Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — Today, it appears that the first students to graduate from K to 12 have been forgotten and swept in the dustbin of history. After enduring two additional years of high school where the implementation was unclear for teachers and students all throughout, the guinea pigs of the K to 12 reform have every right to be distressed at the Department of Education’s lack of evidence of its success.
Employability was the top selling point of the K to 12 curriculum, but it was clear as early as January of this year that graduates of senior high school, or Grade 12, would not be able to compete in the workforce as promised by the Department of Education (DepEd). A 2018 JobStreet report shows that only 24 percent of employers were willing to hire K to 12 graduates as the rest still cited having a college degree as the primary qualification for employment. Worse, the department currently has no data on how many senior high school graduates were able to find work related to the track that they had completed.
For instance, senior high school graduate Luis* studied in a relatively small college in Pasig City with a tuition fee that only cost ₱10,000 per semester. He took up Information in Communication and Technology (ICT) because of his interests in computer science. However, because of the limited space in the school and the difficulty of hiring teachers who could teach the advanced subjects, Luis never thought of any other job opportunity in his track aside from entering the call center industry. Additionally, he says that the “poor implementation of senior high school” in his school had contributed to the year-long mess that he and his classmates experienced.
“Most students are angry because of the school’s curriculum. In fact, the school doesn’t follow the prescribed curriculum anymore. They just force the students to join their weekly event and pay some money to pass the exam which is very wrong,” he says.
Luis, who needs to support himself now that he is living away from his parents, plans to continue to college after a year of working as a customer service representative in a call center.
“I guess there’s more to ICT than working in a call center, but I don’t know. I didn’t learn much [from senior high school].”
Alexandra Villacorta, a Humanities and Social Science student from a senior high school in Antipolo City, also tried to find a job after graduating. She applied for jobs in different companies but didn’t get call backs for certain interviews because she had not yet finished 2 years of college.
Alexandra, who was a former literary writer in their school paper, settled for whatever jobs that were available.
“I started small. I took home ₱250 a day for house cleaning and tutorial services before I decided to work in the call center,” she recounts. “When I started getting sick from the night shifts, I decided to do e-commerce instead and be my own boss.”
Now deciding to take a gap year, Alexandra plans to continue to college after earning enough money. For her, being a senior high school graduate is not enough.
“My mom almost didn't finish her schooling once she started earning money during her time,” she says. “Hindi pwede ‘yung ganitong klaseng buhay lang. I earn for my education because I know I'll find purpose in it.”
And for a curriculum that has banked on producing globally competitive graduates with “21st century skills,” it’s going against its own mandate by merely producing cheap labor for outsourcing agencies and multinational companies. We don’t need creative imagination to deduce which jobs are waiting for thousands of senior high school graduates from small schools in low economic areas: blue-collared work in factories or customer service work in call centers or fast-food chains — jobs that have been accepting high school graduates even before K to 12 was introduced.
If this is the case, then two years of tuition fees, insurmountable effort, and time from the students’ part had gone to waste as they had only ended up in the same inhumane Philippine labor force where labor rights are routinely violated. When you have an education system that seems to be riddled with more problems than solutions, students are the ones to take the hit the hardest. K to 12 worsens, not improves, poor families’ conditions by aggravating their circumstances with added costs of education.
Introducing an educational reform as big as K to 12 will always result in birthing pains, but this does not mean that the government will cease to be accountable to the students that were experimented on. Birthing pains can very easily turn to permanent wounds to the Philippine education system that seems to be only one bruise away from collapsing altogether.
In my high school, the San Beda University Senior High School, Media and Information Literacy was taught like a confused arts class where students are typically asked to submit drawings and slogans. For our performance task, we took different pictures of sceneries based on the photography angles we learned in class. Students from other classes were asked to submit videos of themselves performing spoken word poetry. I don’t remember any discussion on fake news, critical thinking, fact checking sources, and other topics that would actually make a student media literate, as the name of the subject implies. In fact, my teacher in the subject was a graduate of Computer Science and Physics.
While I understand that my school (and my teacher) may have only been following DepEd’s curriculum, we must be clear about what senior high school’s subjects are all about and hire teachers who have extensive knowledge about the subjects. Teachers should have more access to enrolling in master’s degree programs to be able to guide the students effectively and to have a solid background in the subject. We should not merely throw hooray words like “global,” “international,” and “21st century” around to make the subjects appear different from its Junior High School counterparts when in reality, they are the same basic subjects that provide redundant information.
The new curriculum and the addition of two more years of high school should be evidence-based, but even one of the only systems of assessment of Grade 12 students’ knowledge, which is the National Achievement Test (NAT), had been delayed. The NAT was originally scheduled before the end of the school year, but we ended up taking the test as late as April.
According to San Beda University Senior High School’s Assistant Prefect for Student Activities Benjamin Sonajo, the NAT for our batch was pushed back twice because “the printing for testing materials had been delayed.” As a result, the two-day test was attended by only half of our class.
How can the DepEd accurately measure the improvement of students’ knowledge during senior high school when its few systems of assessment had not been prepared for by department officials? Problems with the printing of the booklets are not an excuse in this scenario — they had two whole years to prepare for the evaluation of the new reform which had been contested by many as useless. Senior high school, which was also tagged as college preparatory as it claimed to give students the fundamentals of all general education subjects in college, risks being truly useless if the department will not conduct thorough research on its first implementation.
“Education either functions as an instrument which is used to bring about conformity or it becomes the practice of freedom, the means by which men and women deal critically and creatively with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world,” was how Paulo Freire wrote about education in his book “Pedagogy of the Oppressed.” This is more relevant than ever as Education Secretary Leonor Briones moves to review the K to 12 curriculum.
It’s important that DepEd proposes concrete, long-term solutions based on evidence if it wants K to 12 to work. They should stop tagging senior high school as an alternative to college for those who would like to work immediately after graduation, as this leaves plenty of students at risk of becoming cheap robots tied to manual labor. Education should be the force that liberates students from being stuck in the cycle of poverty, but if things continue the way they are, more and more Filipinos will be hard pressed to even finish senior high school.
For K to 12 work, DepEd should invest in the primary executors of its curriculum who can translate its aims from paper to practice. Teachers who are overworked and underpaid are at a risk of being spread even thinner from the addition of two more years of high school. The answer to this problem is to increase the pay of teachers and to offer more advanced education opportunities for them to effectively teach the new subjects in senior high. Just like us, they too are blindly groping in the dark as to how to navigate an unknown system. They shoulder the heavy responsibility of making sure the new education reform will work — it follows that they deserve all the support they can get.
Lastly, the government should take steps to address the lack of classrooms in public schools with the increasing population of high school students and the poor procurement of learning materials. They should also revise the senior high school curriculum and carefully oversee the implementation of first-time subjects such as Media and Information Literacy; Trends, Networks, and Critical Thinking in the 21st Century; and conduct a comprehensive review of the curriculum before selling it as a two-year solution to make high school students job-ready. Education reforms need to be given a chance, but we must remember that the students suffering from the experimentation deserve a sure future, too.
As of press time, the Department of Education’s website for Frequently Asked Questions on K to 12 has been wiped of its old contents where I used to read about how I would become job-ready after graduating from senior high school.
This shows that the department, in its efforts to review the whole curriculum, should still answer to the very real concerns of the pioneer batch of K to 12 who are still trying to reconcile what seems like two years of wasted time and resources. A tall order? Perhaps. But senior high school had no significant impact to the majority of students who worked or proceeded to college.
In the end, we have thousands of students who feel they’ve been delayed by K to 12, including me.
*Name has been changed at subject’s request.