Time to speak out on school calendar

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Sunday, February 16, 2014


I GREW up during the Martial Law years, a period in Philippine history when a dictatorial administration headed by Ferdinand Marcos abolished Congress and governed sans any opposition to its rule. Without anybody scrutinizing its acts, government was free to experiment on anything, including how to run the country’s educational system.

I consider my generation as a guinea pig generation in terms of education. In my elementary years, the grading system shifted from numbers to such abstract terms as US (unsatisfactory), S (satisfactory), VS (very satisfactory) and EX (excellent).

I didn’t remember the school calendar being touched, though, as the then dictator, who was a student of history, apparently respected tradition. The opening of classes was always in June and the closing always in March. That was why I was always able to spend my April and May of every year in Camotes for the summer vacation.

When the administration of Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III decided to add two years to the country’s basic education curriculum, that seemed to open the door towards experimentation, much like during the Martial Law years. That invited proposals to shift the school calendar for one reason or another, including adjusting it to the climate cycle.

I thought that proposal would be subjected to a thorough study, until the Ateneo de Manila University and the University of the Philippines (UP) System, excluding UP Diliman, went ahead and announced they are adopting an August to May school calendar
instead of the traditional June to March.

The main reason for the shift was supposedly to synchronize the Philippines’ school calendar with those of other countries.

“Ateneo needs to ensure that our graduates develop a global outlook and global competencies so that they can navigate a more complex, interconnected world and contribute towards resolving global concerns,” Ateneo president Jose Ramon Villarin explained.

It’s good that the Department of Education (DepEd) refused to be dragged into the fray. While Education Secretary Armin Luistro said DepEd is not closing its door on the matter, he is for a deeper study on the logic of the shift. He should add to that the act of consulting with all stakeholders, particularly the parents who will be the most affected.

In Cebu, I still have to hear of any educational institution announcing a change in its school calendar, which is good because such a stance wouldn’t force the hand of government to come up with drastic changes in the country’s educational setup.

Indeed, Federation of Associations of Private School and Administrators (Fapsa) is already pressuring DepEd to follow the lead of UP and Ateneo.

The school calendar is not just about dates. Considering the length of time it has been in place, it already partakes of tradition. Changing it can’t therefore be knee-jerk but must be well-studied.

The Commission on Higher Education (Ched) has formed the Technical Working Group on the Academic Calendar (TWG-AC) to conduct a deeper study on the proposal to shift the school calendar. The results of the study will be hopefully known in March.

But UP and Ateneo should have waited for that study before deciding on their own. If there is a shift in the school calendar, it should be synchronized and not done by individual schools—or anarchy will reign.

In the meantime, I hope the parents and other stakeholders will start voicing their opinion on the issue. They should also be heard and not just the elite who are heading UP and Ateneo.

(khanwens@gmail.com)

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on February 17, 2014.

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