Paano naman kami?

My June 2, 2015 column.
If anyone noticed, there was less of the screeching and caterwauling that used to characterize the start of the school year yesterday when classes started.  We didn’t see the usual parade of irate parents, harassed teachers, and beleaguered administrators reciting the litany of miseries associated with the Philippine public educational system.  I would like to think this was because we have finally been able to address (to some extent) the many shortcomings in our system.
In addition to the structural programs that have been put in place, I know for a fact that the relative ease in which we met the start of classes yesterday was partly due to Brigada Iskwela.
Brigada Iskwela is a collaborative effort among various stakeholders – teachers, local and barangay officials, parents, and various private organizations – to ensure overall readiness of our public schools.  The Brigada project highlights the power that can be had if everyone pitches in and realizes that educating Filipino children is a shared responsibility among all Filipinos.  If we really come to think about it, educating our children is the best form of investment that we can make towards our future.  Human capital remains our best – if not the only - source of sustainable competitive advantage.
One wishes the same bayanihan spirit were evident in our transition towards K12.  Alas, the implementation of the whole initiative is now threatened, because certain sectors are now raising all kinds of questions and throwing all kinds of obstacles into a path that is already difficult as it is. 
We can summarize all the lamentations into just one howl: “Paano naman kami?” Roughly, what about poor us?
The transition phase will result in a drop of enrollment during a certain period, so naturally, certain groups of schools and teachers have put up a lobby against K12 because of economic reasons.  But instead of lobbying for government support and running to Congress to rush the approval of the Bill that will provide subsidies during the transition period, they want the measure stopped. 
Certain groups that claim to speak for parents are complaining that K12 will add two more years of schooling.  In an ideal world, two years of additional education to make children better prepared to deal with the real world should be reassuring to parents; unfortunately, we are being made to believe that parents out there equate schooling only with expenses rather than learning or development.  Instead of pushing for more scholarships and subsidies and other programs to help families cope, they would rather that K12 be stopped.  I was at a public forum recently where someone pontificated about the supposed evils of K12.  His thesis was that poor families are already not able to send their kids to school, how much more if two more years are added?  The logic stank because quite frankly, if families are going to use poverty as the excuse for not sending kids to school, reducing, adding, or maintaining the status quo would not really matter.  In the meantime, we perpetuate the current system that clearly puts Filipinos at a disadvantage over others who mandate systems similar to K12.  I am not saying we should exclude poor families from the equation; I am saying that we help them directly and not hold hostage the whole educational system.
I could go on and on, but you get the drift.  Those who oppose the K12 program are claiming that the country is not ready.  I have news for them – regardless of what we do, we will never ever reach the state of readiness that they prescribe.  They argue that K12 does not solve the many recurring problems of the educational system.  Well, many of the problems are systemic in nature and will never be solved through piecemeal solutions; we are better off revamping the whole system.  In this context, K12 represents revolutionary change.  If people only see beyond the additional two years of schooling and really study the full implications of the program (for example, the proposed curriculum allows students at senior high school to specialize, and therefore, not anymore go to college just to get jobs) perhaps the nature of the debate would be more constructive.  
We all agree K12 is a foregone conclusion.  I am tempted to inquire where all these people have been in the last two decades that the measure has been continually debated upon.  But for now, I will focus on what, to my mind, should be the relevant question that people should be asking:  How do we all pitch in to make sure that the transition and the implementation is successful?


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