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    K + 12?

Maybe it’s because my teenage son is already on his last year of high school so I’m not that concerned about it, but I kindasupport the Department of Education’s proposal to add two years to basic education. DepEd calls it K+12 (for Kindergarten + 12), and the purpose is to make graduates employable right after finishing high school. The additional two years are supposed to introduce skills to the kids, so that when they graduate they can be part of the workforce immediately instead of having to spend another four years in college before they can find gainful employment. It makes perfect sense especially when one considers that this is actually the norm worldwide; indeed, the Philippines is among the very few countries that have only 10 years of basic education.

I can see, however, why some sectors are against the proposal. For one thing, two additional years are an added burden to parents who will have to shoulder the added cost. Even those whose children are in public schools – where education is free – will still have to shell out two years’ worth of food, fare, and clothing for their little ones. Secondly, two additional years postpones the children’s entry into the workforce, making them unable to help earn income to help the family. And thirdly, those two additional years are also a burden to the taxpayers, a number of whom are not sure it would be a wise use of their hard-earned money.

It is this third reason that is the single biggest argument against K+12. Improving the country’s education system is not as simple as adding two years to the curriculum or throwing money at the problem; it is making sure the years – be it 10 or 12 – are maximized and used to train the children in subjects and activities that will be useful in the real world. The way things are being handled right now, however, it’s hard to believe government will be able to deliver.

In the first place, the enrolment rate in the country has been on a steady decline over the past years. The National Statistical Coordination Board has reported that the enrolment rate in primary schools in the Philippines has dropped from 90 percent five years ago to 83 percent last year. It is worse in high school, where the enrolment rate was recorded at a steady 59 percent during the same period.

In the second place, the quality of education our children are getting from public schools is not exactly top-notch. I know quite a number of high school graduates – and college graduates, for that matter – who cannot make a decent conversation about topics other than what they see on TV and the movies. While this cannot be blamed entirely on the school system and on government, much of the responsibility does rest on them. Where there is a lack of school buildings, trained teachers, good books, and other education necessities, there will always be poor education – and poor students.

So if we cannot even make students stay in school, and if those who do stay are not given the quality of education they need and deserve, how can we even think that adding two years will bring any benefit to them? It doesn’t make sense yet, unless government is willing to overhaul the education system so completely that adding two years becomes a possibility. The reality, however, is that the schools are so overloaded that classes are held on shifts, or under a mango tree, or in dilapidated rooms. Government must fix these problems before taking on the task of adding two more years to basic education.

I do believe K+12 is a good idea, but it requires a lot of planning and preparation before it can be implemented. If these obstacles are hurdled, and if government shows that it can handle the task, then I would love to see my second child go through Kindergarten and then 12 years of basic schooling. Just don’t tell her that her old man got away with just 10 years.

Jon Joaquin is the managing editor of the largest circulation newspaper in Mindanao, the Mindanao Daily Mirror in Davao City.

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