[Publisher/Editor’s/OpEd Editor’s note: The following is part of the statement released by the author about her acceptance of the offer from President-elect Rody Duterte to make her Secretary of Education. She is the lead convenor of Social Watch Philippines.]
1. All my life I have been exposed to the challenges of education in the Philippines. I come from a family of teachers. My parents, aunts and uncles, brother and sisters, nephews, nieces and even grandchildren are teachers. During the war years my mother taught me how to write, using banana leaves as paper and sharpened bamboo sticks as pencils.
I have lived through the travails of teachers—low pay, long hours, huge debts and physical difficulties. As an elementary school pupil, I have experienced walking long distances to and from school, sat in stifling, overcrowded classrooms, and endured hunger and thirst even as I struggled to learn.
2. I have been involved in decades-long campaigns to advance the cause of education. As president of Freedom from Debt Coalition, I led in the campaign to reduce the crushing debt burden of the country to free more resources for education and social development.
Since its creation in 2006, the Alternative Budget Initiative led by Social Watch Philippines has always advocated for higher budget allocations for education. Every year, SWP has successfully convinced the legislature to increase budget allocations for education.
“Education For All” is a major Millennium Development Goal. It is an equally urgent goal among our 17 Social Development Goals, of which our government is one of the signatories. SWP has always insisted that education is severely underfunded even as it has the largest budget allocation. International standards require at least 6 percent of GDP to be allocated for education. Present calculations are at 3 percent.
I, therefore, accepted the nomination not for my own sake, because I don’t need another Cabinet position, but because it is an opportunity and a tremendous challenge for all who believe in education to contribute to reforms and put into practice our lifetime advocacies.
Concerns about K-to-12
The position of SWP on education, specifically on K-to-12, are all a matter of record. There are two major concerns: the desperate need for more funding for Senior High School and the displacement of students from poor families and remote rural areas. In addition, teachers of First Year and Second Year in universities will be displaced because there will be no college students for the next two years.
Many schools have been preparing for these challenges for four years.
We are aware that contingency measures are being adopted by both the CHED and DepEd. These have to be closely monitored to ensure that identified challenges are met.
K-to-12 and the incoming administration
It must be emphasized that implementation of the laws on K-to-12 started four years ago. The curriculum contents of Grades 1-5 and 7-10 are already changed.
The opening of the current school year on June 13 was under the aegis of the present Secretary of Education. The new curriculum for Grade 5 will be implemented and Grade 11 will be launched.
Institutional and curricular changes are already being implemented in response to the requirements of the two laws mandating K-to-12.
The new administration will come in on July 1; by then, Grade 11 of K-to-12 will be in place.
What has been done by the incoming administration at this time is to monitor closely the implementation of Grade 11 starting June 13. We have been receiving feedback on K-to-12, which we will pass on to the present leadership of the Department of Education.
In the meantime, a transition team is being organized to ensure orderly and seamless transfer of duties. The DepEd, under the leadership of Sec. Armin Luistro, is giving full cooperation and support to the incoming team.
Special interests of the incoming Secretary
The SWP has always maintained that the funding allocation for Alternative Learning Systems is inadequate. Without doubt, not all pupils will be absorbed into the K-to-12 program. Provision has to be made for alternative learning systems, which will ensure that “no one will be left behind.”
As incoming Secretary, I have a special interest in Philippine culture and the arts. These should spring from our historical experiences as a people.
The media and reforms in DepEd
There is heightened expectation for change, not only in education but in all aspects of our national life. To achieve these changes, particularly in DepEd, the support of media is crucial and indispensable.
In all my years as a social activist, media has supported our campaigns. With its help and consistent coverage, the problem of our foreign debt became a national issue. The campaigns of SWP on the national budget, the economy, lump sums, pork barrel and the infamous development acceleration program would not have caught the attention of the public without massive media coverage.
I look forward to working once more with media on basic education reforms. No person can achieve these difficult goals without everyone’s support, particularly media. Education is not only for educators; it is for all.