By Patricia Evangelista
Philippine Daily Inquirer
MANILA, Philippines—The Department of Education would like to reverse the decline in the quality of Philippine education. Within the next five years of the Aquino administration, the DepEd will replace the existing 10-year educational cycle—six years of elementary, four of high school—with a 12-year education plan that includes seven years of primary and five years of secondary education.
Education Secretary Armin Luistro says after K12, a high school diploma will be enough for employment, forgetting that employment decisions are not a function of presidential decrees. The DepEd believes too much is being taught in too little time. Former Education Undersecretary Juan Miguel Luz, now education adviser to President Aquino, says the problem is one of quality. Because only 10 years are spent in primary and secondary education, he believes the system becomes a smorgasbord of “a little bit of this, a little bit of that.”
Butch Abad, campaign manager and now budget secretary to President Aquino, says one Japanese consultant noted that Filipino students end up being more tired than Japanese students “because we cram so many subjects in such a short period of time.”
Beyond the single argument of “too much cramming,” the gentlemen of the DepEd—and Abad—boil the issue down to a tautology of justifications: The current 10-year basic education cycle in the Philippines “is already obsolete since most nations already implement a 12-year education plan.” We must “catch up with the rest of the world,” and “if the rest of the world has gone 12 years or more, I don’t understand how we can think we’re smarter.”
The last is from Luz, and there is some truth in his statement—education has certainly not made educated men of our esteemed officials, if they believe “because everyone is doing it too” makes their solution the right solution. If this state were so interested in the opinion and standards of an imaginary international community, perhaps it would be more important to look at what UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s 2010 Education For All Global Monitoring Report said about the state of Philippine education. The report cites the Philippines as a “particularly striking example of underperformance” with policies “failing to make a difference in improving the education of the poorest Filipinos.”
This is what the DepEd fails to understand: that the poorest Filipinos, the bulk of whom they are meant to service, are those who cannot afford to wait 12 years for a high school diploma. Many of them cannot even wait the necessary 10. The UN pointed to the rising numbers of out-of-school youths, over a hundred thousand more than in 2009. One quarter of those drop out before Grade 5. Poor Filipinos attend school an average of seven years—more than four years fewer than students in that country’s top 20 percent. Six percent of the poorest children have never attended school.
There is nothing to keep these students studying if they are starving, and it is a unique miscalculation to believe additional years (and big spending) will change it. Of 100 who enter first grade, only 66 graduate high school, and only 16 make it to college. The UN attributes one of the world’s lowest levels of school attendance to marginalization. Poverty and location make it impossible for many to study. According to the UN, in terms of education, the Philippines is now at par with Zambia. And still Luz says the issue of dropping out is a different problem.
Luz explains that K12 will not strain the budget, since the money—a whopping hundred billion pesos—will come from revenue previously lost to corruption. “It’s money that is not available, it is money we’re actually wasting.” It is one of the most inane justifications in a country where all manner of inanities are used to justify squandering taxpayer’s money. A hundred billion pesos in public funds is still a hundred billion pesos in public funds, no matter how many times it is washed in the national laundry of corruption.
With such limited resources, the Luzes of this country need to justify exactly why limited finances are not going to teacher retraining, school buildings in the ARMM, and the education of the indigenous in the hinterlands where it takes four hours on foot to reach what can be roughly construed as a classroom. They need to explain why 13-year-old children in Datu Piang Elementary school in Maguindanao still have to scramble from howitzer fire in the middle of sixth grade math. A hundred billion pesos can go a long way in cash transfers, uniforms and scholarships, in more toilets in Parañaque National High School, whose principal is forced to stagger recess breaks because there are only seven bathrooms for 15,733 students. A DepEd estimate for the schoolyear 2010 to 2011 puts what is needed for the most crucial spending at P91.5 billion. The Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) earlier said the country needs an additional 61,343 classrooms to accommodate the more than 21 million students this year.
Luz compared this administration to Arroyo’s. “The problem with President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s administration is that it focused on building classrooms, hiring teachers and procuring textbooks. You’re throwing money into the problem,” he said.
Secretary Luistro concedes it’s possible the current curriculum is too academic in orientation. His plan, he says, is not just to add years to the current education cycle. Irrelevant subjects would be taken out of the curriculum, while new subjects that develop the technical and vocational skills of the students would be incorporated. It is a necessary solution, and does away with the need for additional years.
And yet they persist. Abad, asked about the parental opposition to the K12 proposal, shrugged off the concern and said parents only want the shortest possible educational cycle for their children.
“They don’t want their kids to go to college. They just want the kids to work so they will benefit from them.”
It is true that for many children, college isn’t an option. It’s true many families are unwilling to invest in education. What Abad fails to understand is that for many, a year in school is a near-insurmountable difficulty—mostly because the largest concern is the next meal.
Perhaps it would be good for Mr. Abad to speak to the men who ply Intramuros in horse carriages, grinning at tourists in the August rain, or the tricycle drivers who make P150 a day, or the tattooed Zamboanga policemen who count coins for the bus rides of their small girls. Ask 15-year-old Roxanne, who carries twins, ask Rosalinda with her brood of four waiting at home while she cleans bottles of vinegar for crumpled 20-peso bills. Ask any struggling Filipino parent what their ambition is, and they’ll say college for the kids, or for the ones who have had their dreams beaten out of them, a high school diploma and a better life than theirs.
This is not a middle-class country, and still the government persists in treating it as such. This is what all this is: a marked indifference to the real state of the nation—the scrabbling existence that should earn some respect from the men who promised hope in the name of Benigno Aquino III.
My favorite day. Ever.
Please turn off your “ask me anything” if you’re not gonna answer any of them.
Richard Francis Xavier Manning (author, friar, priest, contemplative, speaker). (via hammarstrand)
PS (iamnothingami): Absolutely true. I appreciate the people who realize their evil ways and the absurdity of such weekly Sunday ritual, even though they still believe the idea of God. What I don’t understand is people who claim that they’re doing the absolute good while still believing that such a weekly ritual-turned-to-routine or periodical confession would cleanse their dirty souls and turn it again into its pure untainted form, so that when they walk out of the church door, they would have an excuse again to do evil things or make mistakes.
Every little thing helps. Demand a better world.