Two different worlds

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By Neil Honeyman

An Independent View

Monday, March 31, 2014


THERE seems to be considerable difficulty in implementing the mandated requirements of Republic Act  10533, dubiously entitled  “The Enhanced Basic Education Act of 2013.” We see no enhancements.

The difficulties arise from the requirement to have a six-year high school program.

Many serious private schools providing a quality high school program see several of its graduates gaining admission to the University of the Philippines (UP), University of Santo Tomas (UST) and Ateneo de Manila (ADMU). This is achieved after completing a solid four-year academic high school program.

UP, UST, and ADMU have reasonable international ranking and are the equivalent of an average State University in the United States. The high school standard in our quality private schools are, therefore, arguably at a par with many American high schools.

Many private school students attend classes for two or even three years before they enter Grade 1. Kindergarten I (for four year olds), Kindergarten II (for five year olds) and Preparatory (for six year olds) will prepare students for Grade 1 which in many private schools is the beginning of an intensive 10-year program (six years of grade school and four years of high school).

This is compatible with the well-thought out draft Bill prepared by Senator Ralph Recto entitled  “The Enhanced Basic Education Act of 2011.” Recto stated, quite correctly, that parents and students are not anxious to complete a high school program lasting more than four years.

There are many problems in implementing a six-year high school program. A major issue is that from what we have seen of draft curricula is that the proposed six-year high school program does not take students any further forward, either academically or intellectually, than the present four-year program.

The Department of Education (DepEd) sees fit to state that the six-year high school program is “compulsory.”  It is not clear that anyone is taking this high-handed “compulsion” seriously.

DepEd  has  also  decided, unilaterally,  that  the  academic “track” of the fifth and sixth year high school program will be held in private schools. DepEd is also cavalier about the costs involved. Various voucher schemes have been proposed by DepEd but none offer more than P14, 000 fees per annum. This latter amount was suggested some time ago by DepEd Under Secretary (Finance and Administration) Francis Varela who said that the amount offered by DepEd could not exceed the total cost of running the Education Department divided by the number of students. This amounts approximately to P14, 000.

But private school fees are much greater than this. Who will make up the shortfall? Public school students are not used to paying fees and many could not afford them even if they wanted to.

DepEd has put itself in a bad position when it comes to the more academically-oriented students.

We believe that DepEd should revert to its position of 17 February 2012, well before R.A. 10533 was being considered, in which it stated “K-12” was voluntary for private schools. A subsequent DepEd order mentioned that private schools were “enjoined” to take part in the K-12 program. “Enjoined”  means advised, perhaps strongly advised, but it nevertheless falls short of being compulsory.

If the government makes something compulsory, then it needs to be free. It is illogical to tell someone that they must take six years of high school and then also to say that they must pay the full private schools fees less the derisory and tardy voucher payments from DepEd.

It is now time for the private schools to be articulate about their concerns.

Non-confrontation can, on occasions, be helpful in finding a solution but DepEd has been too high-handed in the past. Some private schools are seething and it is now time for them to say what they think is wrong.

Public-private partnerships (PPP) may be acceptable, even laudable, in government, but generally the private sector does not agree. This applies particularly to the proposal  (by DepEd) to the private schools supporting the fifth and sixth year high school academic track for public school students.

No one from the private schools has given a cogent explanation as to how this may work.

There has never really been a proper dialogue about how best we can improve our education system. DepEd jumped to a solution, K-12, without properly defining the problem.

Private schools are finding that there is no compelling business case for fifth and sixth year high school because they need the support of those who are going to pay the fees. There is no evidence that this support is forthcoming.

Business planning is essential in the private sector. If the expected revenues are insufficient to meet the high costs involved, then the proposed project will not be implemented.

The Legislative Branch may consider that its work was completed with the passage of R.A. 10533. But the implementation challenges were never properly considered so it is now time for the relevant Congressional Committees to revisit what is becoming a vexed question.

It will be an all-round embarrassment if in June 2016 there are no students willing to enter fifth year high school. 

Published in the Sun.Star Bacolod newspaper on March 31, 2014.

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