The Philippines: Advanced Class

The Philippines’ education system is in the process of being given a major overhaul, with an extension to the term of basic education and a broader curriculum. These changes are aimed at better preparing students to play a role in society and the economy, though critics of the scheme warn that benefits could be limited by a lack of resources and the rush to implement the project.

At the core of the push to reform the provision of basic education Philippines is a scheme that has become known as K+12, which will see two years of senior high school added onto the end of the existing 10-year basic education cycle, and students entering the system at age five, undertaking one year of kindergarten before moving on to six years of elementary school, another four of junior high school and two of senior high.

The implementation of the programme will be a staged process, spread over five years. Though the kindergarten phase of the scheme is coming into force this school year, the full secondary school element is not scheduled to be in place until 2016. This step-by-step process is supposedly to allow a smoother transition and give time for the necessary investments in materials, infrastructure and human resources to be made.

Under the scheme, students are to get a better and earlier introduction to educational life via their year in kindergarten and then allow them a further two years in secondary school to consolidate acquired academic skills and competencies before graduating to the workforce or university. There will also be an expansion of the curriculum, with the final two years of education offering students the chance to specialise more in preferred fields, with more in-depth courses focusing on science and technology, music and the arts, agriculture, fisheries, sports and business studies becoming electives.

Though the K+12 system has been mooted in the past, and is standard practice in many countries in the region and beyond, it was only on July 26 last year, during his first State of the Nation address soon after coming to office, that President Benigno S Aquino III outlined the plans for the drastic change.

The proposal received a mixed response. Supporters of the scheme say it will bring education in the Philippines into line with that of other countries, allow students to master the subjects they are studying thanks to the longer period they will be in the classroom and be socially aware, pro-active, involved in public and civic affairs.

Another argument presented in favour of the scheme has been that many of the students leaving the education system after their 10 years of elementary and secondary education are still only aged 16 or so, meaning they are seen by some as neither physically or emotionally adult, and thus not ready to enter the workforce nor move on to higher education.

The government has said the planned improvements in the quality of education will increase gross domestic product (GDP) growth by as much as 2%, and that the reforms will lay a solid foundation for long-term socio-economic development. Opponents point to the lack of resources, both financial and human, in the system as it stands, warning that the rapid pace of change proposed by the government could overwhelm educators.

According to France Castro, the secretary-general of the Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT), by introducing the kindergarten leg of the programme this year – which saw some 1.9m new students enter the system – before all of the necessary investments were made the government has added to the problems that it sought to address.

“The present crisis in the public school system which is worsening is the effect of the hastily implementation of K-to-12 programme without considering the necessary preparations inherent to such a programme,” Castro said in an interview with the Manila Bulletin in late June. “Because of this unpreparedness, problems of shortages in classrooms, teachers, chairs and toilets have worsened.”

The government has acknowledged that there may be some teething problems in launching the new programme, and that it will take time to provide all of the resources required.

To help pave the way for these reforms, the Department of Education is to get a sizeable increase in its budget allocation, with its share of the 2011 state funding lifted from $4bn to $4.8bn, and which will rise to $5.5bn for 2012 according to data issued at the end of June by budget secretary Florencio Abad. This 14.4% hike will be in part used to close critical resource gaps in classrooms, teachers and learning materials, he said, and will maintain education’s position as the largest single beneficiary in the budget.

Those gaps have been identified by the government, which has announced plans to construct an additional 152,000 new classrooms, employ some 104,000 extra teachers, and provide almost 100m books. This will be only part of the cost, as the education system will need other basic infrastructure, ancillary staff, other materials, and modern equipment and technology to support the new curriculum.

While the government should have little difficulty in having its 2012 budget with the vastly ramped up education component approved by parliament when it is submitted in late July, it will be many years before it will receive its report card on whether the K+12 programme will get a pass mark or not.

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