By Regina Abuyuan


The first time I heard about the proposed K-12 system of education being implemented here, I almost balked. What stopped me was that I was sitting across a senator who was clearly in favor of it. His steely glare told me to quiet down or he would leave our one-on-one.

The worst kinds of mistakes are usually knee-jerk reactions to age-old problems that need analysis, time, critical thinking, and effort to solve.

Where do I start? A paper by Abraham Felipe and Caroline Porio (“Length of School Cycle and Quality of Education”) starts out citing entrepreneurs’ “anecdotal evidence” of Filipinos’ dismal performance with requirements, and relates it to the quality of education. It goes on to cite our low scores in TIMSS (Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study), attributing it to our short educational cycles. The graph and analysis accompanying the paper debunks this, though:

“…The lower left hand corner is the region for low performing countries with short preschool education sub-cycles [6]. Note that the Philippines is somewhere in the lower left hand corner but is appreciably higher than South Africa which is the lowest. Note also that a short preschooling does not condemn a country’s 8th graders to dullness. South Korea has the same length of preschooling as the Philippines but is one of the top performers in TIMSS. At the same time, other countries had longer preschooling (e.g., Ghana, Morocco, 2 years; Botswana, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, 3 years) but lower TIMSS scores.

In the comparable chart for 4th graders (Figure 2), one can note similar observations. South Korea (the top-notcher for 8th graders) did not participate; hence, its 4th graders had no TIMSS records. Australia had a respectable TIMSS score even if it has only one year of preschooling. On the other, Morocco (2 years of preschool), Norway (3 years), and Armenia and Slovenia (both 4 years) had lower scores than Australia.

“Long sub-cycles have been believed to contribute to higher achievement. This notion is clearly wrong in the cases of elementary cycle data. In Figures 3 and 4, the test scores of the Philippines which has a 6-year elementary cycle was lower than the test scores of all 13 countries with shorter elementary cycles (Russia, Armenia, Latvia, Slovak Republic, Slovenia, Hungary, Bulgaria, Serbia, Romania, Moldova, Italy, Egypt and Iran). The only exception was the case of 8th grade tests for Palestine.”

Clearly, the quantity or length of education is not the problem here—it is the quality of the education, which of course spirals into a chicken-and-egg debate about budgets allotted for teachers, classrooms, heck, even chalk and chairs. While I am no economist and cannot spout figures off the top of my head, I do know that parents play just as important a role in nurturing a child’s mind and his desire to learn.

I was a teacher for one semester, and it took all my patience and willpower to not fling the chairs at the students for not wanting to read, not hungering for more knowledge. I assigned them short stories, asked them to read it in class, and tell me, right after they read it, what the paragraph was about. Ninety-nine percent of them could not. And these were college kids!

The child takes cues from his parents. If he sees that education—learning—is an integral part of his parents’ lives, he’ll pick it up naturally as well. If he sees that his parents are “living curious,” to borrow a phrase from Nat Geo, then he will, too.

My twins go to the Center for Blended Learning, a school where the teacher to student ratio is 1:2, and where different approaches to teaching are used, not just the traditional blackboard-homework stuff. They finished first grade in around seven months. They’re looking to finish both second and third grade this year.

While most don’t have access to this kind of schooling, I have to emphasize the importance of my involvement and presence in their learning. School isn’t just a place where I dump ‘em off in the morning. It’s a partnership with the teachers to know where they might need help or reinforcement, or when they are doing well.

That said, I think the government and teachers need to seriously re-think their roles in giving Filipino children quality education. A longer education cycle will not work if the focus is still on rote and not understanding, on blind submissiveness than critical thinking, on the desire to merely pass rather than the value of learning, on the desire to achieve rather than the desire to make a difference.

The K-12 scheme is just another salve to patch over our deeply-rooted, flawed views on education. Just like PNoy’s Social Contract with the Filipino People, it is an impressively put together proposal that’s nothing but pretty words and loose promises. The Filipino needs more than changes based on anecdotes and comments. Change has to start from the inside-out, not the outside-in. It’s not the obvious what that has to be tackled, but the profound why.