Despite the various campaigns undertaken by the Department of Education (DepEd) in promoting its K to 12 Basic Education Program, many students and parents remain "confused" and "unaware" of its implementation when classes in public schools opened last Monday.
Lina Samson, 33, a housewife in Taguig and a mother to three public school students - Grade 1, Grade 3, and Grade 7 students - remains unaware of the K to 12.
"I heard it just now, all I know is there will be two additional years in high school but I did not know that there will be starting with the implementation already," Samson said in Filipino when asked about the program. She was actually surprised that there is such thing as "K to 12" and two of her children will be the most affected this school year.
Grade 7 student Luis Geron also expressed confusion when it comes to the implementation of the K to 12. "I am confused because I'm supposed to be in high school already but we are still called 'Grade 7' students," he said in Filipino.
Geron also expressed anxiety over the implementation of the new curriculum. "When I ask previous first year students, they could not say anything because there will be changes this year. I am nervous because I might have a hard time studying now," he said.
If given a chance, Geron and Samsom would rather stick to the 10-year basic education cycle. "It's hard because my husband is only a janitor and even if education and school supplies are free, expenses for day-to-day living remains a problem," Samson said.
As far as the DepEd is concerned, there is no stopping the implementation of the K to 12 being pilot tested this school year - not even its legality or the perennial problems faced by students and teachers when classes for school year 2012-2013 resumed.
Education Secretary Armin Luistro said DepEd has already taken a lot of preparations for what he dubbed as "most comprehensive basic education reform initiative ever done in the country since the establishment of the public education system more than a century ago."
"I have been saying this before, if we will not start the program now, when?" Luistro asked when queried about reactions regarding the continued opposition of some stakeholders, particularly teachers groups and politicians, to the flagship education reform initiative of the DepEd.
Opposition on the implementation of K to 12, now on its second phase, sparked anew when shortages in basic inputs, particularly in classrooms, teachers, and sanitation facilities greeted most of the 21.49 million students in public schools this year with.
According to DepEd data, 5.76 million students trooped to secondary schools, 14 million students to elementary schools, and 1.73 million to kindergarten in over 45,000 public schools nationwide.
The Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT), Teacher's Dignity Coalition (TDC), and the Manila Public School Teachers Association (PSTA) continued to call on DepEd to stop the implementation of the K to 12 until after shortages in resources have been fully addressed.
According to MPSTA president and ACT national vice president Benjie Valbuena, the K to 12 is "a wrong solution to a wrong problem." The groups also lambasted the DepEd and the government "for its failure to address shortages in the education sector."
"We are calling on the DepEd and the President to stop the K to 12 program because it is not a solution but an additional burden," Valbuena said. He added that that the program has no legislation and has no fund appropriated for it. "We lack preparation in retooling and training for teachers and we don't have textbooks and teaching modules," he added.
Some politicians also called on DepEd to stop the implementation of the K to 12 saying "it has no legal basis." ACT Party-list Rep. Antonio Tinio said that K to 12 should be stopped because "there is no law yet authorizing the implementation of the full K to 12" education program."
Tinio added that the lack of readiness to implement the K to 12 is evident with the faulty curriculum and insufficient funds to cover the basic inputs such as shortages on teachers, classrooms, textbooks, chairs and sanitation facilities.
But Luistro came to K to 12's defense, saying DepEd is allowed by law to develop curriculum for students as stated in Batas Pambansa 232. "What needs legislation is the introduction of senior high school in 2016 and we are not yet implementing additional years this school year," he stressed.
As for basic inputs, Luistro said that DepEd remains mindful with the shortages. "With the collective effort of national and local governments as well as the private sector, we will be able to close resource gaps in the next few years," he said.
DepEd maintained that two of the shortages - textbooks and seats - have been addressed but some schools, particularly in the National Capital Region (NCR), reported that many of their students "still don't have seats and still share textbooks." Luistro said that this is because many students enrolled late. "What we have in schools are for those who have registered early. Since we don't have exact figures how many students will come in this year, some schools might not have enough resources," he said.
Early registration for this school year was conducted in January. However, despite the constant reminder of DepEd for parents to enroll their children early, surge of late enrollees still marked the first day of classes.
After asking some public school teachers to define the "K" in the DepEd's K to 12, they used the words "kulang," (inadequate) and "kumplikado," (complicated) as substitutes. Originally, K to 12 means "Kindergarten up to 12 years" of basic education with emphasis on the additional two years to the 10-year-basic education cycle that has been implemented in the country's education system for the longest time.
But as the DepEd intensifies the implementation of this education reform initiative, teachers and parents continue to see "loopholes" in the program, particularly in Grades 1 and 7 (first year high school) where the new curriculum will be used starting this school year.
Most Grades 1 and 7 teachers - who are among the 140,000 participants trained by DepEd last May - said that the preparation and training are not enough
Valbuena could not agree more, saying that Spiral Approach - which is one of the main highlights of the new curriculum - is "impossible" for teachers. The basic premise of the Spiral Approach is that students will learn two or more concepts all at once and within the same lesson. "This is impossible for teachers because we cannot be very flexible since most of us have majored in a specific study. For instance, it will be very difficult for a Math teacher to incorporate Science or Biology concepts in one lesson," he added.
Most teachers also complain about the lack of instructional materials for them to use in implementing the new curriculum. They claimed that DepEd "never gave us textbooks or handouts for the new curriculum." To be able to implement the new curriculum, most of these teachers carry additional burden by shouldering expenses for the materials to be reproduced.
Luistro assured teachers that they will not be "burdened" by additional teaching load due to the implementation of the K to 12 Program since the Magna Carta for Public School Teachers provides that "teachers should only teach up to six hours a day."
Luistro also said that the decongested K to 12 curriculum will allow teachers to master the contents and competencies they will develop among the students and will enable them to focus on their areas of expertise.
No Permit, No Exam
Meanwhile, some 1,345 Catholic schools nationwide registered as members of the Catholic Educational Association of the Philippines (CEAP) will continue to implement the "No Permit, No Exam" policy despite a proposed bill that seeks to penalize schools that will refuse to give examination to students with delinquent accounts.
In a Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) News post, CEAP Executive Director Rhodora Angela Ferrer said, "Catholic schools merely relying on tuition to sustain their operation will find it difficult to operate if students are not obliged to settle their accounts as a requisite for taking preliminary, mid-term, and final examinations. The existing policy in the Manual of Regulations, which does not allow schools to prevent students who have back accounts from taking their final examinations, is fair enough to the student and the school."
"If the policy includes mid-term examinations, as the proposed bill suggests, private schools solely relying on tuition and school fees will find it difficult to manage their finances," she added.
Private schools must not be "over-regulated particularly in the area of fiscal management since Catholic schools are non-stock and non-profit educational institutions," Ferrer said. (With a report from Christina I. Hermoso)