Sweet Tweet: K-12 approved on 2nd Reading in Senate! But…

This morning I tweeted that after the approval by the Senate of the controversial RH Bill, which followed its strong approval of the Freedom of Information Bill (FOI), the honorable members of the Senate should finally get down to approving the Senate version of the K-12 Bill. The House had approved its version last month.

Almost immediately after I’d tweeted, DepEd Asst Sec. and Chief of Staff, Rey Laguda, tweeted in reply that K-12 had passed the Senate hurdle, despite attempts to amend it along the way. We have really come to an age where hot news comes through Twitter, and I thank Asst. Sec. Laguda for his sweet tweet!

Heartfelt congratulations to Sen. Edgardo Angara, Chair of the Senate Commission on Education, for shepherding this legislation through the Senate. He promised educators he would deliver. He did!

Congrats as well to Sec. Armin Luisto! We’ve come a long way from the last administration’s position that the two-year deficit in Philippine education should be solved merely by adding two years to tertiary education! With the K-12 reform, we look forward to stronger basic education for all our people as the Constitution foresees.

Even as we rejoice at the imminent passage of this legislation – the bicameral conference may actually be today! – we are acutely aware of problems that have been generated by the K-12 program. For DepEd, there are problems as to how to implement the law through the mammoth public education behemoth that DepEd is. A K-12 curriculum has been worked out. At this point, however, it is a good plan, at best – being tweeked continually. Even if it does come to some conceptual stability, it will have to stand the test of actual teachers and actual teaching.

Unto this end, as many know, DepEd plans to hire new teachers aggressively. I guess you can accuse Bro. Armin, being a Lasallian, of many things. But timidity is not one of them. There was no timidity in his announcement that he will be hiring some 60,000 teachers this year for the public school system with a starting compensation of PHP 18,000 a month. Good news? Well, for the public school system, yes. But not for the private schools. Reason? DepEd will be getting its teachers from private schools.

In the private sector when a firm hires personnel from another firm through salary one-upmanship, it is called piracy. In this case, however, where it is DepEd that is recruiting teachers from private schools whose administrators have fully supported the K-12 program, I am not sure what it is called. I think Bro. Armin understands that with this aggressive public sending some weak private schools, already over-dependent on Government’s Educational Service Contracting program, may go under, and accept that as a matter of course. But, should this happen over and over again, one must ask: how much is this in the service of education in the Philippines – where the Constitution actually sees a “complementarity” between private and public education? “The State recognizes the complementary roles of public and private institutions in the educational system…” (Art. XIV. 4[1]).

State spending on public education, and the source of funding for this is an issue. I did my masters in theology and my doctorate in philosophy in Austria and Germany. Both of these are countries where there are no private universities. The state universities are good, providing access theoretically to all, but strictly demanding that prospective students qualify themselves for college by passing a tough exam (“Abitur”). Without “Abitur,” you don’t get into state college. One may admire this system from afar, but even from afar one must realize that the quality of these schools is dependent on heavy state funding, and the sources of these funds ultimately is taxes. Taxes in Austria and Germany are very high.

As a country, we will have to decide whether we want to go in this direction. Allow the private schools to die, then, have all public schools. This is an option. But it has costs – either in the taxpayer’s pockets, or (if sufficient funding is not provided the state schools) in the quality of the education.

If we don’t want to go in the direction of a state where all education is public, then we would have to make some fundamental decisions as to what the relationship between the public and the state schools shall be. We would have to work out the “complementarity” referred to in Article XIV, Sec. 4(1) of the Constitution, possibly by an enabling law.

In this context of “complementarity,” some fundamental questions:

In relationship to the public schools, are the private schools welcome partners, or is their operation resented?

Are the private schools welcome to operate, but only so long as the public schools don’t have the wherewithal to take over?

In higher education, is there a finality to public schools that is essentially different from the finality of private schools. Do the private schools then offer something to Philippine society that the public schools do not?

For the latter question, I certainly believe so. The State schools are owned by the State and are constituted by and maintained with public money. It is appropriate then that the State determine their finality and oversee the quality of their operation relative to this finality. The private schools however are owned by private entities within the State and have ends, which may be quite different from the ends of state schools. They would operate according to the minimum standards set by the State for schools. But performance beyond the minimum standards would be determined by the finalities of the schools embraced in the academic freedom that the State recognizes in them. That is the importance and wisdom of the Declaration of Policy enunciated in RA 7722 creating the Commission on Higher Education: “The State shall … ensure and protect academic freedom and shall promote its exercise and observance for the continuing intellectual growth, the advancement of learning and research, the development of responsible and effective leadership, the development of high-level and middle-level professionals and the enrichment of our historical and cultural heritage.” These are broad, general goals, which can be embraced by HEIs in many different ways.

The same Declaration of Policy then states: “State supported institutes of higher learning shall gear their programs to national, regional or local plans.”

This means that the private HEIs, pursuant to their particular missions and visions, constituted by private money and private educators, may pursue programs that are essentially different from those geared to national, regional or local plans. These may be based on a vision of integral human formation, or transformative education (that may even be critical of the State!), or of the educated Muslim in a plural society, or of the Christian in pursuit of the common good. Here, the guarantor of quality would be the private institutions in academic responsibility. The State has ensured and guaranteed the academic freedom through which the private HEIs exercise quality assurance.

In terms of the common good, I believe the complementarity that would emerge between public and private schools in this sense would be socially salutary. It would be folly to sacrifice the richness of both for the poverty of one.

About Joel Tabora, S.J.

Jesuit. Educator
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