By Renato G. Mabunga, Ph.D.


The 1987 Philippine Constitution speaks elaborately of the right to education.  It vows to “…protect and promote the right of all citizens to quality education at all levels, and… take appropriate steps to make such education accessible to all… (1987 Philippine Constitution, Article XIV).  In principle, the Philippines takes cognizance of the normative characteristics or elements by which the right to education is founded namely: quality education, accessibility of the right and non-discrimination.  By being so, bonded itself to the obligatory nature in realizing the right both legally and politically.

The Philippine, as a state signatory to various instruments providing normative contents to the right to education, is bound by all these treaties and declarations to provide legislative as well as administrative frameworks for the realization of this right.  It must concretize its commitment to promote, protect and fulfill human rights in its development plans.

Politically, according to the Right to Education Project (2008), right to education is also an enabling right.  It “creates the “voice” through which rights can be claimed and protected’, and without education people lack the capacity to ‘achieve valuable functionings as part of the living.”[i] The state is therefore, impelled to muster political will for the realization of this right.  This is the framework by which we shall revisit the state of Philippine Education in the year 2011.

P-Noy’s Education Reform Agenda:

Year 2011 is a witness to a heightened debate on reforming the Philippine Education System.  It also marks the initial implementation of the Administrations Education Reform Agenda.  In February 2010, Benigno Simeon Aquino III, before the gathering of more than 500 University presidents said: “My education team has designed a way to go from our current 10 years to a K-12 system in five years starting in school year 2011-2012.  Kindergarten to Grade 12 is what the rest of the world gives their children.  I will expand the basic education cycle in the country from a short and insufficient 10-year cycle to a globally comparable 12-year cycle before the end of the next administration.”[ii]  He urged both private and university leaders to join him in the achievement of his 10-point reform Agenda for Education, namely:[iii]

  1. 12-year Basic Education Cycle:  expanding basic education cycle, from a 10-year cycle to a globally comparable 12 years for the public school children.
  2. Universal pre-schooling for all: preschool is required to all public school children as their introduction to formal schooling by 2016.
  3. Madaris education as a sub-system within the education system: full basic education for all Muslim Filipino children adaptive to their culture while providing a sound curriculum in English, Filipino, science, and math. Madaris education, with subjects in Arabic language and Islamic values education, can be integrated in our public school curriculum as additional subjects.
  4. Technical vocational education as an alternative stream in senior high school.  Reintroduction of technical-vocational education in public high schools aimed at linking schooling to local industry needs and employment.
  5. “Every child a reader” by Grade 1”.  By the end of the next administration (SY 2015-16), every child passing pre-school must be a reader by Grade 1.
  6. Science and Math proficiency:  Schools buildings and infrastructure for science and math in schools to fan the field towards producing more scientists, engineers, technicians, technologists and teachers and to be more globally competitive in industry and manufacturing.
  7. Assistance to private schools as essential partners in basic education: Expansion of government assistance to private education to provide alternative learning institutions for children.
  8. Medium of instruction rationalized:  Becoming trilingual nation: Learn English well and connect to the world; learn Filipino well and connect to the country; retain dialect and connect with own heritage.
  9. Quality textbooks:  Textbooks will be judged by three criteria: quality, better quality, and more quality. Poor quality textbooks have no place in schools.
  10. Covenant with the local governments to build more schools: building of schools in areas where there are no public or private schools in partnership with local governments, as well as address the persistent classroom and teacher shortages. Schools must have smaller populations so that teachers, students and parents can form a real learning community.

The Debate:

Towards the last quarter of 2010 until the first half of 2011, debate ensued as to the real situation of the Philippine education system vis-à-vis the 10-point agenda of the Aquino Administration.  Issues were narrowed as to the pros and cons of the education reform agenda and the K-12 program of the government.  In Dr. Isagani Cruz’s Mini Critique column (The Philippine Star. Oct. 14, 2010), he summed up opposing positions on the program.  Arguably, K-12 and P-Noy’s Education Agenda were grounded on the needs and analysis that:

  • Enhancing the quality of basic education in the Philippines is urgent and critical.
  • The poor quality of basic education is reflected in the low achievement scores of Filipino students.
  • International test results consistently show Filipino students lagging way behind practically everybody else in the world.
  • The congested curriculum partly explains the present state of education.  Twelve years of content are crammed into ten years.
  • This quality of education is reflected in the inadequate preparation of high school graduates for the world of work or entrepreneurship or higher education.
  • Most graduates are too young to enter the labor force.  They do not reach the legal employable age of 18 when they graduate from high school today.
  • The current system also reinforces the misperception that basic education is just a preparatory step for higher education.
  • The short duration of the basic education program also puts the millions of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs), especially the professionals, and those who intend to study abroad, at a disadvantage. Our graduates are not automatically recognized as professionals abroad.
  • The short basic education program affects the human development of the Filipino children.

On the other hand, ordinary people contend that the K-12 proposal is rendered problematic within the present context it is intended.  He said:

  • Parents have to shell out more money for the education of their children.
  • The government does not have the money to pay for two more years of free education, since it does not even have the money to fully support today’s ten years.
  • DepEd must first solve the lack of classrooms, furniture and equipment, qualified teachers, and error-free textbooks.
  • We can do in ten years what everyone else in the world takes 12 years to do. Filipinos right now are accepted in prestigious graduate schools in the world, even with only ten years of basic education.
  • As far as the curriculum is concerned, DepEd should fix the current subjects instead of adding new ones. The problem is the content, not the length, of basic education.
  • A high school diploma will not get anybody anywhere, because business firms will not hire fresh high school graduates.
  • Every family dreams of having a child graduate from college.
  • While students are stuck in Grades 11 and 12, colleges and universities will have no freshmen for two years. This will spell financial disaster for many private Higher Education Institutions (HEIs).
  • The dropout rate will increase because of the two extra years.

Both camps have sound arguments and neither have they disproved each other’s position.  While the government thinks strategically, the opposition takes premium to the practical implications and immediate doables.   Both are convinced of the current state of education in the Philippines: the question of accessibility and the problem surrounding quality of basic education.

(to be continued)

(2011 Philippine Right To Education Situation: 2nd of 3 series)

[i] Defining Right to Education.

[ii] Coordinating Council of Private Educational Institutions (COCOPEA). Press Release, February 11, 2010.

[iii] P-Noy’s 10-point agenda on Education.