By By tataramon
K – 12 = 13
posted 18-Jun-2017  ·  
1,221 views  ·   0 comments  ·  

(Second of two parts)

In Part 1, we argued that the K-12 is largely a matter of economics. In the same light, we also made sense of it as an HRM (human resource management) strategy employed by the huge corporation that is the Philippine nation-state. In another way of putting it, K-12 is social engineering of the great machine that is the Filipino society.

Mandated by law, the years of putting the K-12 system in place (2011-2018) saw stakeholders in a quandary to master an entire set of “how-to’s” contained in tons of operation/instructional manuals and kits, and commit to heart a dizzying set of new vocabulary and acronyms (“integrated spiral progression”, “outcomes-based learning”, ABM, STEM, HUMMS, TLE, etc.). People were so occupied with details of implementation but they hardly had time to see the big picture and discuss the soundness of its basic premises. 

But the next five years or so after 2018 is opportune time to assess whether K-12’s promises are indeed being delivered. 2018 is just around the corner, so let us examine some of the major deliverables of K-12 and see them against the backdrop of existing Philippine and Catandunganon social realities.  Is there reasonable hope to expect rosy realization?

To start with, it is easy to concede that K-12 has animated the economy through the additional jobs created and the frenzy of infrastructure projects and production of instructional materials. The worst fears of jobs being lost in the tertiary level is proving, however, to be exaggerated. Teachers who were displaced in colleges and universities simply migrated to senior high schools. But these premiums are not the meat of K-12’s supposed virtues. As a human resource development strategy, K-12 is supposed to make greatest impact on its products.  Ang dunong ay yaman, it is said. Graduates of K-12 are going to be high-value aspects of the wealth of the nation because they will be highly reliable producers of the nation’s wealth.

There are two basic claims as to the attributes of the K-12 product. First is that the graduate will be amply proficient in the competencies necessary for tertiary or college education. Second is that the K-12 finisher will be ready to join the labor market and take up gainful employment.  The K-12 then is specifically designed to pursue these two outcomes. In short, unlike the high school graduate of the old way who has not much chance for success in life unless one proceeds on to college, the holder of K-12 high school diploma has the best of both worlds of immediate employment or the option to acquire higher education.

The college readiness component is the most attractive to the clientele. Even for this reason alone people might just concede to the added burdens of K-12.  Much of the complaints about the poor quality of education in the Philippines make sense in the context of readiness of entrants to higher education. That is because the college degree is The Great Filipino Dream. Therefore, the favorite whipping dog for our educational woes is the sorry state of elementary and high school education. Ta syempre, the argument goes, ang problema nasa pundasyon. Exasperated college professors would typically berate their students: Nag para arano kamo sa elementary buda hayskul? Nagparapamito-on?

So will the K-12 reform feed the universities and colleges with more capable students? If K-12 can do the trick, it will do so by the combined virtues of two things: 1) the redesigned curriculum content and delivery or a quality component, and 2) the sheer addition of two more years of instruction or a quantity component. With quality and quantity joining forces, how can it fail?

To clarify the quantity component,K-12 merely took away the first two years of general education from the old college curriculum. As such, the real increase in length of time is made to tertiary education where the four years for a bachelor’s degree will be purely devoted to specialization courses. Well and good. Perhaps indeed, the student, upon entering college after 13 years of basic education will be more ready for the rigors of higher learning. But then too, perhaps not.

While success in college necessitates a whole set of competencies, language facility is the primary object of the complaints. And why not? Language is key to performance in other aspects of academic work. But the issue of language is quite complicated because in the case of the Philippines, language facility specifically means English language facility. Products of Philippine schools, so the complaints go, are grossly wanting in English proficiency. Dai na baratid mag-werswers. What does K-12 offers to reverse the problem? Basically, it is an approach called mother-tongue based multilingual education (MTB-MLE). The logic is that students learn second languages (English, Filipino and foreign languages) easier when they acquire literacy (reading and writing skills) through their mother tongues (note: the next article on “Sisay Kita?” is on this topic).

But the MTB-MLE is being met with strong skepticism from all sectors of the educational stakeholders. For one, this strategy had already been tried before. In the 1950’s-60’s. In those days, grade one pupils would read “Miling, Miling magabat ang ubi!” Magabat perhaps, di ma-carry, so they abandoned it in favor of another scheme, bilingual education that gave emphasis on the national language. From magabat na ubi to spokening Tagalig.

The resistance may be derided as an embarrassing carry-over of a colonial mentality. To be fair to K-12, the MTB-MLE is welcome recognition of the worth of our own cultural heritage. But then, who can blame the educational clientele? The hard fact is the proficiency in English fetches one with better-paying jobs, or the kind called “white-collar” much preferred by Filipinos. It is also what gives Filipnos a clear comparative advantage in overseas employment. 

Which brings us to the other virtue of the K-12: the production of labor market-ready graduates. At 17 years of age, the K-12 finisher, we are told, can be gainfully and decently employed. But then too, challenges along this line are formidable.  First is the very state of Philippine economy. There are simply not enough jobs. The industries are grossly insufficient to absorb all those in the labor force. Most K-12 graduates will have nowhere to go but join the already huge army of the unemployed. In Catanduanes, the economy is expanding not towards increased production (through industries) but through the proliferation of malls. So it would seem that the K-12 graduates do not have much place to go but to the malls. Or to the big city or abroad. But would they have chances of competing with college graduates of which we have already a hoard waiting for their turn at the labor market?

But then, curriculum content and design are not the only factors that determine the product of schools. The quality of delivery by our schools is determined by external factors such as the larger economy that supports it. Education in the Philippines is eternally plagued by lack of budget. Are resources necessary for implementation enough? Think of conducive classrooms, quality books and other instructional materials. Teachers are known to shell out money from their pockets to buy chalk, etc. Think, too, of large student-teacher ratios because there are not enough teachers. On the other hand, there is the nagging issue of whether the teachers are capable enough to deliver. The quality of the teaching force is said to be the major cause for the sorry state of education in the country.

If so, we go full circle in the blaming game: the teacher-training colleges are not good enough. The poor quality of basic education is caused by bad tertiary level schools.

We seem to be in the same quandary as that of a snake chasing its own tail. Education in the Philippines, K-12 in particular, faces formidable systemic challenges. On the one hand is the cultural baggage regarding the excessive valuing for English, college degrees and white-collar jobs, which arguably are carry-overs of colonial mentality. On the other, even more serious, are structural predicaments such as the state’s ability to support the educational program, and the economy’s capacity to absorb the labor force. Surely there is truth in Rizal’s contention that education is the pill that will cure society’s ills. But what if the cure is being eaten out by the affliction?

As a final point, let us go back to this thing globalization. We must be reminded that the underlying rhetoric of the K-12 is globalization. K-12 supposedly will bring us out of the woods into the light of the global world. It will totally synch our educational offerings to global standards, making our products competitive with counterparts worldwide. We are told that the sooner we globalize the better because globalization renders the playing field even and fair for everybody participating in the game called progress and prosperity.

But that is the biggest lie, ever.

Greater integration into a world order will not equalize the terms of engagement among countries, especially between the poor and the rich. If the fate of most poor countries like ours was shaped by colonial past, globalization is none but colonial supremacy taking on new if subtle but more ferocious form. If anything, it will only serve to dramatize the discrepancies and intensify dependencies. Structures of inequality are reinforced. In the Philippines, K-12 in particular and the educational system in general being implicated in globalization can only be the arena where such dynamics of contradictions are played out.

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