Two additional years of schooling raises capacity concerns in the Philippines

Long-planned reforms to extend the length of schooling in the Philippines by two years are expected to significantly improve employment prospects for the country’s younger generations, while also creating investment opportunities in private education.

Implementing this reform has been a policy priority for the administration of President Benigno Aquino III, which is keen for the Philippines to lose its status as one of only a handful of countries with fewer than 12 years of basic education.

Starting from next year, the new system will take children from kindergarten through to grade 12, while also sharpening the focus on maths and science in a bid to dramatically improve test scores, and boost post-secondary enrolment and graduate employment.

While Philippines students stand to benefit from the reforms, near-term challenges, led by space constraints across the nation’s existing network of secondary schools, will need to be addressed.

Change in the offing

The K-12 programme was a key feature of the Enhanced Basic Education Act, which became law in 2013. While implementation of the new system began during the 2012/13 school year, with the first full cohort of students expected to graduate in 2024, next year will mark the first cycle in which grades 11 and 12 are officially introduced.

Until now, the Philippines was the only country in Asia and one of just three worldwide that had yet to provide 12 years of basic education.

Under the previous 10-year system, those intending to study abroad or work outside the country were faced with major obstacles, according to an April 2014 study published in the Journal of Arts, Science and Commerce. Many Filipino international students have been obliged to enrol in additional years of secondary education.  

Test results at the secondary level have also fallen short of expectations. Scores in the country’s National Achievement Test reached a mean percentage score of 51.4 during the 2012/13 school year, according to a UNESCO report released in 2015, some 23 percentage points short of government targets.

Youth unemployment also remains a concern, with an unemployment rate of 16.7% amongst 15-to-24-year olds in the Philippines, according to the World Bank, more than double the national average of 7.1%. Comparatively, youth unemployment stands at 3.1% in Thailand and 5.4% in Vietnam.

Space race

While the addition of grades 11 and 12 is expected to improve the competitiveness of Filipino graduates in the long run, as has been the case in other countries that have extended the length of schooling, concerns about insufficient capacity have sparked criticism of the reforms.

The K-12 system is expected to create a shortfall of almost 3m places for secondary school students, along with 68,000 teachers and 4500 schools, according to a recent report published by GEMS Education Solutions. The Philippines was already grappling with an average student-to-teacher ratio of 36:1 and 35:1 at the primary and secondary levels, respectively, in 2013.

While the government has built more than 85,000 classrooms since 2010, according to the Department of Education (DoE), an additional 95,000 are likely to be needed in order to fully accommodate the K-12 programme, local media reported in July.

Private partners

With spaces limited, private sector providers are stepping up to bridge the gap. Private schools are expected to absorb more than 30% of new senior high school students in the coming years, the GEMS study reported, with 800,000 students forecast to transfer to the private education system in 2016/17 alone.

Private sector partnerships and a new state voucher programme are expected to see private school enrolment surge for students across a variety of income levels.

The government’s plans include the expansion of the long-running Education Service Contracting (ESC) scheme, which ranks as one of the largest public-private partnerships in the world.

Under the ESC, which has been in place since 1986, the government provides an annual per-pupil subsidy to qualified private junior high schools, which helps cover the cost of educating students who cannot be accommodated at overcrowded public high schools.

The scheme is now being extended to include a voucher system to bolster enrolment at the senior high school level, according to local media reports. Under the proposed system, the DoE plans to provide a subsidy of P12,000-20,000 ($250-430) per pupil, enabling students and their families to choose which school they will attend.

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