"One of the first things [Duterte] asked me was about the senior high school program, because there was a time before he took his oath of office when he was not decided whether to proceed with it or not," Education Secretary Leonor Briones revealed in a recent Rappler Talk interview.
"So he asked me, when he took me in, and I said 'You have no choice because it is the law. You have no choice because it is urgent. You have no choice because it is a need. And whether it is true that there is a lot of catching up to do, it has to be done.'"
Her commitment, she said, is not only to continue but also to enrich the program, especially since she said there were still "deficiencies" in school buildings, computers, furniture, and textbooks when K to 12 was first launched.
"But now, all these things are necessary, and they have to be supplied. And it needs money," Briones said.
Briones, who was former national treasurer, vowed to speed up and clean up the procurement process in basic education in order to deliver services faster.
'Respond or be left behind'
While Filipinos have been able to compete abroad even with only 10 years of basic education, Briones said graduates before were still less competitive because the rest of the world has already shifted to a 12-year basic education cycle.
"I know for a fact that if one is a PhD, for example, from the Philippines, you go to another country, you will not get the same kind of ranking that you will have in the Philippines because they will automatically count the number of years you have had in basic education as well as in your field of specialization," she explained.
She added: "We're talking about most of our young people whom we have to equip to survive…. We are producing them for our needs here also in this country because competition is right here in this country. And so, we have to respond or be left behind."
But Briones said her department has to be as active with its Alternative Learning System as it is with senior high school. (READ: Duterte's education concerns: Out-of-school youth, displaced teachers)
"There are still kids, and even grown-ups, who cannot read, who cannot write, who cannot do numeracy, and they have to be brought into the mainstream…. We have to help them be useful and contribute to society, and it takes a great deal of effort and investment of funds to be able to...bring in those who are left out."
Other challenges in education, Briones said, include higher levels of poverty and drug use, and the education system being perceived as not responsive to the needs of the business sector, of the country, and of the world.
"There are opportunities for open debate on these important issues which we are now faced with," she said.
In taking on these challenges, she said her advantage is her years of experience in government in different capacities as former national treasurer, and former secretary of the Commission on Audit.
"So I know other things. So you cannot go around me, so far as accountability is concerned," Briones warned as she vowed to build on what she has learned all these years and "use it to move forward, to attain new goals." – Rappler.com
Jee is part of Rappler's Central Desk, handling most of the world, science, and environment stories on the site. She enjoys listening to podcasts and K-pop, watching Asian dramas, and running long distances. She hopes to visit Israel someday to retrace the steps of her Savior.