[Welcome Address: CEAP National Basic Education Summit, San Jose Recolletos University, Cebu, 17 Feb. 2017]
After the beautiful liturgy presided over by Msgr. Ely Fuentes and the warm welcome accorded us by our gracious host, Fr. Christopher Maspara, of the University of San Jose Recolletos, it is my privilege as President of CEAP to welcome you to this National Basic Education Summit focusing especially on “opportunities, concerns and challenges faced by the private schools” – perhaps even especially by Catholic schools – “in the implementation of the Senior High School Program.”
The K-12 reform, we all know, was a necessary reform. In the world we were one of two countries that did not have ten full years of basic education. Our high school students were graduating at the age of 16 – still really too young to join the work force as adults and in many cases not ready for the challenges of college. Our basic education curriculum was too congested, our schools trying to do in ten years what other countries do in twelve. In our colleges, many of our courses were regularly remedial in nature, making up for deficiencies of basic education.
So the country took a deep breath, and bit the bullet. With the political will of the Aquino administration and under the leadership of Brother Armin Luistro, the country embraced the K-12 reform. Our association, CEAP, supported it fully. To the ten years of basic education we added from the bottom a Kindergarten to better insure the survival of the grade school cohorts, and on top of ten years, we added two years. Some of us thought these additions would be simple; we were very wrong. We did not want it to be just a continuation of elementary education, we also did not want it to be a college. We wanted something sui generis – unique – in between the basic education high school and the adult culture of college. Early on, I wanted to call it a “career academy” – to focus it on preparation of youth for adult careers. But in the end it was called senior high school, distinguishing it from what is now called junior high school and preparing its learners for a more mature college or for work in the labor mainstream.
You know as well as I that many of us really could not imagine how it could happen, and what role we could play in its realization. Up to today, many of us still don’t believe it has happened and are amazed at the role we are playing in its implementation. Despite opposition to the reform and confusing statements made by politicians who should have known better, more than a million senior high school students enrolled into Senior High School’s 11th grade at the beginning of this academic year. Some of them have landed in the schools we had prepared with much uncertainty and trepidation – not quite knowing whether we would get students, or whether we would have enough classrooms or laboratories or teachers to care for them if they came. We have welcomed them mostly into the SHS academic track – some of them into the STEM strand, others in HUMMS, others in ABM, yet others in General Education. Some of us have been elated by this experience, others bruised or burned. Some of us are bitter, some of us happy, most of us quietly hopeful, trusting in the Lord that missions us to our educational service, but also in ourselves.
That is why we have gathered here at this summit: to listen in hope to experts who can help us with the senior high schools we have given birth to after much anticipation, worry, expenditure, labor and pain. With Msgr. Ely Fuentes and the organizing members of the National Basic Educational Commission, it is my privilege to welcome you all, participants and distinguished speakers. Dr. Dina Abad, DepEd Undersecretary for Programs and Projects, will be speaking, so too Atty. Joseph Estrada, our legal luminary, on educational issues, and even Doris Ferrer of PEAC who will update us on our favorite topic, the SHS vouchers. There will be best practices shared, even insights offered on Vocational Technical education.
As president of the CEAP and for the next few months the chair of the COCOPEA, allow me to say what your other speakers may not say:
First, despite all the problems we may be experiencing in running our SHSs and working with the government vouchers that have become so important for so many of our schools, we have to be grateful that more government money is supporting our learners and teachers in SHS through the voucher program. In the educational environment today, that is not something we can take for granted. In the SHS there is a huge partnership between government and private schools that is working itself out. It is a partnership that we must acknowledge in gratitude and support through the quality service we offer in our Senior High Schools. The partnership needs to be expanded through the increased values of the vouchers that students bring to us in choosing our schools and through increased teacher subsidies that would put our teachers on par with teachers in public schools. In the end both private and public school teachers contribute in complementarity to the education of Filipino students in a single Philippine educational system; it is only fitting that government support all our teachers equally.
Second, we must organize ourselves and our stakeholders into supporting our senior high schools either through their own private contributions in cash or kind or through working together to gain more public support for our senior high schools through increased government subsidies. We must learn how to go to our congressmen and senators, our mayors and our governors, our councilors and board members and win their solid support for our schools. In winning their support our numbers are important. Ten people visiting a congressman is more effective than two, and one-hundred more convincing than ten. On the CEAP regional level, we must be organized to bring our concerns effectively to our public officials. Good education is not merely a private good, it is a common good.
Third, no matter the numbers, the argument for our schools will fall flat if our schools fail to deliver quality education. This means at least reaching the minimum standards prescribed by DepEd. Better, it means distinguishing ourselves in our schools through excellence in achieving learning outcomes; this implies having capable and dedicated teachers; it mean have proper facilities and competent administrators. Quality means achieving what our vision and mission mandates our schools to achieve. It means satisfying the stakeholders of our schools, our parents, our families, our barangay and parish communities, our nation and Church. For quality, the role of external bodies with the external instruments for checking quality will increase in importance. This means, the role of our internal quality assurance mechanisms will also increase, where our schools take primary responsibility for insuring our quality.
Finally, as CEAP schools, we must discover the special niche of the Senior High School in forming the learner into a good Christian. This is a work in progress, subject to actual experience unfolding. Clearly the SHS learner is no longer a child, even though he or she is not quite an adult. He or she is mastering the basics, equipping him/herself solidly for work in the labor mainstream or for the interdisciplinary challenges of college general education and the focused challenges of professional education. For the SHS learner there is so much to discover, so much to explore, so much to integrate as adolescence explodes into adulthood. There is energy, enthusiasm and vitality, even when sometimes there is distraction, despondency and boredom. This is why instruction and formation in SHS are especially challenging, certainly calling forth the best from our teachers in care for the individual and innovativeness in pedagogy for all. Especially in religious education – where the fundamentals of the faith must be learned and owned, and the challenges of the social doctrine of the Church including concepts like the dignity of man, the universal destination of goods, the social mortgage of private property, subsidiarity, solidarity and the common good must be learned and imbibed for Christian Catholic leadership in our society, the teacher must not only be an outstanding communicator; he/she must be an authentic witness. For all this, the administrator must be at heart a genuine educator.
These are exciting times. Thank you for accepting the challenges of SHS as Catholic educators. Welcome to this CEAP Summit on Senior High School!