Senior High School Years

Analyzing the additional years of DepEd's K to 12 requires careful attention to details. For instance, proponents of the new curriculum are always quick to cite that the Philippines is the last country in Asia and one of only three countries in the world with a 10-year pre-university program. Unfortunately, such statement does not cover what is truly missing in Philippine basic education and what other countries are really doing. Without this thoughtful consideration, DepEd's K to 12 manages only to address the number of years but not the real challenges Philippine basic education faces.

Education programs can be uniformly classified using UNESCO’s International Standard Classification of Education (ISCED). ISCED 2011 has nine levels of education, from level 0 to level 8:

• ISCED 0: Early childhood education
• ISCED 1: Primary education
• ISCED 2: Lower secondary education
• ISCED 3: Upper secondary education
• ISCED 4: Post-secondary non-tertiary education
• ISCED 5: Short-cycle tertiary education
• ISCED 6: Bachelor’s or equivalent level
• ISCED 7: Master’s or equivalent level
• ISCED 8: Doctoral or equivalent level

ISCED 0-4 therefore represent pre-university education. ISCED 1-3 (primary and secondary education) takes 11-13 years to complete, with 12 being the most common. Thus, the old ten-year curriculum with kindergarten (K-10) is 11 years, which is on the low side, but not outside of this range. The old ten-year curriculum does not have a clear delineation between lower and upper secondary education. The Philippines, however, is not the only country in which a straightforward mapping of the educational system to ISCED is challenging. Neither does the United States' K-12 system. K-12 in the US, first of all, comes in different flavors depending on the state. The following is a figure that attempts to align the US education system to ISCED:

Above copied from EducationGPS
What schools in the state of Virginia follow is encircled in red. The classification clearly is something beyond years.

"The ISCED level reflects the degree of complexity and specialisation of the content of an education programme, from foundational to complex."

The difference between ISCED 2 (junior high school) and ISCED 3 (senior high school) clearly lies in depth and specialization. Years 10-12, for instance, in the United States' K-12 are the years for Biology, Chemistry and Physics, and these are taught by subject experts. The old curriculum through which I received my high school diploma covered these subjects in Years 8-10. Thus, what is actually short or missing in the old curriculum of Philippine basic education is the lower secondary, or as compared against United States' K-12, middle school. The old curriculum is therefore highly inclusive when it comes to upper secondary education.

The following is a paragraph from OECD's Education at a Glance 2015:
Upper secondary education, which consolidates students’ basic skills and knowledge through either an academic or a vocational pathway, aims to prepare students for entry into further levels of education or the labour market, and to become engaged citizens. In many countries, this level of education is not compulsory and can last from two to five years. What is crucial, however, is providing education of good quality that meets the needs of the society and the economy.
The additional senior high school years of DepEd's K to 12 are clearly aiming at ISCED 3. The new curriculum therefore places the first ten years into ISCED 1 and 2. This shift unfortunately causes a huge problem in equity as the senior high school years exist in different strands. These senior high school years are also not available for all.

There is clearly an emphasis on the vocational track as this track is the most widely available. Vocational tracks also come in different specialties so the senior high school years are really far from being uniform. Students from other countries tend to prefer an upper secondary education that is academic or general, and not vocational.

What learning outcomes these senior high school years would bring are likewise unclear, yet, how DepEd's approach misses what is really necessary to address problems in Philippine basic education is crystal clear. The following comes from OECD's International Workshop: Taking Stock of Progress in Overcoming School Failure. It outlines what is necessary to alleviate the biggest problem basic education systems worldwide face: school dropouts.

In the report, OECD also mentions what actually works:

None of the above has been taken by the Philippines' DepEd. It is true that upper secondary education improves one's earnings and employment. OECD's Education at a Glance 2015 reports the following:

One, however, must take note that the number of years is not enough. The literacy and numeracy proficiency levels are the ones that make the difference. In addition, readiness to use information and communication technology (ICT) is a plus.

Upper secondary education in most countries is NOT COMPULSORY. That is actually quite obvious among other countries in the following figure:

This allows greater focus on quality and not quantity. Specifically, this enables governments to deliver a higher quality primary education which then equips students with whatever is necessary to complete basic education.