PH basic education: ‘Cramming’ toward ASEAN 2015

Jee Y. Geronimo

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The PH schools should be ready both ways – so it can send students to other ASEAN schools and be absorbed easily, and to be ready to accept int'l students

MANILA, Philippines – When it comes to the impending ASEAN economic integration in 2015the Philippines is cramming things it should have done a decade ago because bureaucracy got in the way then, the education chief said.

In 2015, an ASEAN Economic Community will be established, marking the start of free trade among the organization’s 10 member-states allowing free flow of goods and services – education services included. (READ: ASEAN Economic Community: Are we ready for 2015?)

Speaking to Rappler and Manila Bulletin on the sidelines of an education conference Monday, December 2, Education Secretary Armin Luistro admitted: “The Philippines is having a bit of a difficulty because there are things that we really are rushing and cramming about which we should have done earlier. But the political landscape at that time was not ready, so those things did not push through,” he said in a mix of English and Filipino.

It was a kind of landscape where having separate agencies managing the education system – basic education (Department of Education or DepEd), technical-vocational (Technical Education and Skills Development Authority or TESDA), and higher education (Commission on Higher Education or CHED) – brought division instead of unity to the government’s education sector.

The country only started to see more reforms in the last two years, compared to the last decade, said former Education Secretary Erlinda Pefianco, who also spoke at the conference attended by thousands of educators.

She cited what actions the government has taken from 2012 to 2013 vis-à-vis what has been done in the years before:

basic education reforms
BEFORE 20122012-2013
Trifocalization of Education in the Philippines (by the Education Committee in 1991)  Republic Act 10157: Kindergarten Education Act
Republic Act 9155: Governance of Basic Education Act of 2001 (renaming the Department of Education, Culture and Sports as the Department of Education) Executive Order No. 83, s. 2012: Institutionalization of the Philippine Qualifications Framework
  Republic Act 10410: Early Years Act (EYA) of 2013
  Republic Act 10533: Enhanced Basic Education Act of 2013

The 3 government agencies learned to closely coordinate when they had to help put together the Philippine Qualifications Framework (PQF). It seeks to align the country “with international qualifications framework” to make it easier for workers to move to and be absorbed in other ASEAN countries.

In the basic education sector, Pefianco said we are already at par with the rest of the world with the enactment of K to 12. But there’s more work to be done for both public and private schools in view of ASEAN 2015. (READ: INFOGRAPHIC: 10 things about K to 12)

“If ASEAN 2015 really pushes through, the travel of students, even minors, will happen because it should be cheaper…So there should be more access even to physical travel,” Luistro said.

“Because of that, our curriculum should also be ready both ways – for students to move to another ASEAN country and not to have difficulty being absorbed, and the other way around…we have to be ready also to accept other international students into the DepEd,” he said.

The role of private schools

Pefianco said statistics from DepEd (SY 2012-2013) show private schools are underutilized:

  • 1 out of 5 Philippine schools is a private school
  • 1 out of 10 Filipino pupils is enrolled in private elementary schools
  • 1 out of 5 Filipino students is enrolled in private secondary schools.
  • The school to enrollment ratio of private elementary schools is 1:212. For public, it’s 1:389
  • The school to enrollment ratio of private secondary schools is 1:275. For public, it’s 1:728

The thousand-strong crowd in the conference, mostly from private schools, reacted to this statement, which prompted Pefianco to challenge everyone: “It is time to establish [a] new and more strategic role for private schools as partners for ASEAN 2015.” (READ: 3 things the private sector can do for basic education)

One step toward a more strategic role, she said, is to review, revisit, or even amend two basic documents:

  1. 2010 Revised Manual Of Regulations for Private Schools in Basic Education
  2. Republic Act 8545: “Expanded Government Assistance to Students and Teachers in Private Education Act

Contrasting educators, businessmen

Luistro said for him, there is no other group more apt to look at the integration than the education sector because of how they define a community.

“Educators look at it from [a] long-term view,” he said. “Generally – and this is not a criticism of businessmen – of course they [think] more immediate because they’re talking of money and investment and all.”

“I think, in general, educators look at integration based on how you bring people together. So you bring in culture, you bring in traditions, how societies can come together. Businessmen see it differently. How do you reintegrate the economies of these countries so that it’s easier to invest in one country, it’s easier to hire the best people and move from one country to another?” Luistro said.

Luistro and Pefianco urged educators to revisit the principles of the Southeast Asian Ministers of Education Organization (SEAMEO), which has been around earlier than the ASEAN. 

“There’s a big difference [from ASEAN 2015] because the SEAMEO is from the point of view of young people and educators. If you look at ASEAN 2015, it’s about trade, about economy…For me, merge the two because they have to go through ASEAN 2015. But let us make sure that we keep anchored on the principles of SEAMEO because the principles that created SEAMEO are very good,” Luistro said in a mix of English and Filipino.

SEAMEO launched this year the SEAMEO College, envisioned to facilitate the sharing and exchange of education ideas and initiatives on education among all Southeast Asian countries (ASEAN’s 10 member-states plus East Timor), and other associate member-countries. (READ: The road to ASEAN 2015: Why are PH colleges lagging behind?)

SEAMEO President Pehin Abu Bakar Apong said in an earlier report that the college will eventually contribute to fulfilling the ASEAN Community. –

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Jee Y. Geronimo

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.