It amazes me that whenever President Aquino and his top advisers are asked what are the major reforms undertaken by his administration, they cannot come up with a list. All they do is point to President Gloria Arroyo in detention, and to the vague slogan, “Good governance is good economics.”
They never mention the far more significant act of political will in launching and implementing the K plus 12 program for the reform of basic education in the country.
In my book this is a more pervasive and far-reaching reform, because it touches at the core the lives and welfare of our over 100 million people.
It took some doing to get it passed by Congress, and it will take a lot of determination, effort and funding to get it done.
Senator Juan Edgardo Angara helped open my eyes to K-12’s huge significance, when he declared at a recent breakfast forum in Quezon City, that K-12 was proposed as early as 1938 (during the Commonwealth period), and it has taken us all of 60 years to undertake this major change in our basic education.
I started reading up a little more on the K-12 program when I read of the adverse position taken by Business leader Teresita Sy-Coson of the SM group against the program at an international conference. She laid out the case for vocational education as a better approach than K-12 to the educational challenge in the Philippines during the Forbes Global CEO conference last week.
Ms. Coson’s view deserves study and consideration, coming as it does from a top employer, business leader and business innovator in our country. She speaks from long years of experience and from looking at Filipino needs and skills firsthand.
But it is hardly the whole story. And it should not rush us to retreat from K-12, and substitute vocational education for the reform program. The merits of vocational schooling cannot cancel or replace the larger merits of a K-12 basic education.
K-12, if implemented competently and effectively, will bring our country and our people up to speed with the rest of the world, especially the more developed world.
Are we ready for K-12?
At the Forbes forum, Ms. Coson said: “I’m not in favor of that (the K-12 program). The Philippines is not a developed country and we do have a lot of poverty around. I was hoping we would have a lot of vocational schools that would train for the different skills needed by the industries to grow.”
She went further to say that the Philippines is not yet in dire need of special skills, although she noted that many information technology people working in the SM Group are going abroad to train. Vocational schools would serve to improve people’s skills, allowing them to qualify and work in industries here and abroad.
Ms. Coson is joined by teacher groups and Sen. Antonio Trillanes, of all people, in opposing K-12, on the ground that the nation is not ready for the radical reform of our system of basic education. Collectively they want the system to remain the way it is. They worry about the jobs that will be lost, and the added cost for parents in enabling their children to complete the basic course.
Examined carefully, the arguments raised against K-12 are fundamentally reactionary. They attempt to scare the public into opposing the reform program.
A fundamental and needed reform
In defense and support of the K-12 program, I say this. K-12 is essentially a fundamental and necessary reform of basic education in the Philippines, which over the past decades has fallen behind that of many countries.
The K-12 program comprises Kindergarten and 12 years of basic education, which broken down consist of (1) six years of primary education, (2) four years of junior high school and (3) two years of senior high school.
The goal is to provide our young people more time for mastery of concepts and skills and prepare graduates for tertiary education, middle-level skills development, employment and entrepreneurship.
The government is slated to start implementing senior high school in 2016.
When the K-12 reform was first proposed by the Aquino administration upon its accession, it was essentially envisioned as a ladder out of poverty for poor young people who are able to complete the program.
For the nation, K-12 was envisioned as an important step to making our country and our people more competitive in the global economy.
It would enhance our people’s known proficiency and intrepidity in seeking and filling important jobs here in our country and in foreign lands.
And it would help sustain the indispensable remittances of overseas Filipino workers (OFWS) to the national economy, which over the last few years have averaged $26 billion annually.
Rehashing the old argument against independence
The best answer, I submit, to the objection that we are not yet ready for the K-12 program is this:
When you say, “We are not yet ready, because we are not yet developed,” you are rehashing the old argument of readiness against Philippine independence over a century ago, when it was first raised by our national heroes and forefathers. Had they waited until our people were ready, we would never have become independent. Our revolution of 1896 and our independence proclamation of 1898 would not have happened.
Transported into the educational challenge today, the issue in my view, is not whether we should adopt K-12, but whether we can afford not to. We must.
As a people, we have to strive beyond certainty, and transcend timidity and trepidation. Or else we will be left behind farther and farther behind in the relentless march of mankind to progress.