Serious Problems with the K-12 Senior High School Curriculum

During the DepEd-CEAP Mindanao Summit organized by CEAP’s National Basic Education Commission (NBEC) and co-hosted by Ateneo de Davao University on 17-18 February, the intention was to appreciate progress attained in the implementation of the K-12 educational reform and to understand the requirements of the Anti-Bullying Act of 2013 (RA 10627) for the Mindanao schools.

The presentation on the content of the Anti-Bullying Act was straightforward.  Atty. Joseph Estrada combined competence with humor – overcoming an irksome cough! – to describe the content of the law and clarify its requirements for the schools.

But the presentations on the K-12 were more problematic.  Brother Armin Luistro, FSC, DepED Secretary, who’d come to the Mindanao Summit despite an injury sustained in a basketball match among Cabinet members, spearheaded the presentations with an update on where K-12 is.   He reminded all of a prior commitment: basic education was not merely to be reformed, but transformed.  It was to be genuinely “learner centered”.    He pointed to a nearly-completed K-12 curriculum that would allow for creativity, innovation, and in Mindanao,  a “Mindanao perspective.”  Therefore, such features as the mother-tongue based education, and an assessment system based on the conviction, “No child is a failure!” were to be appreciated.  He encouraged Catholic schools in Mindanao to return to their original religious charisms to understand how each might contribute uniquely to the success of the educational reform.   In Mindanao, special challenges that Catholic schools might address would be the educational needs of the Indigenous Peoples, of the out of school youth, and even of the street children.

Over-Congested Curriculum

No problem with that.  When Mr. Elvin Ivan Y. Uy, DepEd’s K-12 Program Coordinator, presented the status of the Senior High School curriculum, problems began to emerge.   He echoed Bro. Armin’s summary of the reform as “Learner-centered” education.  But from the Power Point Presentation entitled: “The K-12 Curriculum: CEAP-NBEC Summit”  he spoke of “31 total Subjects” required for Senior High School, 15 of which were “Core Subjects” and 16 of which were “Track Subjects,” the latter broken down into 7 “Contextualized” subjects and 9 “Specialization” subjects.  From the same slide came the “non-negotiable” announcement:  “Each subject will have 80 hours per semester.”

The latter came as a shocker to curriculum planners from within the assembly like Dr. Gina Montalan, Dean of the College of Education Ateneo de Davao University, who was quick to point out that this would mean 6.5 hours of contact hours daily in the senior high school for the DepEd’s required courses.  If this were to be reckoned in today’s college units, this would be the equivalent to a whopping 32.5 units – where college students – who need time to read and study outside of class – should be taking no more than about 20 units.  The heavy daily 6.5 hours of required DepEd courses allowed little room for “mission-driven” schools – as all CEAP schools are! – to add courses required by their educational mission.  These include subjects such as religious education or theology, philosophy, and special formational courses such as in leadership training.

From the floor, Dr. Montalan suggested that the 80 hour per semester per course requirement be tempered into 80 hours for some courses, and less for others.  She even suggested that if the 80 hours per course be truly required then classes be allowed on Saturday in order for the mission schools to be able to accommodate their subjects.  Bro. Armin, sensitive to the learner,  was not too enthusiastic about the latter, and suggested that some of the mission courses might be the content of the required DepEd courses.  How that might sit, however, with zealous guardians of disciplines or DepEd officials more sensitive to the letter of rules than their spirit is a serious concern.

It was because of this that the CEAP-DepEd Mindanao Summit unanimously passed a resolution that the DepED, in consultation with Mindanao educators on the ground revisit the 80 hours per subject requirement.

Tec-Voc Track Won’t Prepare Students for Work as Industry Requires

A similarly serious problem came with the presentation of Fr. Onofre G. Inocensio, Jr., SDB, Superintendent of Don Bosco Schools and TVET Centers, on “Implementing the SHS – Tech-Voc Track.”  All know that the Don Bosco schools are long-time recognized experts in technical vocation educational training.  Basically, Fr. Inocensio explained that the senior high school “core curriculum” requirement is so heavy that there would be no time to develop the hands-on skills in the students that such as the manufacturing industry requires.   There is adequate time to train manicurists and pedicurists, but shall these provide the skills necessary for industrial development of the nation.  Within the time-constraints of the senior high school, Fr. Inocensio’s thesis is that it is not possible to truly develop the multi-skilled students needed for industry.  He confirmed his thesis in recent dialogues with industry:  what is important is not that the student has gone through a required number of hours in vocational training, but that the student actually have the skills required by industry.  His solution:  for the Don Bosco schools, they will focus on teaching the skills as required by industry, using skilled teachers and the industrial machinery and equipment required to impart them, and insure thereby that the student be employed.  To do so they will set aside the DepEd requirement of the core curriculum.  Once employed – without having graduated from senior high school! – the student will be given the opportunity to come back to school and finish the academic requirements that might also qualify him for college.

For the K-12 program, however, this position is disastrous.  The K-12 program was precisely supposed to either prepare students for gainful work after basic education or prepare students for college.  The either/or has become a both/and.  It intends both to equip the students with the skills necessary for gainful employment and to prepare them for college within the same time constraint.  And because the designers are all college graduates with PhD’s from the best of higher educational intentions, but without the experience of training students in handling a lathe or a welding machine, we now have a policy which has effectively shut out meaningful skills development in favor of pre-college preparation.  The K-12 program has been reduced thereby to pre-college preparation whose “core curriculum,” according to Mr. Elvin Uy, will prepare the student for college according to the College Readiness Standards of the CHED.

Originally, there was supposed to be a pre-work track and a pre-college track.  Pre-work would equip students with industry-required skills.  The pre-college track (not the core curriculum common to all!) would prepare students for college according to CHED’s college readiness standards.

Despite the fact that the K-12 reform was inspired by the conviction that not all need to go to college, it is designed so that all can go to college.  This either disrespects the requirements for work, or disrespects the requirements for college.  DepEd has chosen to disrespect the requirements for work.  For Fr. Inocensio to continue respecting the requirements for work, he must sacrifice the DepED requirements for senior high school.

In fact, in the presentations given by Dr. Tina Padolina on the Science, Technology and Mathematics (STEM) strand and by Dr. Maria Luz Vilches on Humanities in Senior High School, many of the subjects like Qualitative Research and Quantitative Research “sounded very HEI” – like belonging more to college or even graduate school education rather than to basic education.   I squirmed to find out that future nurses shall be categorized under STEM and so be required to take even modified calculus.  Is this really necessary?

So again, the participants of the CEAP-DepED Summit in Mindanao unanimously resolved that the DepEd revisit the requirements for the Tech-Voc Track.

Flexibility Required:  Less May Be More

Of course, putting together curricular requirements for the K-12 reform is one thing.  Teaching them is quite another.  A curriculum is like a wish list, but all the components of curricula need real teachers.  Here is, I think, where reality will demolish the conceptual castles some may be taking satisfaction in in the formulation of these curricula.  For K-12 to succeed in being truly “learner centered” if must be realistically teacher and region sensitive.

In the implementation of the K-12 reform, it must be clearly set in policy that these curricular “requirements” for a long time cannot be decreed “‘FYI’ – for your information” (as was asserted by one speaker at the Mindanao Summit), but shall have to be “tentative” and subject to the educational, pedagogical and industrial realities of the country’s many different regions – including the actual skills sets of our available teachers.  The outputs of a relatively high concentration of highly-qualified educators in the Metro Manila areas cannot be expected in provincial areas.  Tec-Voc training in industrial areas will have to be different from that in rural areas.  Policy must be set so that there is ability to put the senior high school together and operate with the limited resources of particular regions.

At this point, DepEd needs to take more of a dialogical rather than a prescriptive stance;  it must be encouraging and empowering, not over-demanding and discouraging.  It must capitalize on the good will of people who want this reform to work.

In this sense, less may truly be more.

About Joel Tabora, S.J.

Jesuit. Educator
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5 Responses to Serious Problems with the K-12 Senior High School Curriculum

  1. Maria Dolores R. Colayco says:

    Wow……yes less is truly more……less know-it-alls!

  2. We all know that Philippines is a third-world country and even if we say that this K to 12 is a good program, still it will face many problems especially financially. In the first place, even without these additional years in school we can still acquire good education if we only have more classrooms and teachers to avoid having more than 40 students in one room.

  3. Ryan says:

    Excellent article and run down of a wonderful seminar that discuss the current pressing issues of the K+12 system. Although I have no qualms on the spirit of K+12 but I feel that this major change must be undertaken with much much much more time, patience, and careful study. I pray that more level headed thinking and emphatic attitudes for the plight of the Filipino student drive the implementing leaders of K+12. A blotch implementation can have a resounding negative effect towards whole generation of Filipinos.

  4. Jason Young says:

    Good article with precise points of contention. I would say that right from the start this program could have been planned better by these Ph.D.s. All these minds and all they’ve done is complicate a seemingly straightforward implementation.
    1. They should not have lowered the ages for grade entry – children entered Gr1 when 7yo and entered HS1 when 13yo. Now it’s 6yo Gr1 and so on starting 2012. You can see in the private school transition chart ( We used to enter Gr2 at 8yo but now these 8yo this SY are in Gr3! So,…
    A. The complete cohort (started Gr1 in 2012) will have just added one year of schooling compared to us oldies. We’ve effectively promoted all the kids by one grade level without making them older or more learned. We, Filipinos, are really the smartest people – we’ve actually just added one year to our schooling but made people believe it’s two years.
    A.1. The only kids who actually have added two years are the ones who entered Gr7 in 2012 and affected by the K12 program.

    B. As a result of this age transition, some schools mixed their graduated K1 with the new K (K12 program), or promoted their graduated K1 to Gr1 (either mixed with the graduated K2, or on parallel track), or promoted their graduated K2 to Gr2 (K12 program). These all caused a massive headache. In my case, as a school, I’ve lost students whose parents opted to move their K1-graduated kids to Gr1 instead of K2 because it sounds better.
    B.1. A K12-Gr1 program is actually just a K2 program (pre-K12). We cannot expect young kids to do real Gr1 (pre-K12) topics when they’ve just finished K1, or at that young age.

    C. The K12 program is also further complicated by the two-year SHS. The gains we thought we would achieve by decongesting subjects (there was too much content and too little time; no mastery) is lost.
    C.1. We’ve added one year, but effectively taken away two because of SHS (Gr11,12). If they take tec-voc they should cover what we learned in HS4 by the time they are in Gr10; So, kids are not just starting one year younger at grade level, but they should effectively finish by Gr10 (HS3 for us) what we finished in HS4, unless of course they just get rid of HS4 subjects.
    C.1. Even if we decongest content successfully, some of the time in Gr11,12 will be for Tec-Voc or other specialties (will they continue their academics while taking tec-voc?) so students will still be harried in their subjects, e.g. might not achieve the proficiency we intended in their academics. Those taking the academic track will not have a problem because their learning will continue, but from what you’ve said the Gr11,12 academic tracks will be college prep course (similar to what we had in 1st, 2nd yr college) so then we are again at -1 year for the new kids compared to us.

    In conclusion, as you’ve said, DepEd has decided to disrespect the work requirement in favor of voc requirement. They’ve just made holes in the ship by 1) lowering the age levels – probably to cheat the two-year addition – which lead to actual one year less from the old schooling we had – which probably lead to more congestion of subjects to make up for this loss (which they realize in a couple of years) – or which led to ‘enhancing’ the curriculum (which already entailed spending millions of pesos, and wasting man-hours), and 2) requiring tec-voc for Gr11,12 (problems obvious).

  5. Jason Young says:

    Any new update/assessment on K12?

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