“The K to 12 program promises three things: work, business and college. It is not even assured that once you graduate from college, you will get a job.”
MANILA – High school and college students from around Metro Manila on Monday welcomed the new school year for public schools with a series of protests against the K to 12 program’s implementation.
Students from progressive youth groups, such as the League of Filipino Students, Kabataan Partylist, Anakbayan and the College Editors Guild of the Philippines launched mobilizations and petition-signing, as they called for a stop to the K to 12 general education program.
“Our day already started at 5 a.m., because that’s when the school gates open,” Princess Calaba, an incoming senior high school (SHS) student from the Batasan Hills National High School (BHNHS) told Bulatlat. She is one of the high school students who joined the protest at the Department of Education (DepEd) in Pasig City.
Calaba, 17, has not yet enrolled in a senior high school for this year. Without a track secured yet, her status as a student is still unsure.
“I have not chosen any track,” she said. She said she wants to take a track that she can work in, and contribute to the most. However, with the lack of available slots, she might be forced to take the track that could accommodate her.
The K to 12 program, proposed and implemented by the Aquino administration, is a general education program that adds two years to basic education. The new senior high school curriculum supposedly allows a student to choose between four tracks: Academic, Technical-Vocational-Livelihood, Sports, and Arts and Design.
“I might be put into the ICT (Information and Computer Technology),” she said in Filipino, a strand under the Technical-Vocational-Livelihood track. “I’m still not enrolled, and I might not be accepted and be forced into home study.”
Drop in enrollment
As the group scoured the National Capital Region’s high schools, incoming Kabataan Partylist representative Sarah Elago led a school-to-school inspection on the school’s dropout rates for senior high school.
There is a stark decrease in enrollment from Grade 10 completers to Grade 11 enrolees in public senior high schools.
Elago said only 89 out of 680 grade 10 completers enrolled in the Batasan Hills National High School, 90 out of 300 in Tondo High School, and 90 in Commonwealth High School.
“It is sad that (DepEd) knows of this, and yet they still refuse to act on it,” Elago said in Filipino.
Earlier that day, Outgoing Education Secretary Armin Luistro and Incoming Secretary Leonor Briones held a a press conference at Commonwealth High School in Quezon City, and lauded the K to 12 in its fifth year of implementation.
This year’s was “the best school opening thus far,” Luistro was quoted in news reports. Briones compared the program’s implementation to building a house: still in development.
However, Calaba begged to differ. “They tell us to allow the program to continue,” she said in Filipino. “They tell us to allow the students to toil and suffer,” she added.
Elago likened the K to 12 to an experiment, with the first batch of senior high school students as the unwilling subjects.
“We will not allow this to happen,” she said. “Millions of children have sacrificed their right to education due to the shortage of classrooms, books and chairs. The practice of shorter hours of instruction still continues,” she said.
Two years of suffering
As the first day of classes closed in public schools around the Philippines, a number of high school students walked out from their classrooms.
Among them were Gail Igdanes and Alexsandra Puerto, tenth graders from BHNHS. They joined the protest because they said they could not stand watching their fellow students suffer in school.
“The buildings being constructed are not even finished,” Igdanes said in Filipino. She said that although some students get to sit on chairs, many are on the floor.
Her school accommodates more than 15 sections per year with two shifts of classes: in the morning and the afternoon.
“They should not have added two more years in the first place,” Puerto said in Filipino. “It is not just us who are being given a hard time, our parents have to work doubly hard as well.”
“Even the teachers have more work on their hands,” she said. “They are not used to the new curriculum, so they need so study it for the program,” said Puerto.
With the change in curriculum, teachers are required to attend seminars, undergo assessment and acquire certificates from the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (Tesda) to be able to teach new courses under the program. K to 12 espouses a ladderized curriculum different from the previous system.
Back in the crowd, the high school students echoed the call to stop the program. “Declare grade 10 completers as high school graduates,” Elago said.
“The K to 12 program promises three things: work, business and college,” she said. “It is not even assured that once you graduate from college, you will get a job. Because of the high cost of tuition and other school fees, college education is unaffordable,” she added.
“It looks like we will become a nation of cheap laborers. We refuse this, and we want a nation of professionals,” Elago said. “We can attain this if we are assured of free public education, and this is impossible under Aquino’s K to 12,” she added.
Under K to 12, DepEd also started its voucher program, which allotted funds to subsidize the tuition of students who will transfer to private schools.
Elago said the program caters to the interests of large business owners, and not the youth, who will benefit most in the ultimate goal of free education.
The groups have already asked Incoming Secretary Briones for a public consultation regarding the program. Elago said the secretary has expressed her interest in a consultation, while the groups expressed their support for the department’s noble mission to give quality education.
Meanwhile, Igdanes and Puerto—both members of Kabataan Partylist—are both hopeful that the protest they attended was a success.