“It is an additional two years of working to get my child to graduate. Instead of allowing them to go to college early, they added junior and senior high.”
By GINO ESTELLA
MANILA — Shouts commanding the people in red to run faster. The rhythmic steps of hundreds of feet on concrete. People slamming on police shields.
This was the scene at the Department of Education (DepEd) on May 26 as progressive groups succeeded in entering the compound to protest the administration’s K to 12 program.
The mobilization, headed by several progressive youth groups such as the League of Filipino Students, Anakbayan and Kabataan Partylist, was a picket inspired by New York’s Occupy Wall Street movement. Aiming to stop the new general education program implemented by the Aquino government, the groups dubbed the protest as “Occupy DepEd.”
For Violeta Gading, 68, and Marichu Polo, 36, what they thought would be a quiet protest in Pasig City turned into a tensed picket within the walled compound. This would be the first mobilization they have gone to in their lives. For some, it was also their first time to protest something they do not completely condemn.
K to 12 is the Aquino government’s flagship program which extended the 10 years of basic education with an additional two for senior high school. This includes a curriculum with four tracks: Academic, Technical-Vocational-Livelihood, Sports, and Arts and Design.
The two women were among a group of parents in a sea of youth activists. As the activists raged about how K to 12 is part of the commercialization of education and how it aims to turn youths into cheap labor, the women said they joined the picket mainly as mothers with an urgent appeal: free tertiary education.
An elderly mother’s burden
Gading’s youngest child, an incoming Grade 11 student in Maria Clara High School in Caloocan City, is not even sure if he will continue his eleventh and twelfth years of education. His mother regards the program as cumbersome.
“It is an additional two years of working to get my child to graduate,” she said in Filipino. “Instead of allowing them to go to college early, they added junior and senior high.”
A senior citizen with greying hair, Gading struggles to make ends meet for her children. Her eldest daughter found a new husband, but she has two more who quit college in pursuit of work. Her son is another story, as the first child to experience the general education program.
“He really wants to graduate,” she said in Filipino. “If he graduates, he will get a good job. That will be of great help to our family.”
The elderly woman, along with her husband, funds her child’s studies from selling bottles. Their children work to and from jobs, ranging from delivery to service professions.
She wished for her child to become a journalist. She recalled the child’s winning streak in school press conferences, as well as the medals and certificates from excelling in school. Her kumares seemingly cued response of eyes watering and “Awwws” turned her frown into a smile.
Puzzled about her son’s future, she wonders whether to let her child continue with senior high school. She might make him stop to work in different jobs, she said.
‘K to 12 is alright’
“K to 12 is alright with me,” Polo said in Filipino. She said the current 10 years were not enough for a good education. “Some students even need more than K to 12, maybe K to 24,” she jests, cuing laughter from her kumares.
“Then why are you here?” A kumare retorted, jokingly.
“Of course, I am here because I want free education for my children,” Polo said, echoing a call in long-drawn struggles by parents.
The new general education program, says DepEd, grants vouchers for indigent students to subsidize the additional two years of education. This voucher system, however, does not provide full subsidy, but only P17,500 to P22,500 ($370 to $480) a year. DepEd also imposes a strict set of requirements, and requires online application.
Polo lamented that the K to 12 vouchers were not enough, and they still had to pay P11,000 ($235) a semester in tuition and other school fees for her 16-year old son’s senior high school.
Her son took the Accountancy, Business and Management strand under the Academic track at a senior high school of an information technology (IT) university in Quezon City. While Polo will support her son throughout his studies, his son remains indecisive, contemplating whether to shift to the ICT strand or not.
However, even this shift is a foggy path for them, as the university may not have enough slots to accommodate her son.
Aries Gupit, secretary general of the League of Filipino Students National (LFS), said slots are limited not only in private senior high schools.
“We have gotten reports from public schools where seven sections of Grade 10 students were trimmed down to two when they moved to Grade 11,” he said in Filipino.
The sections may also be reduced as well. Data from the LFS said an estimated 700,000 to one million senior high school students are projected to drop out due to socioeconomic reasons.
“These students, after dropping out, will not be recognized as anything but high school dropouts,” Gupit said.
Amidst all this, Polo still believes in her eldest son. However, with four other children in line for K to 12, she does not know how she will get them all to graduate.
Her voice cracked for a few seconds, and as she was about to let out a tear, she quickly talked about something else.
“This protest would be better if they provided merienda for us all,” Polo said as her kumares broke into laughter.