We Likewise Care for Children

Do teachers have the children's future in their minds? One surely hopes so. And this weekend, it is important to note that there is unity in airing concerns regarding DepEd's K+12 curriculum. Banners from both teacher groups, Teachers' Dignity Coalition (TDC) and the Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT), can be seem among the participants of a rally asking for the suspension of DepEd's new curriculum.

Above photo copied from CoTeSCUP
Claiming a Monopoly on Good Intentions

Still, proponents of the new curriculum continue with their defense of the program with the same ill-conceived attitude that they alone have the future of the children in their hearts. Teachers are not against DepEd's K+12 because they do not care about the future of the youth in the Philippines. Teachers in the Philippines are likewise unhappy with the current state of basic education in the Philippines. The teachers who are marching against the new curriculum are in fact pressing for the much needed prioritization basic education in the Philippines really needs, teacher quality and adequate learning resources.

Arguments for or against the new curriculum often focus on the two additional years since this aspect can be easily framed. The public can therefore quickly digest the issue and arrive at a conclusion. Two years can mean additional learning or two years can mean additional burden. Two more years of basic education can be good especially if these additional years are free, high-quality and accessible to all. Two more years can be bad if these are wasteful, low-quality and not accessible to all. These are simple facets of basic education that can be easily grasped by the public.

Reforming an education system that is obviously in need of an overhaul is an easy argument to make. What needs to be reformed, what changes need to be made first, and whether the changes are actually beneficial and effective are the more important questions that need to be addressed. What goes in the additional years, how the new curriculum is implemented, what resources are required are concerns that should not be dismissed simply because change is warranted. There are good and bad reforms. Things can still change for the worst.

Problems Outside of Senior High School

The new curriculum does not come only with the two additional years of high school. The new curriculum has dramatically changed the years before these additional senior classes. These changes include those that are not strongly backed by evidence. These changes likewise require more resources than before.

First, the new curriculum embraces a spiral progression, which has been misinterpreted as simply mixing the sciences and requiring students to have a short excursion through the various natural sciences in the course of every year. The spiral progression demands a lot more from the teachers. This approach also requires a thoughtful mapping of concepts as links between the various disciplines need to be considered for every year of instruction.

Second, the new curriculum places its bets on inquiry based learning. Decades of education research that demonstrate the superiority of direct instruction are simply ignored. Worse, what discover-based learning needs is not even addressed. The resources required for laboratory work as well as the proper training required for teachers to provide appropriate and necessary scaffolding are not considered.

Third, the new curriculum does not pay attention to the lack of quality of education in the early years. Science continues to be on the sideline in the early elementary years. Short instructional hours continue so that multiple shifts remain possible. Serious problems are already present at the end of fourth grade. Students failing in these early years have no chance of progressing into high school.

Fourth, the new curriculum embarks on multilingual education when the country has failed so many times in bilingual education. All students are required to learn three languages during the elementary years when the educational system is failing to have students become proficient in one. Mother tongue instruction is not fully supported, as attention to the necessary learning materials and training of teachers are not taken seriously. In the meantime, the imposition of Filipino on everyone continues. This is clearly a case of biting more than one can chew.

Standards Do Not Improve Education, Resources Do

The curriculum is a wish-list. The fact that there is a huge achievement gap based on socio-economic status in schools in almost all countries in the world shows that resources count significantly in education. Pointing out that resources are inadequate for a curriculum can not be overlooked. The opposition against DepEd's K+12 is rooted much on the realization that the government is currently incapable of answering the needs of the curriculum it wants to impose. A good reform needs a reflection thoughtful enough to weigh what one is capable of delivering. Anyone can easily write a long list of dreams for basic education. The more important thing to consider is whether one's wish list is within reach or simply an illusion. DepEd's K+12 is an illusion. Basic education needs to prioritize. The additional years and the unsubstantiated reforms and approaches in the curriculum both add to the resources required. When the government is currently unable to meet the basic demands, it is simply foolish to create more demands.

The Right Time To Stop

Obviously, one should not embark on a gargantuan project without careful studies. Fortunately, with a phased implementation, the changes have been occurring gradually. In 2016, four years of elementary and four years of high school have changed. Senior high school is yet to be offered, but the new curriculum is already affecting a significant number of students. There is currently nothing in DepEd's actions that demonstrate a watchful eye on how the changes in curriculum are affecting learning outcomes. In fact, the contrary is true as learning materials aligned to the new curriculum are always unavailable. It is true that funds are going to waste and that some time and effort have already been spent on the new curriculum. This, however, is no reason to continue on a track leading to even greater disaster. With regard to basic education reform, there is no such thing as "no more turning back". For a bad curriculum, there always remains a time to stop. Of course, yesterday would have been better, but now is still better than tomorrow.