to hone in on their area of expertise or interest, the K-12 system also allows for students to begin to gain practical and technical competencies after year 10, or their final year of junior high school. Following this, students are allowed to study for Certificates of Competency, National Certificate (NC) Level I in year 11 and NC Level II if completing a technical-vocational-livelihood track in 2012. All certificates improve the employability of students in sectors like agriculture, electronics and trade, also demonstrating the willingness of students to apply themselves. It is envisaged the complementary qualifications will help to smooth the road for graduate jobseekers. Though sustained economic growth has resulted in improved job creation, with over a million jobs created between October 2013 and October 2014 according to the World Bank, the current administration is striving to keep up the momentum. Running alongside the curriculum for all students going through the K-12 programme is a greater emphasis and integration of information technology studies.

IMPLEMENTATION: Accompanying the extensive level of reform is increased demand for SHS teachers with appropriate skills, such as those with an aptitude for teaching general “core” curriculum subjects, as private higher education institutions (PHEIs) scramble to ready themselves for 2016. It has been estimated that the addition of SHS education within the K-12 programme will require places for almost 3m secondary school students and 68,000 additional teachers for 2016. The timeline is a pressing one for a number of PHEIs, such as the Technological Institute of the Philippines, which has filed an application to offer grades 11 and 12 in order to help cope with K-12 implementation. PHEIs generally do not receive any meaningful assistance from the government, despite the challenges of accommodating the vast student body. However, regardless of this, it is essential for many that they comply in order to fill the complete void of “freshmen", or first-year students in 2016, because otherwise many will likely be forced to close.

In order to mitigate this strain on SHS and the students which seek to attend them, in September 2013 the Department of Education (DepEd) announced the adoption of an education voucher scheme to provide financial assistance to poorer students who enrol in licensed private SHS. The voucher scheme will partially or fully compensate students who have attended a public junior high school (JHS) for at least four years for the cost of private school tuition at SHS.

The voucher scheme is viewed as the most viable option because of the autonomy it gives students and parents to select a school. Though the voucher scheme will initially be rolled out on a small scale, it is calculated that the potential number of recipients could reach 1.3m 2017. The inherent simplicity of a voucher scheme for large-scale funding and quick school access makes it administratively attractive to DepEd. Furthermore, the proposed voucher scheme would also include a pro-poor targeting mechanism, aimed at providing assistance for those students whose household income falls at or below the median national household income level of around P150,000 ($3375).

The voucher scheme is viewed as superior to previous forms of Government Assistance to Students and Teachers in Private Education programme, which have relied upon an Education Service Contracting Scheme (ESCS). The ESCS is one of the world’s largest education-focused public-private partnerships, used in the Philippines since 1986 and allowing the government to provide educational access for public students via places at private high schools.

Through the scheme, an annual per pupil subsidy is doled out to certified private JHS to accept public school students who cannot be accommodated in public high schools that are over-congested. However, the existing ESC has been criticised for being inequitable for poor students, inefficient due to level of monitoring required while also requiring families to fork out “top up” fees. Positively though, the scheme has succeeded in further involving the private sector into the provision of Education For All and widening the mindset of the central government.

CALENDAR COMMOTION: In line with modernisation of the domestic curriculum under K-12, the updating of the calendar for schooling at both high school and higher education institutions has also come under debate in 2014. The trend has already been set in motion by the University of the Philippines and the University of Santo Tomas, which are set to move the start of their academic calendar year 2014-15 from June to August and July, respectively. The Ateneo de Manila University, meanwhile, will start its school year in August of academic year 2015/16. The rationale behind the move is internationalisation via improved harmony with other top PHEIs in Asia.

However, the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) countered the move by the select group of PHEIs by stating that the best way for institutions in Philippines to internationalise would be to intensify quality assurance, capacity-building and institutional development programmes. Upcoming ASEAN integration is also causing concern within the sector, with increased pressure on CHED to assess the skills of their own students against regional neighbours.

Rather than dictate the decisions of schools to adapt to the calendar, the CHED is allowing schools across the education spectrum to make the calendar decision on their own. Under Republic Act No 7797, which sets the school calendar to a maximum of 220 class days, it is proclaimed that the school year should start on the first Monday of June, but not later than the last day of August. CHED continues to recommend a June opening, but for those wishing to change, they must seek CHED’s approval in writing no later than 15 days before the recommended opening of classes. In practice, it appears that only those top universities aiming for inclusion within ASEAN University Network are eyeing the shift in their calendars.

TUITION: Finally, another product of incumbent reform has been a change in the tuition system. In July 2014 the UP implemented the Socialised Tuition System (STS), which serves to replace the Socialised Tuition and Financial Assistance Programme. The STS is set to simplify the basis for tuition brackets, adjust income bracket cut-offs for inflation, increase monthly stipends for low-income students and streamline the entire process. Indeed, the 14-page application from under the previous system has been cut back to two pages. In terms of tuition, the STS adjusted the income brackets upwards by 30% to account for inflation since 2006, when the original cut-offs were established, effectively reducing tuition for those affected. For example, a student with an annual household income of P1.3m ($29,250) now falls into bracket B, not A.

However, the CHED announced in May 2014 that 353 of the estimated 1683 PHEIs had asked to increase their tuition fees for the 2014/15 academic year. Unlike state and local tertiary education providers, which fall under the remit of the government, private post-secondary institutions are set up through a corporation code, and while accredited independently, remain governed by CHED, which oversees all legislation, guidelines and policy decisions.

Approximately 3.56m students are enrolled in post-secondary institutions throughout the Philippines, with PHEIs constituting the overwhelming majority of the total number of tertiary education providers. The number of PHEIs operating at end-2014 was 1699, or 88% of the total, up from 948 in 1996. In 2014 CHED allowed 354 private post-secondary institutions to raise their fees, resulting in an average increase per unit of P37.45 ($0.84), or 8.5%, for each student.

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