MANILA, Philippines – The Department of Education (DepEd) is firm on implementing the flagship education reform program of the Aquino administration despite numerous petitions filed before the Supreme Court (SC) to stop it.
Calling it the legacy of President Aquino, Education Secretary Armin Luistro has maintained that the government is ready to implement the K to 12 program, which adds two years in basic education, starting in 2016.
“On the fifth year of K to 12 implementation, we are running a marathon and I can already see the finish line. We are on our last mile,” Luistro told reporters in March after a group of college teachers asked the SC to stop K to 12.
College educators argue that the program failed to provide labor protection to thousands of college teachers and non-teaching personnel who are at risk of losing their jobs due to the expected low turnout of college students during the five-year transition period under K to 12.
Another expected cause of displacement is the proposed changes in the college curriculum as some of the general education subjects will be taught in senior high school.
At least two more petitions questioning the constitutionality of the K to 12 program were filed before the SC.
The petitioners, which included Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV and the Makabayan bloc of lawmakers in Congress, cited other issues such as the supposed lack of facilities to handle the senior high school program in asking for the suspension of K to 12.
President Aquino has personally defended the K to 12, saying the government is ready to implement the biggest reform in the country’s education sector in decades.
The SC has not yet issued a temporary restraining order (TRO), allowing DepEd and other concerned agencies to proceed with the preparation for the senior high school program.
In recent years, DepEd has enjoyed a multibillion-peso increase in its budget to finance the construction of new classrooms and procure new materials in preparation for the senior high school program.
For 2016, the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) proposed a budget of P430.729 billion for DepEd next year, up from the current P319.231 billion.
It included a budget of P19.3 billion to hire an additional 43,000 teachers and P80 billion to construct new classrooms that will be used starting 2017.
Luistro said the DepEd also received a budget in 2014 and 2015 that was used to finance construction of classrooms for Grade 11 students in 2016.
Another P28 billion was allotted for DepEd’s subsidy program, which includes the vouchers to be given to public Grade 10 graduates who will decide to enroll in private senior high schools.
The Commission on Higher Education (CHED), meanwhile, has created a transition committee to handle issues regarding the shift to the K to 12 system.
For 2016, CHED is expected to receive a 200-percent increase in its budget, up from the current P3.4 billion to P10.5 billion.
The bulk of the increase will be used for programs for college teachers who might be displaced with the low turnout of college students in the next five years.
CHED commissioner Cynthia Bautista said the agency would need around P29 billion during the transition period from 2016 to 2022 for various programs.
This includes the planned rollout of 15,000 scholarships for educators who wish to pursue graduate studies while there is a relatively low teaching load.
Latest data from CHED showed that 13,634 college teachers and 11,456 non-teaching staff may be displaced because of the additional two years in basic education.
While the SC has yet to act on the petitions against K to 12 program, it has issued a TRO against CHED’s proposed curriculum that removed Filipino in the general education subjects for college students.
In their petition before the SC, educators argued that the policy violates the Education Act of 1982 because it does not comply with the law’s provision on a nationalist-oriented general education curriculum in college. The policy abolishes subjects such as Filipino Language, Literature and Philippine Government and Constitution, which are vital in promoting national identity, indigenous culture and responsible citizenship.
The policy violates the Constitution as it “disregards the pro-national language spirit of the framers of the Constitution, the emphasis on nationalism and cultural awareness as core values of Philippine education and the pro-labor provisions,” educators said.
CHED chairperson Patricia Licuanan said while the CHED respects the decision of the high court, it would be a “minor setback towards the realization of educational reforms in the country. The CHED hopes to enlighten the high court with its upcoming responses and arguments.”
Licuanan said the new curriculum, which has reduced the general education curriculum (GEC) from 63 units to 36 units, would be implemented in 2018 when the first batch of Grade 12 students enters college.
“The passage of the K to 12 Law enables flexibility by freeing the GEC from Science, Mathematics, English, Filipino, Literature, Humanities and Social Studies subjects that are more appropriately taught in the Senior High School,” she added.
This year, CHED has started conducting public hearings on the revised curricula of different college programs in the country. The review was conducted in line with the expected changes in the basic education program because of K to 12.
Over the past year, the K to 12 program has polarized different sectors, with several groups maintaining that the government is not ready to implement the changes.
Among the issues that cropped up were the supposed existence of errors in the DepEd modules, as well as the lack of supply of electricity and water in some schools where senior high school programs will be established.
Nationalist group Anakbayan raised concern that almost 1 million students would be disenfranchised because of the program, a claim denied by DepEd.
Anti-K to 12 protesters also joined rallies on Labor Day and during the State of the Nation Address of President Aquino in July.
At the other end of the spectrum, various groups have expressed support for the program.
Among them were the League of Cities of the Philippines, as well as various private school associations and business groups.
But not all business executives agree with K to 12. Tycoon Teresita Sy-Coson, the top executive of SM Investments Corp., said the country may not be ready for the changes.
“I’m not in favor of that…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 (people with) the different skills needed by the industries to grow,” she said in one of the sessions of the Forbes Global CEO Conference in October.
But Luistro maintained that discussions on whether we are ready or not are over.
“It is time to simply act on an educational reform we should have done many decades ago,” he told The STAR. –Janvic Mateo (The Philippine Star)