The clamor to revise, revamp, or altogether scrap the K-12 program seems to have gained momentum lately, with the latest proposal from former president now Senior Deputy Speaker and Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, aimed at making Grades 11 and 12 mandatory only among those who wish to pursue higher education.

Arroyo’s K-10 Plus Two bill seeks to return the basic education system to its previous setup, with students considered as high school graduates after completing kindergarten, six years of elementary school, and four years of secondary school. Grades 11 and 12, currently known as senior high school (SHS), would be required only for those pursuing a college degree.

Vice President and concurrent Department of Education (DepEd) Secretary Sara Duterte has similarly expressed support for a revamp of the K-12 curriculum, vowing in her Basic Education Report in January this year to make the program “relevant to produce competent, job-ready, active, and responsible citizens.”

Operationalized in 2012, the K-12 setup has been slammed for failing in its promise to produce job-ready graduates after two years of SHS. But a study by the Philippine Business for Education has indicated that only 14 out of 70 of the country’s leading companies across all sectors were inclined to hire SHS graduates. Most companies still prefer applicants with a college degree.

In fact, a study done by the Philippine Institute for Development Studies in 2020 shows that up to 70 percent of SHS graduates themselves choose to continue on to tertiary level to get a bachelor’s degree. Only a little over 20 percent of these graduates entered the labor force, contrary to earlier projections.

As such, the two years in SHS have been described in Arroyo’s bill as an “additional burden to parents and students.” The proposed measure thus set its sights on strengthening the technical, vocational, livelihood (TVL) track in SHS, where DepEd has noted a reduction in enrollment. The agency’s 2021-2022 data shows that only 28.93 percent of SHS chose the TVL track, while over 70 percent went for the academic track.

Indeed, Sen. Alan Cayetano previously noted a glaring lack of resources in certain tracks that has resulted in half-baked teaching facilities. “What was promised was that when you have a sports track, [there would be an] oval, gym, equipment, coaches, and swimming pool. For the technical-vocational track, there should be a garage, testing equipment, motor, and qualified professors.”

Another area that needs attention, Duterte said, was the “congested” K-12 curriculum. Learning areas in kindergarten up to Grade 3 can be reduced from seven to five, she suggested, with these areas focused on basic skills in literacy and numeracy in the early grades, and on revitalized programs in reading, science and technology, and math in latter levels. But DepEd’s plan to merge Araling Panlipunan or history with music, arts, physical education, and health (Mapeh) has alarmed educators and should be studied more thoroughly.

But while the pandemic lockdown has contributed to the country’s dismal ranking in global learning competencies, Duterte herself acknowledged that the education system had “failed” and “burdened” teachers, based on DepEd’s assessment of the K-12 curriculum which showed “insufficient knowledge [among teachers] on developing 21st-century skills, including higher-order thinking skills among learners.”

She added: “This is a system that burdens [teachers] with backbreaking and time-consuming administrative tasks, a system that provides no adequate support, and robs them of the opportunity to professionally grow and professionally teach, assist, and guide our learners.”

And while Duterte herself stressed that the failure of the K-12 program was not the fault of teachers, the competence and skills of teachers play a central role in the education of children. Indeed, more than overhauling, revising, and redesigning the curriculum, DepEd should pay attention to the teaching force to give them all the support to upgrade their skills, have sufficient time and mental wellness to focus on the needs of their students, and the right pay and benefits to take care of their own families. Merely abolishing or overhauling the K-12 curriculum will not solve the poor quality of education if the perennial problems of shortage of classrooms and facilities or lack of qualified teachers are not dealt with.

There is also the temptation to let politicians take the lead in shaping the direction of the education sector. Experts must weigh in with more scientific data before a radical overhaul of the K-12 program, as this could prove disruptive to our already chaotic school calendar, which is now even threatened by the extremely hot weather.

Finally, there is the issue of corruption that DepEd should address if it were to deserve its multibillion budget, including its hefty intelligence funds.