AS if timed with the opening of classes, new legal challenges have sprung up against the K to 12 program. While we remain confident in the collective wisdom of the Supreme Court, we feel concerned. The political season is upon us, and we sense that not a few politicians will exploit this populist issue against educational reform.
To be clear, The Manila Times supports K to 12. And as we have said before in this space, we believe that it will improve the overall quality of education and make Filipino professionals more competitive in the global workplace.
The government points out that the Philippines is among the few countries with a basic education program of only 10 years, along with Angola and Djibouti. And on its website, the Department of Education adds: “A 12-year program is found to be the best period for learning under basic education. It is also the recognized standard for students and professionals globally.”
With only 10 years of education, Filipino professionals stand under a glass ceiling. In Thailand, for instance, Filipino engineers are not qualified to work as engineers entitled to the commensurate pay and perks, precisely because the Philippine basic education system is shorter by two years. In Singapore, Filipino professionals are denied promotions simply because they do not meet the basic educational requirement. There are other anecdotal examples, but perhaps the best that we have seen is that private schools in the Philippines have either implemented K to 12 ahead of the government schedule, or are well into the transition. So if money were no object, the choice seems to be 12 years of basic education.
Should those who cannot afford private schools be left with only 10 years? We disagree. Those who have no means to pursue more years of education should be afforded the same level of schooling as the ones who are better off. We agree with the argument that retaining the present 10-year system is actually anti-poor.
Those challenging K to 12, however, are also using the poverty card. They have said that two extra years of high school add financial burden to families that are already cash-strapped. This line is echoed in a recent survey reporting that two-thirds of Filipinos disagree with the need for additional two years of high school. We sense that the respondents would probably answer differently if the question were: Do you agree to two extra years of high school if that will mean better career opportunities to the graduates? After all, what kind of opportunities would be available to a 16-year old, the typical age of those finishing 10 years of basic education?
To address this concern, the government should provide even more scholarships and grants to poor students. In fairness to the Aquino government, it is asking Congress for P10.7 billion to fund school vouchers in 2016. For 2017, the plan is to increase the allocation to P17.5 billion to also cover those entering Grade 12. We hope that our lawmakers approve those measures quickly.
The other common reason for opposing K to 12 cites the lack of readiness. In fact, the survey mentioned earlier says that 63 percent of its respondents do not believe that the government is ready to implement K to 12 in full by next year. That must be the most defeatist kind of thinking we have encountered. If the government is not yet ready, then the solution is to make it ready. Why deny Filipino students the minimum standards held globally just because we still need more classrooms, textbooks and other such things?
Besides, those opposing K to 12 fail to mention that we are in the fifth year of implementation. The reforms do not simply go online next year. Instead, they have been progressing for half a decade and have now reached the last leg.
Having failed to block the passage of Republic Act 10533 and the corresponding implementing rules, those against it are hoping to turn public opinion against K to 12. They pretend to care for the poor, but in reality they condemn them to a lower standard than the rest of the world.