By Bianca Lim

Following the birth of the K-12 program, the country was thought to be on its way to achieving quality education, that of which was comparable to international standards… until it wasn’t. 

K-12 as the Solution 

As a product of major education reforms, the 12-year cycle of basic education brought about by the K-12 program was not always the case in the Philippines. Before the onset of the Second World War, an 11-year cycle consisting of seven years of elementary and four years of high school was utilized. Later, after the war ended in 1945, this shifted to a 10-year cycle with six years instead of the previous seven years dedicated to elementary education. 

However, according to the Commission on Higher Education (CHED), the continuance of the 10-year basic education cycle for sixty years eventually led to the Philippines being the only country in Asia and one of the three countries in the world that has not implemented the 12-year cycle. As such, the evident lag behind the international standard of education posed a challenge to Filipino graduates who entered the global workforce, wherein the presence of this discrepancy ultimately undervalued them. 

The Enhanced Basic Education Act of 2013 or Republic Act No. 10533 approved by former President Benigno Aquino III, therefore, served as an outline for reforming the education system of the country, including the implementation of the K-12 program. Specifically, this requires the completion of at least one year of kindergarten education, six years of elementary, and four and two years of junior and senior high school, respectively. 

Apart from meeting the global standards and augmenting the competitiveness of the country’s workforce, the K-12 program was made to address issues in the curriculum itself, such as its congestion and quality, as well as to provide a longer time to better prepare students for higher education or employment, since graduates of the K-12 program have already reached the legal employment age of 18 years old. 

K-12 as the Problem 

While presented with promising outcomes, the realities of the current implementation of the K-12 program in the Philippines display minimal progress, indicators of which are the results of the country’s participation in two different assessments, namely the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) in 2018 and the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) in 2019, both of which clearly showed its relatively poor performance, with it ranking last or next to last in each area assessed. 

Additionally, in the 2019 Southeast Asia Primary Learning Metrics (SEA-PLM), it was revealed that only 10 percent of the country’s Grade 5 students exhibited sufficient reading proficiency to properly transition to secondary education. 

In the paper "Senior High School and Labor Market" published by the Philippine Institute for Development Studies (PIDS) in 2018, the benefit of employment after finishing K-12 also seemed uncertain, as majority of the students believed that companies would rather hire college graduates. Concurrently, an interview with 26 firms in the country showed that companies are still unsure about the aptness of senior high school graduates in the industry. 

Other external problems were also accentuated by the implementation of the K-12 program, including its dependence on the private sector. In particular, the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) highlighted the inadequate number of public senior high schools and that, despite the presence of a voucher program, only socioeconomic classes C and above can typically afford a private school. The degree of this problem is further illustrated by the decrease of roughly 200,000 annual enrollees after private schools closed down during the pandemic. 

The Next Role of K-12 

With the existing ambiguity present in its role, CHED has conveyed its interest in reviewing the K-12 program, especially the contrasting goal of honing students for employment or for higher education. 

"Are we producing students who may not be as ready for university education? Or are we producing K-12 graduates that the industry is hesitant to employ? So we’ll have to study that in the evaluation of K-12," Chairman Prospero de Vera said in a press conference last June 22. 

However, having already identified the need to meet international standards, the abolition of the K-12 program will likely be an indication of regression. Instead, the reassessment and reform of its implementation, including the revision of the curriculum, is called for. 

While the improvement of the K-12 program translates to the improvement of the vessel for achieving quality education, the path itself—the availability of resources and facilities, the accessibility, and the welfare of both the students and the teachers—must also be taken into account. The success in integrating these into future initiatives will inevitably dictate whether being a solution or a problem is the next role of the K-12 program in the country.