DepEd's K to 12 Is a Failure?

House Representative France Castro equates the poor performance of Filipino students in PISA 2018 to a failure of the DepEd's K to 12 curriculum introduced in 2013. Back in 2012, I wrote "First Things First: A Commentary on K+12", where I stated, "The basic education system of the Philippines faces two major problems: (1) high dropout rates in primary and secondary schools, and (2) lack of mastery of specific skills and content as reflected in poor performance in standard tests for both Grade IV and Grade VIII (2nd year high school) students." PISA 2018 basically tells us the same story: Philippine students are at the bottom in these international standardized exams. Both Thailand and Indonesia outperformed the Philippines in TIMSS (the international standardized exam for math and science) back in 1999. PISA 2018 shows similar results. Whether DepEd's K to 12 exacerbated the problem is not clear, but what is obvious is that the new curriculum did not make things better. Therefore, in this light, DepEd's K to 12 is a failure.

Above copied from The Inquirer

With the dismal performance in PISA 2018, the following is the official response from DepEd:

    DepEd will lead this national effort for quality basic education through Sulong Edukalidad by implementing aggressive reforms in four key areas: (1) K to 12 review and updating, (2) Improvement of learning facilities, (3) Teachers and school heads’ upskilling and reskilling through a transformed professional development program; and (4) engagement of all stakeholders for support and collaboration.

An appropriate response obviously requires a good grasp of the problems. There are a lot more to see underneath the scores. For instance, it is important to keep in mind who took the exam:

Above copied from
OECD (2019), PISA 2018 Results (Volume II): Where All Students Can Succeed, PISA, OECD Publishing, Paris,

Most students who took the PISA exam have one or two more years of schooling than those who took the TIMSS back in 1999. Thus, there is indeed a hint that DepEd's K to 12 made the situation worse. To pinpoint what part of K to 12 was detrimental, we need to look at what this group of students has experienced in DepEd's K to 12. Since the change in language policy in instruction only occurs in the early grades, the performance in the PISA 2018 exam would not have been affected by the multilingual - mother tongue based education aspect of K to 12. The students who took the PISA 2018 were already in 4th or 5th grades when K to 12 was introduced. Therefore, the elements in DepEd's K to 12 that have a direct bearing are (1) spiral curriculum, (2) discovery-based learning, and (3) short instructional hours.

The average for OECD countries is about 44 hours per week. DepEd's K to 12 assigns 29 hours per week. The old curriculum assigns 35 hours per week. Both spiral curriculum and discovery-based learning are applied in math and science. The Philippines also scores near the bottom in these subjects. 

After sharing the previous post on this blog, "PISA 2018 Results: Philippines Ranks Lowest in Reading", I have received numerous comments. Here is one:

One cannot correctly digest the PISA results without knowing what these exams are about. The Philippines scored lowest in reading comprehension. We need to have a good grasp of what a reading comprehension exam really entails in order to respond correctly. Here is one important thing about reading comprehension exams. It is testing the amount of knowledge a pupil has learned. Background knowledge helps us make inferences and connect ideas when we read text. Therefore, the fact that Philippine students perform so poorly in a reading comprehension means they sorely lack knowledge. The scores in the science exam support this. Reading comprehension is not just about language - it is about knowing and understanding. Another comment states that politicians in the Philippines have abdicated their duty to support public school education since most politicians send their own children to private schools. Students from private schools in the Philippines also took the PISA exam and they perform equally bad.

Above copied from
OECD (2019), PISA 2018 Results (Volume II): Where All Students Can Succeed, PISA, OECD Publishing, Paris,

More than half of rich children in the Philippines are among low achievers in reading. Again, we must keep in mind that this is not so much about vocabulary or grammar. It is about knowledge. The reading comprehension score therefore reflects the breadth and depth of learning (not just in language courses) but in other subjects which include music, arts, physical education, social studies, science, and math.

Similar to DepEd's response calling for greater engagement, I also read a comment saying that parents in the Philippines are not involved in their children's education. This is not true. The Philippines actually ranks near the top in terms of parents' involvement.

Above copied from
OECD (2019), PISA 2018 Results (Volume II): Where All Students Can Succeed, PISA, OECD Publishing, Paris,

Before looking at involvement of parents or "upskilling and reskilling" teachers, DepEd should look at equity in education.

Above copied from
OECD (2019), PISA 2018 Results (Volume II): Where All Students Can Succeed, PISA, OECD Publishing, Paris,

In this aspect, the Philippines likewise ranks among the lowest. Disadvantaged students are provided less resources, explaining why nearly every child in lowest income bracket is a low-achiever.


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