Despite Opposition, K-12 Education Reform Moves Forward in the Philippines
August 24, 2016
By August, 1.5 million students across the Philippines attended 11th grade for the first time, thanks to the newly established senior high school (SHS), a cornerstone of the country’s long-running K-12 education reform efforts. The education reform debate leading up to this moment had been centered on whether or not to defer implementation of the K-12 program, which is in motion despite delays in school construction and hiring of additional teachers for thousands of public schools.
The new K-12 law adds two years of senior high school, 11th and 12th grade, to the country’s basic education system. Before the policy went into effect, the Philippines was the last country in Asia and one of only a handful worldwide with a 10-year basic education system.
Despite predictions that the new reforms would fail to deliver and spur massive drop-outs, almost 50,000 more students enrolled in the new grade 11 than the number of students who had completed 10th grade of the previous academic year.
The new senior high school, a component of the Enhanced Basic Education Act (a.k.a., K-12 Law) signed in 2013, aims to address low performance and enrollment rates and to help achieve international standards by adding two grades to high school and by making secondary education compulsory. SHS also provides the opportunity for senior high school students to specialize in one of four tracks: academic, technical-vocational-livelihood, sports, or the arts.
Despite the potential the reforms have on improving education, some have been skeptical of the overall impact. In 2015, five petitions were filed before the Supreme Court requesting the suspension of the new K-12 program, among which was from college instructors who feared they would soon be displaced by the reduction of enrollees in higher education. In another protest statement, a leader of a youth group decried the reform as “an additional burden to ordinary Filipino families.” During the elections, senatorial and vice presidential candidates issued statements calling for the suspension of the new K-12, arguing that the government was “not ready” to implement it.
Given the uphill battle to where we are today, it’s worth examining the five main contributing factors that finally led to implementing the reforms, despite political transitions.
- Enacting a law builds a high barrier to policy reversal, and also authorizes allocations to finance the reform continuously. In March, the Supreme Court petitions to suspend the implementation of the law were rejected. The shift to the K-12 curriculum was institutionalized with the K-12 Law, which also mandated the allocation of necessary resources. The Department of Education (DepEd) budget has grown at an average annual rate of 15 percent since 2010, and jumped 30 percent the first year of SHS. In 2017, the proposed DepEd budget is expected to rise another 32 percent.
- Utilizing flexible strategies and communications can neutralize negative perceptions. Despite challenges in constructing additional schools and hiring more teachers to accommodate the two additional years of high school, both outgoing and incoming DepEd officials consistently expressed a message of readiness. The department set out on flexible, “next-best” strategy that involved: a) fast-tracking construction of public SHS classrooms to cover the initial requirements of grade 11, and b) increased efforts to accredit non-DepEd providers of SHS in the private sector and higher education institutions. Communicating the number, names, and locations of available schools provided additional assurance.
- Partnering with other industries to promote new, alternative job opportunities for high school graduates. In the Municipality of Panglao, Bohol province, the association of hotels and resorts trained public high school teachers to talk with their students about potential career paths in the tourism and service industries, helped equip the school with necessary materials, and opened their own facilities to provide students with actual workplace experience. Previously, 80 percent of public high school graduates would not have gone on to a college where tourism courses were offered. With the industry support, however, almost all of the grade 10 graduates enrolled in grade 11, looking toward potential employment in the tourism industry. Similarly, high schools in Calamba City in Laguna Province were introduced to technologies used at semiconductor plants preparing for expansion in the next three years. This led to science, math, and technology-intensive SHS specializations being offered in the city’s schools –half of which were located in upland, rural areas.
- Converting the opposition through coordinated participation incentives. Higher education institutions (HEIs), which initially stood to lose from reduced enrollments, as students stayed in high school for two extra years, and poor households, who would have had to shoulder additional out-of-pocket expenses for school costs, constituted the main resistance to K-12. In 2016, $250 million was allocated for vouchers to non-DepEd schools, including higher education institutions, to subsidize SHS. This incentive led non-DepEd institutions to constitute almost half of the 11,000 SHS providers. In addition, the Department of Labor and Employment (DoLE) provided allowances and retraining for displaced college instructors. For poor households, the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) extended the Pantawid (4Ps) conditional cash transfer education grants to students up to 18 years old, allowing effective coverage of SHS.
- Supporting reformers within the bureaucracy and actively engaging new leaders. Prior to his inauguration, President Rodrigo Duterte had been against K-12, but was later convinced, he said, by some “bright guys” from DepEd who “explained to [him] how we are falling behind our neighbors.” Later, the president would appoint public management expert and former National Treasurer, Dr. Leonor Magtolis Briones, to head the department. On Aug. 2, 2016, barely a month into her new position, she issued a Department Memorandum setting a strategic vision for DepEd with the first directive to continue the full implementation of K-12.
Basic education reforms take time and often encounter challenges with changes in political leadership, stakeholder influence, and resource allocation priorities. Despite the obstacles, for those additional 1.5 million students in school right now, it’s a bright year ahead.
Henry Bernabe Grageda is a senior program officer for The Asia Foundation in the Philippines. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and not those of The Asia Foundation or its funders.
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