Amid much debate among its implementers and constituents, the Enhanced Basic Education Program or Kindergarten + 12’s Senior High School (SHS) debuted for Grade 10 completers this week. Eleventh graders started on the track of their chosen profession, the choices being the (1) Academic Track comprised of Accountancy, Business, and Management (ABM); Humanities and Social Sciences (HUMSS); Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM); and General Academic Strand (GAS); (2) Technical-Vocational-Livelihood (TechVoc/VL) Track; (3) Sports Track; and (4) Arts and Design Track.
The Department of Education (DepEd) dubbed this week’s opening as the best ever as the country is smoothly embarking on K-to-12 and is more than ready for SHS rollout. However, indications of SHS-unreadiness as well as government’s aggressive partnership with the profit-oriented private sector in delivering education services buttress the criticism by progressive educators, student groups and citizens of the neoliberalization of the education system.
Ill-prepared amid perennial shortages
DepEd reports that there are a little over 11,000 SHS-ready schools. But only a little over 50% of these or 5,990 are public or DepEd- operated and funded. According to an insider, the department’s assurance that 1.5 million Grade 10 completers can be accommodated by SHS facilities includes the assumption that double-shifting would continue. Double-shifting pertains to accommodating two shifts of classes in one room each day due to insufficient facilities. “Hindi pa tapos yung ibang classrooms for SHS,” the source disclosed.
New shortages brought about by K-to-12’s additional years are on top of existing ones and despite the Aquino administration’s claim that the lack of classrooms, textbooks and teachers has been addressed as of February 2015.
Last schoolyear in Bataan, village kids including Aetas reportedly continued to hold classes in a chapel and its garage with no electricity. Meanwhile, DepEd-recognized alternative schools in the Southern Philippines remain in dire need ot textbooks.
In a small town in Metro Manila, classes do not start until July because the SHS school building has not been completed. In Central Visayas and Mindanao, schools are obliged to share spaces such as classrooms, offices and gymnasiums with secondary classes as around 3,000 SHS classrooms are still under construction.
The full implementation of K-to-12 also adds to the perennial shortage of teaching personnel. According to the Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT), more than 79,000 teachers and non-teaching staff stand to be displaced due to the curriculum shift.
A Grade 10 completer from Quezon City-based high school Florida A. Ylagan says that his school is not SHS-ready. There are only 42 SHS-ready public schools in Quezon City, while there are 208 non-DepEd (private schools and State colleges and universities) schools that are SHS-ready. Although his family would have preferred for him to stay at Flora A. Ylagan, the boy had to enroll in an Affordable Private Education Center (APEC) School, a private joint venture of the Ayalas and the United Kingdom’s Pearson Learning Affordable Fund.
In Calamba, Laguna, a Grade 7 public school teacher says that their school is only one of the many public schools in the province that could not offer SHS due to space limitations. Of 56 SHS-ready schools in Calamba, only 14 are DepEd schools. The teacher remembers that there was a plan to construct a new building on a vacant lot beside their school but it has not materialized. Thus, their Grade 10 completers had only three SHS-ready public schools in the vicinity to choose from, but these offered incomplete tracks.
“Ang private schools ang nagsilapit sa public schools namin para mangumbinsi ng mga estudyante na sa kanila pumasok (The private schools directly approached public schools to convince students to enroll at their facilities) by way of career orientation activities,” the teacher narrated.
Funding business in education
Instead of building public facilities to realize the Filipino youth’s right to free and accessible education, government has arranged to either pay private and higher learning institutions to accommodate students from public schools through the SHS Voucher Program or allow investors to build more schools. The Aquino administration allocated Php12.2 billion for the program for 2016. It also allocated Php16.2 billion as payment to magnates Henry Sy and Bayani Fernando over ten years for the Public Private Partnership (PPP) in Schools Infrastructure Program.
The SHS Voucher Program subsidizes private education with Php22,500 per year for both Grades 11 and 12 for public school Grade 10 completers enrolling in non-DepEd schools in the National Capital Region; Php20,000 per year for those in highly-urbanized areas; and Php17,500 for the rest of the provinces.
For the first year of SHS implementation, government has paid APEC, which operates 27 schools in Metro Manila, Rizal and Batangas, a minimum guarantee ranging from Php500 million to PhP 1 billion.
Some parents especially from low-income families are not amenable to K-to-12 because it only prolongs the education process and translates to more expenses. According to them, the government subsidy cannot cover students’ uniforms, school supplies and food, which can cost them more than Php25,000 over K-to-12’s four additional semesters.
Relatedly, the Quezon City government signed a PPP deal to develop SHS support in Quezon City public schools with Magna Anima Education System. Magna Anima will gather private sector support to build, operate and maintain SHS facilities in the Arts track at the Esteban Abada High School and Kamuning Elementary School; Sports track at the Belarmino Sports Complex and Jose P. Laurel High School; and Maritime track at the Apolonio Samson High School. Government counterpart includes providing tax incentives to Magna Anima, a subsidiary of the Lopez family’s ABS-CBN network,and an additional Php5,000 voucher per head on top of the DepEd-provided voucher.
Education for nation-builders
The Aquino administration has promoted K-to-12 as part of the country’s integration into the global community. This education program was a recommendation by the Joint Foreign Chambers of Commerce supported by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) through The Arangkada Project Philippines (TAPP/ Arangkada).
Arangkada is a major advocacy launched in 2010 to improve the Philippine investment climate. Its specific recommendation is to “extend basic education by two years and add one year before elementary school. Students should graduate high school at age 18 prepared either to enter the workforce or college. Increase technical/ vocational skills training in the high school curriculum.” It argues that “having a large pool of skilled manpower is an attraction to foreign direct investments, which in turn improves economic activity.” The global market thus prescribes K-to-12, which has compounded the woes of commercialized education and further instituted training the Filipino youth to become appendages of the corporate world.
Instead of this, however, it is sorely imperative for Philippine education to serve the Filipino nation. It needs to be accessible and geared to mold the Filipino youth to their fullest potential as patriotic, analytical, and innovative citizens. This transformative education will build the country’s capacity to forge vibrant industries that cater foremost to the peoples basic needs and usher national development. (IBON Features)