K to 12: Wasteland

13 March 2012

By Raul V. Fabella

The Philippines has embarked on an enormous P150-billion project — the K to 12 — that is set to add as part of the basic education a mandatory kindergarten and an additional two years to the high school. The mandatory kindergarten is not contentious because there is empirical evidence that it does improve learning outcomes. It is the learning outcomes that should concern us here. I still have to see evidence (perhaps I did not look hard enough) that the additional two years of high school will improve learning performance.

Evidence-based policy making is now a buzzword in the development policy arena. Two celebrated books published in 2011, namely, Poor Economics by Abhisit Banerjee and Ester Duflo and More Than Good Intentions by Dean Karlan & Appel make their mark by hammering home the need for evidence-based policy making. Dean Karlan, who was a speaker at a seminar at the University of the Philippines School of Economics, gave examples of a particular methodology — the randomized controlled testing — results of which inform policy makers of what is actually happening on the ground as opposed to what policy makers believe is happening on the ground. Banerjee and Duflo cited the case of a controlled experiment in India where video cameras were installed in some randomly selected classrooms among the universe of classrooms. The result was a dramatic increase in the learning outcomes of students! This intervention changed teacher behavior in terms of attendance and proficiency, which led to improved student performance. Randomized controlled trials are just one vehicle in the garage of evidence-based policy.

Unfortunately, this evidence in support is precisely what is lacking in the additional two years segment of K to 12. We have only lame statements of belief by DepEd officials that the 10-year cycle is crammed and teaching the material in 12 years will decongest the curriculum and improve outcomes. Nobody seemed to have asked how the congestion arose in the first place. If the congestion came from our penchant to accommodate each and every fad and fancy at every turn to the detriment of 3R’s, then, in time, the 12-year cycle will be also congested and we will need to go for K to 14. Did anybody ask why some courses may not be attenuated, de-emphasized or dropped altogether? Lengthening the years is, however, the path of least resistance and as experience amply tells us promises to be the more disastrous course in the long run. In other words, “tapunan natin ng pera para tumino.”

Learning outcomes have dramatically improved by other means other than lengthening the years. The Dynamic Learning Program (DLP) devised by the Bernidos of Bohol has delivered dramatic improvements in learning outcomes of students with even keeping one day a week, Wednesday, academics-free. It is a matter of good time management, improved teacher commitment and good pedagogy! But these are precisely the stumbling blocks in our current pre-college education does not have the mettle to brush aside. Two more years will not solve these; they will only scale them up.

The province of Bohol is very fortunate that Governor Edgar Chatto has gotten DepEd’s and Secretary Luistro’s leave to implement the Bernido DLP for all public high schools in the province. This a far-reaching and innovative concordat entered into by DepEd and a local government unit. This worthy project will start this June 2012 and preparations are underway. But the additional resource requirement is minuscule and is being shouldered by the province itself. If the learning outcomes are as promising as envisioned, then we can think seriously of scaling it up nationwide. Meanwhile, other provinces similarly motivated should be allowed to follow the lead. That should have been the process followed for any educational reform including K to 12.

Improvements in learning outcomes is the holy grail in every educational reform. Lengthening the number of years was at best a peripheral and lame proposal. It did not involve “a change in behavior,” which is a sine-qua-non for a meaningful reform. It’s just more of the same rotten banana. How it became the 500-pound gorilla in the education agenda is a mystery to me. Sure there were scattered anecdotes of Philippine diploma holders having some problems in the global job market but that the concern for “missing years” could be partly explained by the perceived decline in quality of our graduates. Indian Institute of Technology engineering graduates are highly sought after globally despite no more aggregate number of schooling years than Philippine engineering graduates. Those potentially affected Philippine graduates can solve the missing years’ problem themselves by taking two years more of schooling after college, say, taking an MA privately financed. “Private benefit, private cost” is a healthy economic principle.

K to 12 needs a radical change in operating philosophy. It must go slowly and gingerly beyond the Kindergarten segment and abort any segment unsupported by evidence of learning improvement. For the moment it should be open to the two years being added to the college curriculum on the basis of private benefit private cost principle.

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