More of the Same

THE government’s new “K+12” program, which begins with kindergarten, six years of elementary education, four years of junior high school and two years of senior high school, is supposed to make Filipino students more competitive with the rest of the world by extending our school system to match theirs.
The Philippines has an education cycle of 10 years preparatory to university while most other countries have 12 years.
The government believes we need two more years to catch up with other countries’ 12-year curriculum, to make our graduates just as competitive, productive and employable as their foreign counterparts—and a lot of academics and even most in the business community agree.
But that is granting that those additional two years would be quality years added to a vastly improved education system.
If this week’s opening of public-school classes could be used as a barometer, then it doesn’t inspire much confidence in the K+12 program at all. Indeed, it even bolsters its critics’ argument that the government needs to take care of basic needs first before any tinkering with the curriculum could be successful. Two more years of the same poor system simply won’t cut it.
Citing information provided by the Department of Education (DepEd), ACT Teachers Party-list Rep. Antonio Tinio said public schools face a shortage of 132,483 teachers, 97,685 classrooms and 153,709 water and sanitation facilities in the school year 2012-2013.
Tinio disputed the lower figures cited by the DepEd for teacher and classroom shortages.
“The DepEd claims that it will have the teacher shortage down to 11,620 by the end of the school year. But that’s only because they included 49,000 contractual teachers funded by local government units and around 20,000 volunteer kindergarten teachers employed by the DepEd in their accounting. In truth, these teachers are generally grossly underpaid and deprived of basic workers’ benefits because of the contractual nature of their employment. The DepEd has a legal obligation to regularize them,” Tinio said.
The DepEd also said it would be able to construct 30,000 to 40,000 new classrooms this school year through a public-private partnership scheme. But Tinio noted that these classrooms will not be ready by June and it still remains to be seen whether the PPP scheme will deliver.
“The alarming shortage in water and sanitation facilities, meaning clean toilets, faucets, sinks and running water, will mean that our 21.5 million schoolchildren will continue to suffer unsanitary conditions in our public schools, exposing them to health risks and outbreaks of disease,” Tinio said.
Should the government be adding two more years when even now it doesn’t have enough money to fill basic deficiencies like the shortages of teachers, classrooms and water and sanitation facilities?
The argument is largely moot as the Education department had started the phased implementation of K+12 in 2011, with the institutionalized public kindergarten program for five year olds, and it is now implementing the new curriculum for Grade 1 and first-year high school this June.
Still, these questions need to be asked. For instance, if we don’t have enough classrooms or teachers or toilets, how much more can we provide for the expensive tools and equipment needed for the additional two years in senior high school, which is supposed to serve as a specialization period for high-school students, whether in vocational-technical or other employable skills, so that they could pursue jobs even with just a basic education diploma? The tools needed for vocational-technical education are by no means cheap.
MalacaƱang said it understands the opposition to the new curriculum because there’s always a bit of resistance and reluctance when change is involved. But present conditions of the country’s existing educational facilities show on the contrary that not much change has occurred after all.  Two more years of public education with its poor facilities, overcrowded classrooms and overworked, underpaid and underqualified teachers is actually two more years of the same ills that has plagued our education system for the longest time.
And we can’t blame parents, students and even teachers if they tell themselves in exasperation that an additional two years of schooling like this is the last thing they need.