Pass or fail? The K-12 program 11 years after its launch

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines) — In 2012, the Department of Education (DepEd) launched the K-12 Basic Education Program.

Then-President Benigno Aquino III said the curriculum, which added two years of senior high school to the 10-year basic education system, will equip learners with knowledge and skills they need to be competitive worldwide.

Eleven years after its launch, did the K-12 curriculum actually achieve this goal?

World Bank, SWS studies

In 2021, the World Bank reported that around 90% of 10-year-old Filipino learners have a problem in comprehension. This made the Philippines as one of the countries with highest rates of learning poverty – which means being unable to read and understand a simple text by age 10 – in the East Asia and Pacific region.

DepEd, in response, said learning poverty has been the country’s problem for years and it "is proactively dealing with it for the long term." The department said it has launched programs like Bawat Bata Bumabasa (3Bs) to increase reading proficiency among students.

Another 2021 World Bank report said 80% of Filipino children "do not know what they should know.”

Three global assessments showed only 10% to 22% of Grades 4, 5, and 9 students scored “at or above minimum proficiency,” it said.

This had been taken down after former Education Secretary Leonor Briones demanded an apology for the World Bank’s alleged "outdated and insulting" report on the country's educational situation. She also said the government was not informed about its release, which is against protocol.

Meanwhile, a Social Weather Stations poll conducted from June 28 to July 1, 2023 revealed that 50% of Filipino adults are dissatisfied with the K-12 program.

It also reported that 39% said they are satisfied with the curriculum, 9% undecided, and 2% do not have enough knowledge of the program.

Revision of the curriculum

Years after it was implemented, DepEd conducted a review of the K-12 curriculum.

So far, assessment of the K-10 program has been completed, while evaluation for Grades 11-12 is still ongoing.

DepEd launched the revised MATATAG K-10 curriculum on Aug. 11 following a two-year review process consulting various stakeholders like teachers, higher education institutions, private schools, and international experts. 

Under this, the program was decongested by 70% with learning competencies being lessened to around 3,600 from over 11,000 to give more time to "foundational skills for a better learning outcome."

Learning areas in the early levels were also reduced from seven to five to cover Language, Reading and Literacy, Math, Makabansa, and Good Manners and Right Conduct. Meanwhile, peace education will be also introduced with topics like conflict resolution, human security, community resilience, and disaster risk reduction.

MATATAG also aims to teach students about 21st-century skills like digital literacy, critical thinking, non-verbal communication, and informed decision-making.

DepEd wants this to undergo pilot implementation in 35 schools across the country. Formal rollout will begin in Kinder, and Grade levels 1, 4, and 7 by school year 2024 to 2025; Grades 2, 5, and 8 by school year 2025 to 2026; Grades 3, 6, and 9 by school year 2026 to 2027; and Grade 10 by school year 2027 to 2028.

READ: DepEd releases list of schools for MATATAG K-10 curriculum pilot test

Better and less congested curriculum?

President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. expressed his full support for the introduction of the MATATAG K-10 curriculum, set for pilot run on Sept. 25, saying this is targeted to better address the learning needs of Filipino youth.

The chief executive said this would complement the government’s efforts to improve the Philippines’ international score, especially in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

“Also, binibigyan natin ng pagkakataon ‘yung mga after 10th grade na mamili kung sila ay magbo-vocational, magte-technical training or itutuloy nila. So that's more or less the big system changes that we're doing,” he previously said.

[Translation: We’re providing a chance for students finishing the 10th grade to choose which vocational or technical training they would pursue.]

For Vice President Sara Duterte, who also heads DepEd, the MATATAG curriculum is the Marcos administration’s “legacy” in the education sector.

Duterte assured the public that every issue raised by international and local education experts has been settled in the new curriculum, which includes cutting learning competencies from the whopping 11,000 to just over 3,000.

For instance, she said that the number of subjects was slashed from seven to five for Grades 1-3, focusing on math and reading.

Long-delayed overhaul

While the review is already ongoing for the K-12 curriculum, ACT Teachers Party-list Rep. France Castro said aside from decongesting the learning competencies, the government must inject more funds to this front in order to enhance the program.

House Basic Education Committee Chair Rep. Roman Romulo, meanwhile, lauded the current administration’s move to decongest the curriculum. However, he raised the alarm on the supposed lack of urgency from DepEd. 

“We should be alarmed. There should be some sense of urgency, if we can hasten the implementation and focus on reading, reading, reading and basic mathematics. We should do that at the soonest possible time,” he earlier said.

Senate Committee on Basic Education chairman Sherwin Gatchalian, on the other hand, blamed the overcrowded lessons for the 30% to 40% dropout rate among Grades 1-3 students. 

“Because our curriculum is so congested, a lot of our children get frustrated and they don’t enter school anymore,” he said in September.

One possibility is for the child to only resume schooling by the age of 12-14 through the Alternative Learning System (ALS), which Gatchalian said was “not the complete approach.”

"I do agree with Congressman Roman (Romulo) na sana ginawa na kaagad [that this should have been implemented immediately] because of that [congestion], we are seeing dropouts," he said, referring to the new curriculum. “We can only arrest that dropouts if we decongest and launch the new curriculum,” he said.

K-12: Through the eyes of a teacher

Just like other lawmakers' observation, Lorna D. Lacsina, an elementary teacher from Angeles City, Pampanga, also believes the K-12 curriculum is “congested” and presents “many weaknesses” in hitting learning targets.

“So many subjects to be taken and so many competencies to be mastered. Which leads to over information that learners could not all take in,” she said.

Given this, achieving or making targets has become “so vague.”

“As a teacher who is in the service for almost three decades, I have been exposed to different curriculum. I can say that out of all the curriculums that DepEd has carried out, the present K-12 Curriculum has so many weaknesses and it has to be reviewed,” she added.

The pandemic made the situation even worse, the teacher said, stressing that “Filipino learners are having problems in reading, literacy, and numeracy” even before the coronavirus reached the Philippines in March 2020.

As officials moved to roll out a new curriculum, Lacsina said since the MATATAG Curriculum targets to only focus on five main subjects, this could help students “in mastery of competencies among the subjects zeroing in with foundational skills in language, reading and literacy, mathematics and good manners and right conduct.”

However, Lacsina said a proper implementation of the new curriculum must be ensured, particularly in the grassroot level.

“Otherwise it will not make any difference,” she said.