On May 15, 2013, President Aquino signed into law Republic Act No. 10533 or the Enhanced Basic Education Act of 2013. “Enhanced” is hardly the word as RA 10533, more commonly known as the K-to-12 Law, is arguably the most sweeping and largest-scale reform of the Philippine education system since World War II.
The earlier signed Universal Kindergarten Law institutionalized compulsory kindergarten and the K-to-12 Law increased the number of years of basic education from 10 to 12, adding two more years to high school. These two laws added three mandatory years of schooling before college—kindergarten plus Grades 11 and 12—to the basic education of more than 20 million Filipino youth and children. On the other hand, these two laws gave free access to these youth and children to much-needed three additional years of schooling, an educational opportunity most of them never had before.
However, in recent months, certain lawmakers have threatened to repeal, suspend, or postpone the K-to-12 Law. These threats were driven by first, accusations that the Department of Education is not logistically ready to handle the additional years (curriculum not yet set, not enough teachers and classrooms, etc.), and second, the large number of college teachers to be displaced starting in 2016, when there will be no entering freshmen due to the additional high school years. Undeniably, there are obstacles that need to be hurdled and impacts that need to be mitigated. However, these are not reason enough to even postpone a program that seeks to benefit millions upon millions of our youth.
But why should the business community care about the K-to-12 Law? From a purely self-interested perspective, it should care because the sustainable success of our industries depends on how good our people are and will continue to be in the future. This, in turn, is mostly dependent on the quality of our education system.
And just how good is our education system?
According to a 2010 survey conducted by the Philippine Management Association of the Philippines, the top six deficiencies of companies’ new hires were all general competencies, such as oral and written communications and critical thinking. A general aptitude test administered by Phinma tertiary institutions to its freshmen, mostly graduates of public schools, found that only 3 percent were ready for college. A deeper analysis of the results showed that most were entering college with only Grade IV to V reading and math competencies. The overall mean percentage score of fourth year high school students in DepEd’s 2011-2012 National Achievement Tests was 48.9, when the goal was a score of 75. The scores were 46.37 and 40.53 for mathematics and science, respectively. These are all evidence of a weak basic education system.
There are key reasons for such low quality: the insufficient amount of public resources invested in education, resulting in inadequate provision facilities such as classrooms, textbooks and toilets; not enough quality teachers or quality teacher training opportunities; and the short, 10-year basic education cycle.
Our children are expected to learn the same competencies as every other child in the world, but with not enough classrooms, from not enough quality teachers, and in much less time. Even if we had good teachers armed with the best facilities, the shorter basic education cycle would put our students at a disadvantage vis-à-vis those of other countries. Others would simply have more time to learn what needed to be learned in grade school and high school.
Consequently, to fix our system, we must address all these areas—resources, teacher quality, and the basic education cycle—simultaneously.
So if companies are concerned about the quality of their human resources, they must care about our country having the best possible basic education system. And this requires a 12-year cycle; thus, they must care about the fate of the K-to-12 Law. But it goes beyond just developing a pool of qualified employees. The business sector should also care, for as a good corporate citizen, it should care about the welfare of our people and our society.
Basic education is exactly that: basic. It’s meant to provide our people with the competencies, knowledge, and attitudes needed to live a productive and dignified life. A good, solid education is likewise the best way for many of our people to rise out of poverty. So whether our high school graduates choose to go to college, pursue a job immediately after, or become actors, athletes, poets, carpenters, or plumbers, they need the skills this education level provides. They need quality basic education.
We are fortunate that the Aquino administration, through the leadership of Education Secretary Armin Luistro, has done much to improve education. It has addressed resource deficiencies, hired more and better teachers, and successfully worked for the K-to-12 Law.
The business sector must now do its part by throwing its support behind the law and helping ensure its implementation. After all, it is to its own interests, as business and as a citizen, to see the law work, for quality education is everyone’s business.
Chito B. Salazar, PhD, is president of Philippine Business for Education and also heads Phinma’s education business.