Soyez Realistes (Be Realistic)

There are dozens of things that could be considered questionable, problematic, and even incredible (in the not-credible, or with no scientific basis, sense) with the Aquino government’s K to 12 program, and so, where to start?

Perhaps we can begin with the fact that even the most fundamental things needed for a healthy education system, the responsibility of the national government thru the Department of Education, such as adequate classrooms, facilities, books, staff, etc., have not been addressed for decades and continues to be unaddressed even until this year, the year before the additional senior high school levels will begin to be offered.  If anything, the problem has been exacerbated since schools will have to continue accommodating students who would have already graduated under the old ten-year basic education program for two more years.

While basic education institutions grapple with this situation, universities and colleges are faced with a two-year gap beginning in 2016 with no incoming freshmen.  Already, some universities and colleges have already begun quietly laying off teachers, beginning with the most vulnerable ones:  temporary lecturers, part-timers, junior faculty with no security of tenure.  Nobody is admitting that this is happening because of K to 12, but if your employment depends only upon contracts that are renewable every year or every semester, the administration really does not have to belabor their firing you (but since many higher learning institutions are now being run like businesses, the operation of the market logic of why-should-I-pay-for-a-non- productive-employee is not hard to see).

The DepEd has a consuelo de bobo for teachers who are laid-off (implicitly admitting that it is happening!).  They can be absorbed to teach at the senior high school levels, especially General Education subjects, but have already been warned that they will most likely face a pay cut when they transfer.  Moreover, this so-called “green lane program” comes a little late in the game, with its launch set only this coming September.

This utter lack of preparation comes right round back again to affect our students, with the DepEd itself admitting that many public schools across the country cannot absorb students entering Grades 11 and 12.  Again, their simplistic solution is for students to transfer to private schools that are able to offer senior high school.  Asking all of us to lower our eyebrows that shot up at the incredulity of making poor students enroll in schools they couldn’t afford in the first place, the DepEd offers its voucher system to subsidize displaced students.  As if my eyebrows couldn’t move any farther up my face, this much touted voucher system covers the pitiful amounts of P12,000 to P20,000, hardly enough to cover tuition in many private educational institutions, much less other incidental expenses such as supplies, books, uniforms and other requirements of which exclusive schools tend to have more.

The K to 12 is supposed to enhance, to improve, the Philippine education system (that’s its complete name:  the Enhanced Basic Education Act of 2013).  But this does not seem to be the case even at the most superficial level of technical and logistical preparations as outlined above.  Things become even more disturbing when we look at towards what directions our education system is headed in the name of this so-called enhancement.

The K to 12’s claim to enhancement is that graduates of the program can immediately be employed without having to enroll in higher education.  This will supposedly give them and their families the fighting chance to economically move up, especially since, it is claimed, K to 12 graduates will be highly in demand for various job positions.

But this system is rigged from the very beginning.

Even before K to 12, only about ten percent of our youth get to enter college, almost invariably for reasons of financial hardship.  Given that this condition does not seem to be changing, I think it would be safe to assume that a considerable majority of our youth (the other 90%) would opt for the non-college tracks, or technical-vocational tracks of the K to 12, in order to finish right away.  I have no doubt that among these children are those who wish to be doctors or teachers, but letting go of these dreams have been made all the more easier with the K to 12 stamp of employability being dangled before their eyes.  We don’t even have to elaborate upon the pressure these young people are certainly under from their family members, such as supporting the elderly and helping in the schooling of the younger ones.

The “optional” nature of the K to 12 is nothing but a sham that would result in the further pigeon-holing of a substantial portion of our population into such banal occupations like air- conditioning repair and operating theme park rides.  And it is difficult to see how graduates who are versed only in inanities such as “the underlying theories of tile setting” (contained in the course description of the Grade 11 specialization of “Tile Setting”) would translate to genuine and holistic national development, the kind that is measured not only in terms of calculable remittances but in the incalculable virtues of an informed, critical, and politically participative citizenry.

The program’s most touted selling point (the business metaphor is so, so apt) that graduates will be  immediately  employable in various “industries” has been such an awfully repeated refrain that there is little room for a differing interpretation other than this is the end-all and be-all of the entire program.  Sure, this is not entirely new (I remember during the heyday of IT [Information Technology] schools when they declared that they provided “education for real life”, implying that a degree that did not immediately result in getting a job was useless), but the K to 12 pursues this outlook to its most dismal end, and indeed legitimizes it as THE guiding spirit by which we educate future generations (the nationalist historian Renato Constantino, who fearlessly and loftily stated that “education is a vital weapon of a people striving for economic emancipation, political independence and cultural renaissance”, must be rolling over in his grave).

And herein are the opportunity and the challenge to all concerned Filipinos to reexamine what exactly do we want our children to learn.  What is education really for?  Is it not to genuinely equalize opportunities for everyone, to help the next generation become a better one than that that preceded them? At the level of the individual, is it not to maximize her potentials for her own fulfillment, for her own dreams to not be fettered?  And in the process to allow her to meaningfully engage with other people and contribute to society?

The K to 12 is but the complete opposite of “enhancement”.  In fact, it firmly stacks the odds against individual persons and our nation as a whole – the first by perniciously offering false options while luring and boxing them into the occupational destiny of servitude, and the second by ensuring that this is henceforth the lot of majority of Filipinos, entrenching us into deeper inequality, exhaustion, and hopelessness.

The K to 12 program (and many more of these pseudo-enhancements besetting education and other social services) may as well be moving under the motto “From each according to commodity-driven economy’s needs, to each according to the businessman’s mercy”.  And, meanwhile, one of the most meaningful formulations on social life ever expressed by humanity awaits our revolutionary efforts in order to be fully realized: From each according to her capacity, to each according to her needs.

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