3-Day School Week for Philippine Public Schools

Troy Zarate de Leon captures a remarkable inconsistency between two news articles concerning Philippine basic education. On one hand, the Philippines has a president recently boasting to the international community that there are no more shortages in public school education. Here is the famous quote: "...Since taking office, our administration has cleared the accumulated backlog in classrooms, books, and chairs, which means that our students can go to school with the minimum expectation that they will have everything they need to succeed....". But reality on the ground is clear: There is at least one high school where there are more than 12,000 pupils assigned to less than 100 classrooms. The situation remains dire that the Department of Education is planning a 3-day school week to address the shortage in schools within Metro Manila.

Above captured from Tory Zarate de Leon Facebook page

The above is simply a specific instance of the inconsistency of the Philippine government in running its basic education program. The K+12 curriculum is one big example. Philippine students, according to various assessments, are failing in the early years of schooling yet the K+12 curriculum adds two years at the end of high school, completely missing the real problem. The fact that there are serious shortages in education resources should have precluded even a mere suggestion of adding years to basic education. To drive this message, the following image may help:

Things do look dismal in this particular high school in the Philippines. But it will be worse with the additional two years of K+12. Unfortunately, reality on the ground does not matter to politicians and policy makers in Philippine education. DepEd apparently dropped the idea of holding three-day school weeks in congested schools citing that studies regarding this plan are still ongoing. If DepEd is beginning to consider a three-day school week to bring the ratio of pupils to classrooms down, with K+12, DepEd should perhaps start contemplating two-day school weeks. That will bring down the ratio to 64 pupils per classroom, which is still way above the capacity of these classrooms.

A statement from the national vice chair of the Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT), Joselyn Martinez captures the predicament of the public school system in the Philippines: "These schemes will not solve the problem at all. What they need to do is simple and basic – add permanent items for teachers, construct additional classrooms and facilities and quit from making cheap gimmickry and rhetoric.” There are people who favor reforms such as K+12 because they sincerely believe that addressing the real problems of schools like shortages in resources is like "throwing good money after bad". This is a highly erroneous analogy. Public school education is all most people have. The public school system is not like a bad investment one could drop. It is not the same as someone buying a car and finding out that it needs an overhaul. In such a case, one can ask whether it is worth wasting additional money after wasting money once. For basic education, ignoring the real problems only leads to making the problems worse.

Research is clear on what factors are important in education: poverty and teachers. The other factors are simply noise. Instructional hours or school schedules are among these factors. How long a student studies in a classroom can be consequential but what matters more is how that time is spent inside the classroom. There are schools in the United States that employ 4-day school weeks. Please take note that these are 4 days in a week, not three. Although scant, there is some research on how a 4-day school week affects learning. Here are the few studies:

Does shortening the school week impact student performance?
The Four-Day School Week: Nine Years Later
A Review of the Evidence of the Four-Day School Week
There are obvious reasons why there is paucity in research on four-day school weeks. Changing the schedule comes with changes in other factors. What schools do, what teachers do, what parents do, and what children do during the free day of the week, day five, can make a huge difference. Measuring the impact of a three-day school week is also difficult and probably unethical. For instance, how can one study the effects of three-day school week in a school in the Philippines when these schools are already facing serious problems. When learning outcomes are already bad, instituting a bad policy may not seem obvious. It is like killing an already dead cat.

There may be a reasonable debate for a four-day school week. Fairfax county has a four and a half day school week. The free half day is used by teachers to plan their lessons and meet with colleagues to discuss students. This may be a good reason for shortening instructional hours.

The three-day school week, on the other hand, has been recently used in London to bring attention to a looming shortage in classrooms:

The Telegraph September 4, 2013
The difference here is that education officials are only raising a grave warning. It may be an option that schools would take in 2015. The shortages in schools in London currently run in single-digit percentages (less than 5 percent). That is likewise a major difference so it should be obvious that the above warning is really a hyperbole and should not be taken literally. The problem with the Department of Education in the Philippines is that they are in fact serious:

Above captured from photo tweet made by Benjie Valbuena -ACT
The memo states,
"In its desire to promote quality education in all public schools, and provide a conducive learning environment, the Division of City Schools, Caloocan will implement the Three (3) Days School Week this School Year 2014-2015 in public elementary and secondary schols in Caloocan.
Scary, Isn't it?


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