Making K-12 work: Getting key sectors on board

By Rene E. Ofreneo – November 22, 2017

IN a few months, the first batch of K to 12 students shall graduate from the numerous Senior High Schools that have sprouted all over the country. The new K to 12 curriculum is presumed to have strengthened the capacity of these graduating students to pursue higher learning at the tertiary level or, alternatively, to join the world of work at the legal age of 18.  Moreover, the extra two years that have been added to the old 10 years of basic education—six years elementary and four years high school—are also assumed to have made these students more mature and able to discern what is the best career option for them.

Furthermore, it is argued that the “enhanced” K to 12 basic education curriculum fulfills the provision of the Constitution, which mandates the state to “establish, maintain and support a complete, adequate and integrated system of education relevant to the needs of the people and society” (Article IV, Section 2).

These, in brief, are the promises of the controversy-laden K to 12 program.

The birthing of the K to 12 program was not easy. It was the subject of several cases filed with the Supreme Court (SC) seeking its suspension or even abolition. The majority of parents were not prepared for the extra cost of spending for two more years of schooling at the secondary level. Many places throughout the archipelago also did not have the facilities and materials for these extra two years of basic education.

This author supported in 2013-2015 the campaign of several faculty unions in Metro Manila for a deferment of the K to 12 program. The union leaders from University of Santo Thomas, Saint Scholastica, Mapua, Miriam and others were vocal about their complaints that then Department of Education (DepEd) Secretary Brother Armin A. Luistro and other concerned government officials had no program to smoothen the transition from K to 10 to K to 12 arrangements. In particular, many college faculty members teaching some of the courses absorbed by the K to 12 program had to face the deadly 3Ds —displacement, demotion and dismissal—because the general education curriculum given in the first two years of tertiary schooling had to be downsized and there would be less students entering college in 2016 and 2017. Eventually, with the intervention of Congress, the DepEd, Commission on Higher Education and Department of Labor and Employment came up with some “compromise solutions,” such as giving financial and reassignment assistance to the affected teachers. Still, it was painful for a number of teachers who lost either their jobs or ranks.

But now the K to 12 program is in place. The government has also won in the SC the cases filed against the program. Therefore, the primary task facing the nation now is how to make the K to 12 program really work so that it can fulfill all the rosy promises outlined by Luistro and other proponents of the program, such as better educated citizenry, more productive work force and sustained economic development.

In this regard, DepEd Secretary Ma. Leonor M. Briones is trying hard to address the “quality” side of the K to 12. The “quantity” side—adding two years to basic education—is what has been achieved so far by the government. The jury on the quality aspect is not yet out.

There are many doables on the quality side. But one positive proposal stands out—the proposal to establish an industry-education coordination council in support of continuous improvement and enhancement of the K to 12 offerings based on continuous consultation and coordination with industry. Assistant Secretary Nepomuceno A. Malaluan of the DepEd is spearheading the brainstorming on how to set up the council at the national and regional levels and how to develop the mechanisms for consultation, coordination and implementation of industry-inspired measures to improve the K to 12 program. The “industry” sector here refers not only to big manufacturing and business establishments; it also covers the small and medium enterprises, social enterprises run by CSOs, farming sector, individual artisans and other relevant actors in the economy. In short, the whole idea is to have a system of consultation with the most productive segments of the economy.

The concept of industry-education consultation mechanism is not new. The problem is that it is not being looked into by those in the education sector, in particular by those managing basic education. In general, tighter and sustained education-industry cooperation is missing in the country—except in the case of Technical Education and Skills Development Authority, whose mission is to strengthen vocational education after high school.

The role of industry in education reforms such as curriculum review and design, conduct of research and extension and management of internships and practical courses, cannot be overemphasized. Industry can provide the needed labor market “signals” on how to align the curricula with the complex needs of a dynamic labor market. What are the emerging jobs and skills needed in the evolving labor market at the regional, national and regional levels?   Educational institutions cannot work out the curricula all by themselves unmindful of what is going on in industry and what are the changes in the way business and work are done, especially on how they are adjusting to the evolving technology and market conditions in a globalizing world.

The K to 12 also seeks to develop a new generation of would-be entrepreneurs through the curricula on business education and self-employment. This is important since paid work—from the private and government sectors—is limited in number, especially in relatively underdeveloped or semi-industrialized or even agrarian regions of the country. But again, practical lessons and exposure are a must. The power of living examples on how to succeed in business or agricultural undertakings can only be shared by those who have succeeded in business (big or small) and small-scale farming (a big challenge in the whole country) and other forms of self-employment. All this is crucial in the learning, modeling and motivating processes. Again, some form of consultation and coordination with the business leaders, farm innovators and other model independent producers at the community level are a must.

Third, developing the pool of Filipino talents, to unlock the potential of the Philippines to catch up with the growth leaders of Asia and the world, requires dedicated dialogue, collaboration and partnership between and among those in the government, educational system and industry.

For the foregoing reasons alone, the importance of setting up a government-industry-education council is a must to ensure that the promise of the K to 12 reforms will truly make a difference for the post-K to 12 youth and the country as a whole.

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