MIKE LUZ: To Be Competitive, We Need a 12-year Basic Education Cycle

Reprinted from MIKELUZ VIEWS ON EDUCATION and OTHER TOPICS, Nov 11, 2010 at 10:04 AM
To be competitive, the Philippines must develop a labor force with knowledge and skills comparable with the rest of the world. That has to start with more years of basic education.  The Philippines has the shortest basic education cycle before qualifying to enter university or college of any country in Asia – 10 years (6 years elementary plus 4 years secondary). UNESCO recognizes 12 years of basic education as the global norm, excluding pre-school. This includes elementary and secondary education but excludes pre-schooling.The problem: To compensate for a short basic education cycle, our schools – both public and private elementary and high schools – are cramming into ten years what other countries are teaching their children over twelve years.The results: a smorgasbord of subject matter covered with little or poor learning by our children.The solution: A 12-year basic education cycle where the same subjects can be spread out over a longer period of time. This would allow teachers to go more deeply into subject matter so students can learn more completely by doing more reading, writing, problem sets, exercises, oral recitation and individual and group projects.For example, standard math for graduating seniors in Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand now goes up through introductory Calculus. Here, we barely cover geometry and trigonometry.  Furthermore, Philippine high school graduates going for university study abroad (i.e. Australia, US) are now being made to take an additional senior year of high school to qualify.  The Philippine HS curriculum is not seen as covering enough material.Better-off parents have recognized this for years and spend for as many as 13 years of schooling for their children starting with kindergarten (and possibly prep) before 7 years of grade school and 4 years of high school before college. Consider the 12 or 13 years of basic schooling for kids from well-off families versus 10 years for our public school children. Little wonder that graduates from lower-income families with less years of basic education are at a disadvantage whether competing for university slots or for jobs.THE DESIRED END The long-term solution is to expand and restructure basic education into a 12-year cycle. This could be arranged as follows, though there are a number of options or permutations in arranging what constitutes the elementary and secondary levels:[1]

  • Pre-school (5 years old) – optional but desirable
  • Grades 1 – 7 (6 – 13 years old)
  • HS I – V (Junior High I – III, Senior High IV – V)

Pre-schooling would have three main objectives:

  • Socialization (“Everything I learned in life I learned in kindergarten”[2]);
  • Preparation for formal schooling; and,
  • Getting a head start on learning (i.e. the building blocks – the alphabet, numbers, shapes, colors, etc.)

Worldwide research shows that good pre-schooling keeps kids in school longer especially through Grades 1-3 for poorer households. With quality pre-school teaching, children can learn to read by Grade 1. In this respect, we should be pushing for universal pre-schooling as a key strategy for poverty reduction.The additional two years of elementary and high school (in any combination) are intended to allow children to learn more deeply what will prepare them for college or for the world of work.Today, universities are submitting proposals to the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) to expand degree programs by an additional year. Why? Because the first year courses in college known as “General Education” are, in fact, high school subjects not sufficiently learned, the freshman year in college is, in fact, remedial in design.  Ironically, parents, particularly those from low-income families, pay for these college subjects that their children should have learned for free in public high school.[3]On the other hand, almost half of all public high school graduates (44%) are not interested in university or further education.[4] They want to work. For them, high school


[1][1] An alternative would be:

  • Pre-schooling (5 years old)
  • Elementary: Grades 1-6 (6 – 12 years old)
  • High school: I – IV (13 -16 years old)
  • College preparatory or senior high school: V – VI (17 – 18 years old)
[2] From the book of the same title by Robert Fulghum.
[3] By constitutional mandate, public education is free of tuition and fees to all Filipino children except for voluntary fees allowed by law and government regulation.
[4] Nationwide survey of high school seniors in public secondary schools conducted by the Department of Education, March 2005.is a terminal course. But employers are finding it difficult to hire 16-year olds straight out of high school. Therefore, high school has to provide these graduates with sufficient skills and knowledge for them to be employable or to start their own businesses. For this, we need more high school years, not less.THE EDUCATION INFRASTRUCTUREPrior to World War II, the Philippine basic education cycle was already 11 years (Grades 1-7 plus HS I – IV). The long-term plan under the Commonwealth Government was to expand the cycle to 12 years to “catch up” with the industrial world. The prescribed structure under American colonial rule was to be six years of elementary, three years of junior high school and three years of senior high. The first step was to take out Grade 7. This was done almost immediately. But the subsequent step of expanding the high school and creating the junior and senior levels was never carried out. Thus, we “retreated” to a 10-year basic education cycle while the rest of the world moved forward on to a 12-year standard.We need to reverse that poor decision made seven decades ago and join the rest of the world which recognizes that knowledge has expanded, not contracted, during this period of rapid economic and technological expansion and eventual globalization.Our view to quality education must be holistic and long-term. We must have a conscious strategy to build all parts of the system to address different learning objectives and outcomes.Pre-school through Grades 1-3 are the formative years. Every child must become an independent reader in English or Filipino or both. At the same time, every child must be numerate with proficiency in the four operations of arithmetic to multi-place numbers. The combination of literacy and numeracy is the foundation for functional literacy so important a basic tool for the workforce.Grades 4 to 7 are the years when children learn higher order thinking including a strong foundation in Science (e.g. an inquisitive mind).At the High School level, differentiation between junior and senior high school would be desirable.What would be covered in junior high school? Core subjects that are fundamental to life-long learning: English and Filipino communication skills; general and specific Science; Mathematics (Algebra and Geometry); and Social Studies, history and geography of the Philippines and the World. These are subjects that should give children a well-rounded education and provide them with a desired level of general competencies that would be useful for the world of work if they choose not to continue on to university.At the senior high school, a complete set of electives in three streams of study should be offered to students (and their parents) in response to and anticipation of their own life objectives.· For those interested in going on to university: College preparatory electives in all five core subjects. College placement exams could be administered for exceptionally bright students allowing them to move immediately into their own desired majors. This could mean significant and real savings for parents.· For those desiring to work or set up their own enterprises: Business electives including accounting, economics, marketing, packaging, etc.· For those looking to work in an agricultural setting: Agri-business electives including agri-technology, new farming methods, fisheries and aquatic resources, forestry and fishpond technologies.CHOICES TO BE MADE An expanded elementary cycle is essential to learning the fundamental 3-R skills of “reading, (w)riting, (a)rithmetic” necessary for life-long learning. Over time, every child must also be given access to universal pre-schooling.Expanding to a five (or six) year high school is necessary to add content needed to develop the competence needed for college or the world of work. By not developing competence, we are not going to develop a productive work force. And without a productive work force, we may as well forget about being a competitive economy.There are huge investments and structural reforms that need to be made and which will take time to produce results. But if we do not make the hard decisions today and invest heavily, the rest of the world, particularly our ASEAN neighbors, will leave us behind if they have not already done so.In 2004, the Arroyo Administration killed the Bridge program – the first step to building a 5-year high school system – as being anti-poor. For the president, the additional year added an unnecessarily “burden” to already poor families. Thus, the opportunity to embark on a structural reform that would have expanded our education cycle was lost at that time. If we had embarked on the Bridge program in school year 2004-05, we would have had a five-year HS in place by school year 2008-09. Instead, five years were wasted and at the end of the Arroyo Administration in 2010, we would not have moved forward in this regard. A real opportunity lost by misguided populist considerations.Everywhere in the world today, more education is seen as a major key to breaking the vicious cycle of poverty. To paraphrase one of the great presidents of our country: For those who have less in life, Government must provide more in education.[1]We should support a 12-year expanded basic education cycle. We need it for the Philippines to become competitive and at par with the rest of the world.

[1]President Ramon Magsaysay once said: “For those with less in life, they must have more in law.”

FIVE REASONS FOR AN EXPANDED HIGH SCHOOL PROGRAM[1]Reason #1. Global Competitiveness The global standard for basic education is 12 years (UNESCO). In a 12-year basic education cycle, a child is presumed to have developed sufficient knowledge, higher order thinking skills, and analytic tools for university or the world of work.Philippine basic education is the shortest cycle of any country in Asia for those interested in university (6 grades of elementary plus 4 years of high school). Viewed from the outside, this cycle is not seen as long enough to cover subject matter other countries now include as part of basic education. Instead, we cram the same 12-year curriculum into a short 10 year cycle. The result: skimpy coverage leading to little or poor learning.Two more years of schooling will give children more time to read, write and do exercises and problem sets for the same global curriculum. Reason #2. College Preparatory The Presidential Task Force on Education (PTFE) set up by the Arroyo Administration concluded that HS graduates are not adequately prepared for university as evidenced by the number of failures in college entrance examinations.Ironically, the recommendation is to add an additional year to college as a “bridge” between secondary and tertiary education. This is essentially a remedial program to prepare students to re-take university entrance exams. Since 70% of all universities are private, the pre-baccalaureate program will have to be paid for by parents and not the Government.

[1] Abridged from an essay published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer and BusinessWorld, September 2004 (original). Updated August 2010 with additional data.

At the same time, universities are having to expand the number of years to complete a full degree. Fewer universities now offer a degree in four years. Most courses include up to three summers to complete or the equivalent of an additional year.Why the additional year of college? Because first year college offerings called “General Education” are, in fact, HS subjects. An additional year of HS will better prepare students for university.Reason #3. Preparation for the World of Work A DepED survey in 2005 revealed that 44% of public HS graduates are not interested in university or technical school after graduation. The reasons are varied; some economic, others academic.Are HS school graduates ready for the world of work? Are employers finding HS graduates ready for work?The consensus among employers: A HS diploma with its current coverage is inadequate for their purposes. Graduates show deficiencies in their ability to communicate, to think logically and to solve problems. The levels of math, basic science and English language skills are below par. And increasingly more employers need graduates who are computer literate.An extra year of high school with technical-vocational offerings will provide the additional time needed to more properly mold graduates for the world of work.Reason #4. Public Support of the idea of a Fifth Year of High School Is the public against a fifth year of high school?In August 2003, DepED commissioned SWS (Social Weather Station) to poll the general public in preparation for the HS Bridge program in 2004.Seventy percent (70%) of parents polled agreed to a Bridge year (and therefore a 5-year HS) if their children were found to score low on the HS Readiness Test. More in Mindanao (76%) agreed than in Luzon (69%), Visayas (67%) or NCR (65%). Ten percent (10%) were undecided and 20% disagreed with more in the Visayas (26%) and NCR (25%) than Luzon (18%) and Mindanao (15%).Among socio-economic classes, all agreed to the additional year of high school to the same extent (ABC = 72% versus D and E = 70%). Household heads with only an elementary education were more supportive of the additional year (73%) than those with at least a college education (64%). Clearly those with less education in their lives did not wish for the same for their children.Reason #5. Parents voluntarily took to the Bridge ProgramIn May 2004, DepED conducted the National HS Readiness Test to determine the readiness of elementary graduates for high school. Less then 1% passed the test at 75% mean passing score (MPS); 7.5% passed at a 50% MPS.Based on this, half of all elementary graduates were to take the Bridge year to better prepare them for regular HS. The other 50% would go directly to HS-I. Thus, Bridge students would take a five-year high school program. All others would move on to the regular four-year high school course.In June 2004, President Arroyo moved to cancel the program. With DepED moving as a group, a compromise was reached: The Bridge year would be voluntary.The nationwide bulletin read: “Parents will decide at enrolment whether to send their children to the Bridge Program or to the Regular High School I Year.” Those scoring below the 30% cut-off were “strongly advised” to take the Bridge; those who scored from 31-50% were “strongly encouraged”. Nobody was required to take the Bridge.A total of 2,945 schools offered the Bridge on a voluntary basis (49.33% of all HS) enrolling 240,885 students (20.77% of the freshman cohort). The highest Bridge enrolment rates were in Regions V (46.7%) and II (43.5%). The lowest were in VII (26.2%), I (27.8%), III (29.0%) and NCR (29.6%).The voluntary enrolment showed that a significant number of families nationwide accept the value of the additional year of schooling to their children’s future.
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