The Philippines is the only Asian country that has 10 years of basic education. So when President Benigno Aquino signed a law to add another two years, the United Nation Nations praised the move.
Called K to 12, it aims to make Filipino students more competitive by giving them more skills after graduating from high school.
But some groups, including parents, oppose the measure, saying the new program won’t work without more classrooms and teachers.
Nenita Capague is perhaps the busiest high school principal on the island. She oversees the biggest high school in Palawan with almost 6,000 students.
Today she is meeting teachers to discuss preparations for the additional two years in high school, starting next year.
At first, Principal Capague was sceptical but she is now convinced the K to 12 program will have more benefits than disadvantages.
The government’s decision to add two years in high school is laudable, she says.
“At the moment the Philippines is among the only three remaining countries with 10 years of basic education, she says, “Many of our graduates, when they work abroad, they often need more years of training to cope with this lack of basic education.”
But Palawan National School, where Nenita Capague is principal, is likely to face enormous challenges when the K to 12 starts next June.
Nenita is expecting more than 1,200 students for the first 11th Grade class. Currently, each class is already at maximum capacity of around 40 to 50 students, so she is considering several ways to make it work.
“We have Plan A and Plan B. Plan A is when there is sufficient classrooms and teachers. Plan B is when additional classrooms are not yet constructed and qualified teachers are not enough. For this, we will have two shifts,” she says.
While Nenita thinks about how to implement the plan at her school on Palawan, K to 12 has inspired a wave of criticism across the Philippines.
With a shortage of classrooms, teachers and resources, critics say the plan is flawed before it even starts. One teachers group is even petitioning the Supreme Court to stop the implementation of the law.
For thousands of teachers in universities, K to 12 might see them displaced because of the expected low university turnout next year.
The department of education admits these challenges are growing pains, but says they are addressing the issues.
Roseline Vicente works for the department of education in Palawan.
She is handling the K to 12 program here and says that while building has not yet started, the budget for new classrooms has been granted to the department of public works and highways, or DPWH.
“Nonetheless, DPWH promised, upon our follow up, they will try their best to finish construction before the opening of the school year,” says Vicente.
Another issue that has been raised about K to 12 is the burden it might have on parents.
An additional two years of education means that children will be out of the workforce for longer, instead of helping their parents.
For Roseline Vicente of the education department, this concern is unfounded.
“We make the parents understand that this is not an additional burden because still the additional two years would be free education for them,” she says.
Parents like Mel Baloloy support K to 12. She is not bothered that her son will stay in school for longer.
“I only see the advantages,” she says, “It’s even helpful for parents because students can get a job even after finishing only senior high school. He could even send himself to college.”
She has already discussed the plan with her son, who is now in grade 9.
“We told him that the first four years in high school are just part of it. The last two years, which is the senior high school part, are crucial to what he wants to become later in life,” she explains, “We tell him that this is his ticket to a good university…”
Mel also likes the vocational courses component of K to 12 – an idea not many Filipino parents share because of the society’s penchant for college education.
The four components of K to 12 are: academic, sports, arts and design, and technical and vocational. With these, the government aims to fill the job mismatch in the country.
The Philippines churns out thousands of university graduates each year but many do not qualify for jobs that need skills, like in mechanics, engineering and IT.
Educator Jan Michael Vincent Abril believes the measure is an answer to unemployment.
“It is really much needed, especially in preparing our students with skills that are needed and aligned with certain works,” notes Abril, “It prepares the students with 20th century skills, which are not often addressed in schools.”
The measure is a flagship program of President Aquino. Since being elected in 2010, he has doubled the education budget and allocated billions of pesos to the K to 12 plan.
Yet challenges still remain – like the 30,000 classrooms that have to be built and the 43,000 more teachers needed to start K to 12 next year.