As the most far-reaching reform of the Philippine education system in decades, the introduction of K-12 was highly controversial. Opposition to extending compulsory schooling by two years was triggered by concerns about whether the infrastructure could cope, whether there were enough teachers and what the impact would be on private colleges.
At the government-convened Education Summit in November 2016, the secretary of the Department of Education (DepEd), Leonor Briones, detailed the scale of investment required to meet the needs of K-12, and insisted that the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte was committed to the “full implementation” of a policy that will prepare Filipinos for higher education or work. “K-12 is not about simply adding school years to basic education to be at par with international norm[s], but more about the content and the intended outcomes in terms of upgrading education quality,” Briones said.
The reform could also be a boost for the Philippines’ ability to compete in the region – where countries are coming together under the ASEAN Economic Community – and on Filipinos’ incomes.
Nonetheless, the numbers give an indication of the challenge of implementing such a ground-breaking policy change in a basic education system with more than 25m students. In terms of staffing, 195,302 teachers were recruited between 2010 and 2016, with a target to hire 53,831 more in 2017. Many of these will teach 12th-grade classes.
Briones said that 118,686 new classrooms were built between 2010 and 2016, with 47,492 more to come in 2017. Some 3.62m school chairs were distributed between 2012 and 2015, with procurement continuing for a further 2.2m. In 2017 DepEd aims to add 66,492 seats. Longer basic schooling has also meant higher demand for books and computers. Nearly 300m instructional and learning materials were distributed between 2010 and 2016. In 2017 the government aims to deliver 55.8m. Some 21,981 computer packages were supplied in 2010-16, with a target for 2017 of 30,697.
As of August 2016 there were 1.52m pupils enrolled in the 11th grade, known as senior high school. Over 60% are on the academic track, 39% on the technical-vocational path and 0.6% in the sports and arts streams, according to the Asian Development Bank (ADB). The transition rate from 10th to 11th grade was 96%.
Prior to implementation one of the major concerns was the impact on private education, the traditional choice for Filipinos after the end of compulsory schooling before K-12 was introduced. In 2015 five petitions were filed at the Supreme Court calling for the programme’s suspension, including one from college teachers who were concerned that they would lose their jobs if young people continued in school rather than enrolling at private institutions.
Others worried about the effect on low-income families, while politicians expressed doubts as to whether the government was ready. Some said that the technical track of K-12 would simply create a pool of cheap labour that would augment the already substantial ranks of overseas Filipino workers.
However, the government argues that the system is designed to address the country’s needs and will help change the perception that those who undertake technical training are second-class citizens. With the introduction of K-12, DepEd has also modified the curriculum for technical and vocational training at junior high school so that students make a smoother transition to senior high school. Expanded partnerships with industry have also been developed to better prepare students for employment.
Among these agreements, the hotel and tourism industry association in a municipality in Bohol province has worked closely with teachers to explain career development pathways, provide equipment to schools and open its facilities to work experience students. High schools in Laguna province, meanwhile, have worked closely with semiconductor manufacturers to help them understand the industry’s technological evolution, as well as its staffing needs over the coming three years.
Resistance within the private sector was overcome by incentivising continued use of these institutions as part of the change. More money was allocated for study vouchers at non-DepEd senior high schools ($250m in 2016), while research funds and innovation grants were made available to institutions and scholarships for higher-level study to faculty wanting to pursue graduate qualifications. The government also won over many of those concerned about the effect of the costs of K-12 on low-income Filipinos by extending the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Programme, which provides conditional cash transfer education grants, to students of up to 18 years of age.
Together, the initiatives appear to have reduced the impact on private providers. According to the ADB, of the 1.45m students in grade 11 in 2016, 48.6% were enrolled outside DepEd institutions, and 82% of those benefitting from vouchers were at non-DepEd colleges. In the 2017 budget, funding for partnerships with private institutions through the Government Assistance to Students and Teachers in Private Education scheme was P35.8bn ($757.3m), providing assistance to more than 2.6m people. Most of the money will go to the voucher programme for privately run senior high schools, with the remainder going to the Education Service Contracting Scheme.
However, some fear that the support for the private sector through vouchers and grants under K-12 is privatisation by stealth, and will ultimately undermine efforts to broaden access. Benjamin Valbuena, president of the Alliance of Concerned Teachers, which has been critical of K-12, noted that the country’s constitution guarantees free education at both elementary school and high school.
Securing support from teachers will be crucial for the long-term success of K-12. While reaching out to the private sector, DepEd has made use of its increased funds to hire more teachers and increase salaries to make the job more attractive. Between 2010 and 2014 spending on teachers’ salaries rose from P103bn ($2.2bn) to P172bn ($3.6bn).
There has been “substantial progress” in addressing staff shortages and improving the hiring-and-firing process, according to the World Bank, but it warns that more effort must be made to ensure teachers are deployed where they are needed most, and in the subjects that are most in demand. Student-to-teacher ratios in high schools and urban schools remain among the highest in region, as well as among countries of a similar income.
In 2014 the student-to-teacher ratio was 27:1 in high schools, compared with a regional average of 16:1. At elementary schools the ratio was 36:1 in the Philippines, compared with 31:1 for lower-middle-income countries. High school heads also reported shortages of teachers in specific subjects – mostly in Filipino, but also in social studies, health, art, maths, science and English – with schools in municipalities most affected, at around 40%, compared to less than 20% of the facilities located in highly urbanised cities. Briones has hinted that salaries for teachers specialising in in-demand subjects may have to be raised to address the shortage. Under the Enhanced Basic Education Act, DepEd also has the option of hiring subject experts, provided they pass the licensure examination for teachers within five years or work only part-time.
The Way Forward
Such a wide-ranging overhaul is unlikely to be fully implemented without any problems, but with cases from lawmakers and activists still pending in the courts, DepEd will need to ensure it is prepared for the many different challenges that are likely to emerge as K-12 continues. Officials will also need to respond quickly to any issues to emphasise that the government remains committed to, and in control of, the K-12 roll-out.
With the length of its compulsory education now in line with systems worldwide, the Philippines is looking to participate again in international assessments of education. “These assessments will provide part of the answer as to whether the K-12 programme reforms have improved competitiveness, but this is only the tip of the iceberg,” wrote Harry Patrinos, an education specialist at the World Bank.