pop goes the world: k-12: yay or nay?

POP GOES THE WORLD  By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today,  21 June 2012, Thursday

K-12: Yay or Nay?

The first batch of students under the new K-12 education scheme trooped to school this year, with feedback divided on the merits of an additional two years for basic education.

The rationale for implementing K-12, according to government, is to bring our country in line with world standards in education, where the norm is six years for high school compared to the four we used to require.

The average age of our high school graduates was 16 to 17. So some parents welcome the move for a longer high school period, saying that 18-year-olds would be more prepared for the rigors of college.

The naysayers groan under the additional burden of two years of school fees and expenses. Large families would feel the heaviest impact.

Not only should household finances be considered but also the readiness of government to support this new scheme with infrastructure and personnel. Most reports and statistical data show that both are inadequate at the moment to handle the increased load.

Varying sources claim the shortage of classrooms to be from more than 18,000 to over 97,000. There is also an alarming lack of sanitary facilities such as water and bathrooms, equipment such as seats, and instructional materials including books. There is also a shortage of qualified teachers. The pupil-to-teacher ratio in high school is 35 to 1, compared to Vietnam’s 18 and Indonesia’s 12.

Consider also that kindergarten teachers have been hired at a measly contractual rate of P3,000 per month. Apart from this being unfair, the caveat is that you get what you pay for. Are we willing to take the risk that the teachers instructing our children are not necessarily the most qualified, just the ones most willing to work for low pay?

The additional financial burden on families should not be disregarded. In a September 2011 article by Celia Reyes and Aubrey Taguba, researchers of the Philippine Institute for Development Studies, the poverty rate in 2009 was cited as being 26.5 percent.

In other words, one-quarter of our people are, by various economic and developmental indicators, considered “poor”.

In addition to the other causes of poverty, development is delayed or forestalled by various “man-made and natural crises” such as typhoons, which wreak havoc with devastating effect year after year, with some estimates putting the cost at P30 billion.

This ties in with the statement of the PIDS researchers that poverty is “very much an agricultural phenomenon,” with farmers constantly struggling against bad weather, pests, and the negative impact of global warming.

Many of them who are not blessed with good harvests, and those from other sectors below the poverty line, will be hard-pressed for the survival basics, and will let go of expenses such as schooling. Though public school is free, parents and guardians must still provide for their students’ daily needs – food, transportation, and incidental expenses.

Is it a wonder that the dropout rate among youth 12 to 15 years old is around 40 percent?  Millions of people will grow up to be illiterate or only semi-literate; what will be their chances of finding decent jobs? They also pose a possible burden to the state in terms of the latter having to provide funding for social programs that provide livelihood training, greater fund allocation for cash transfer and other assistance, and the like.

A couple years back, I taught college English to freshman and sophomore students in a private university in Makati. I thought I was to teach basic writing skills; instead, I was issued a grammar textbook. I was appalled at how many of my students, aged 16 to 18, lacked knowledge of the fundamentals of grammar.

One day, one of my students asked me, “Can I learn English in two months?”

I told him, “You have been studying English since preschool. If you have not learned to speak it fluently by now, then the system has failed you.”

I quit that same day. I hadn’t realized what I was up against.

Neither can all private schools guarantee a good education. My daughter attends a nun-run private school in Makati. Through the years, she’s had some English teachers whose grammar and pronunciation aren’t of the highest quality; there are times when the students speak better than the teachers. The same goes for science and mathematics.

We need to be sure that students are not going to school hungry; hunger dulls concentration. Other countries provide free school lunches, something we do not even dream of when some classes are held under the trees.

We need school buildings and equipment to be upgraded.

We need more and better-qualified teachers who are paid good wages that uphold their dignity and compensate them fairly for their heroic work of molding the country’s future citizens.

More than “quantity” education, we need quality education. *** 

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