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K-12 Program Reinforces Labor Export Policy

Updated on January 9, 2016

The K-12 program, formalized by Republic Act no. 10533 or the Enhanced Basic Education Act of 2013, makes one year of kindergarten compulsory for children at least 5 years old before entering grade one and adds two years to the current 10-year basic education cycle. According to the Philippine government's official online gazette,, it aims to "provide sufficient time for mastery of concepts and skills, develop lifelong learners, and prepare graduates for tertiary education, middle-level skills development, employment, and entrepreneurship” (Official Gazette, n.d.). The law signed by President Noynoy Aquino on May 15, 2013 was modeled from Senate Bill no. 3286 and House Bill no. 6643.

The framework currently in use by the Department of Education (DepEd) is the K-6-4-2 model which includes one year of Universal Kindergarten, 6 years of elementary education, 4 years of Junior High School which shall be known as Grades 7 to 10, and 2 years of Senior High School which will be termed Grades 11 to 12. Universal kindergarten was introduced in SY 2011-2012 through RA 10157 or the Kindergarten Education Act. Under the Department of Education's rules of implementation of the K-12 program, no student who has not taken kindergarten starting SY 2014-2015 may be admitted to Grade One. The enhanced curriculum for Grades 1 and 7 began to roll out in SY 2012-2013. Gradual implementation of other grade levels will follow as years go by. Grade 11 will have its first class in SY 2016-2017 and Grade 12 in the following school year. The first batch of high school students to complete the K-12 program will graduate on March 2018 (Department of Education, n.d.).

The primary argument used by the administration to justify the implementation of the K-12 program is that the current cycle of 10 years is too congested in terms of its curriculum. K-12 aims to spread the contents of the 10-year cycle in 12 years so as to provide more time for students to understand and apply the lessons being given to them. In the program's launch last April 2012, President Aquino himself even compared the 10-year cycle to force-feeding saying that “You are given ten years to take in, to chew on, and to digest the lessons. There is no time for the children to savor the knowledge they are receiving. You just keep feeding and feeding them.”

The Department of Education also placed the compressed 10-year cycle responsible for the consistent low scores of Grade 6 and 4th year high school students in the National Achievement Test (NAT). For SY 2009-2010, the passing rate for Grade 6 students was 69 percent while for fourth year high school students it was 46 percent. In the latest report of the Trends in International Math and Sciences Study (TIMSS) which aims to assess the global competency of fourth and eighth grade students in terms of Math and Science, the Philippines placed fourth from the bottom among 63 countries that participated.

Supporters of the K-12 program assume that the quantity, and not the quality, of basic education is the main factor in enhancing the curriculum. However, in a study by former deputy minister of education Abraham Felipe and executive director of the Fund for Assistance to Private Education Dr. Carolina Porio entitled "Length of School Cycle and the Quality of Education", they concluded that the length of pre-university school years is not equivalent to a high standard of education. One of the resources they used in the study was the TIMSS results where some countries with longer education cycles scored lower than countries with shorter ones. For example, Singapore with a 13-year cycle ranked higher than United States with a 15-year cycle (Felipe & Porio, n.d.).

If adding more years to the basic education cycle doesn't necessarily translate to a better quality of education, then why is the government still keen on pushing it? The answer can be found in the purpose of the additional two years or to be specific, senior high school.

According to the Official Gazette, senior high school (SHS) covers two years of specialized secondary education. In this level, students may "choose a specialization based on aptitude, interests and school capacity". Aside from the seven core curriculum areas (Language, Literature, Communication, Mathematics, Philosophy, Natural Sciences, and Social Sciences), SHS subjects also contain several electives which fall under any of the three tracks: Academic, Technical-Vocational-Livelihood (TVL), and Sports and Arts.

Students who graduate from the K-12 program are given Certificates of Competency (COCs) which improve their employability in the semi-skilled labor market. Since vocational subjects are introduced as early as Grade 9 in junior high school in the form of a subject called Technological and Livelihood Education (TLE), students who graduate Grade 10 are given a form of COC named National Certificate I (NC I). Students who wish to continue their vocational training may choose the TVL track in SHS. Upon completion of this track, in Grade 12, graduates may obtain a National Certificate II (NC II) provided they pass the competency-based assessment test by the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA). The NC II resembles a diploma to any two-year vocational course in today's standards.

Clearly, the reason why the option to study vocational skills was put so that children of poor families can acquire skills for immediate employment. However, considering that millions of Filipinos are unemployed even without K-12, what more if the labor force will rise significantly because many will decide to work instead of pursuing college? There is no guarantee that graduates of the K-12 program will be offered jobs especially in the domestic market.

The K-12 program is ultimately a big shift from the traditional education cycle. In line with this, how will a common Filipino, most especially those from marginalized sectors of society, be affected by all these changes?

Public education, though free, has hidden costs that entail it. This includes transportation costs, food allowances, uniforms, school supplies, projects, etc. In a critique to K-12 released by Alliance of Concerned Teachers, it was stated that it will cost the average-earning family P14,580 per year per student to send a child to a public school. Of course, additional years of schooling mean additional expenses (ACT, 2012).

The number of dropouts and out-of-school youth may also increase due to K-12. Poverty is one of the primary causes of out-of-school youth aged 6-15 years old. Meanwhile, for those 16-24 years old, the need to work to help their families and high tuition rates are the primary causes. If the education cycle is made longer, families and students may cease to see education as a solution to poverty and decide to work instead of study to provide an income for the family (ACT, 2012).

With the poorer students deciding to work after Grade 12, there will form the idea that college education is only a privilege. This will reinforce the Aquino administration's plan to gradually decrease the government subsidy of state universities and colleges through the Roadmap to Public Higher Education Reform or RPHER. This will continue the lowering of budget which will give way to a rise in tuition fees and other expenses.

DepEd itself said that out of 100 children who enter grade one, only 66 graduate till grade six; only 58 enter highschool and 43 graduate till fourth year; from the 43 who graduated, only 23 will decide to enter college while 10 will go to vocational schools; out of the 23, only 14 will graduate college while out of the 10, only 7 will graduate vocational school. With the additional expenses and the increasing cost of tertiary education, these numbers may worsen through the years.

On the other hand, the labor export policy (LEP) is a set of unofficial or undeclared policies that promote labor export and shape a culture of migration in the country. It is systematically implemented as a “solution” to the country’s unemployment problem.

In the Philippines, the policy of exporting labor began during the Martial Law. President Marcos started the overseas employment program as a "stop-gap measure" in response to the global economic crisis. When oil industries in the Middle East started experiencing shortages in labor, the Marcos administration quickly saw it as a way to solve the unemployment problems in his era.

Marcos built a government agency responsible for processing overseas contract workers and licensing, regulating, monitoring private recruitment agencies which is known today as the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA). Since then and up to now, the Philippine labor export policy has two main objectives: to lessen the impact of double-digit unemployment level and to increase foreign exchange earnings and dollar reserves.

When Cory Aquino assumed presidency, she continued the labor export policy, saying that the recovering economy needs the dollars from the remittances of the overseas workers. She promoted a separate agency for overseas workers' rights called Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA). Here the president introduced the imposition of government fees to migrant workers. A few examples would be the P1680 travel tax, P500 (now P550) airport tax, P900 medical insurance and others.

President Ramos continued LEP even announcing in an international conference that countries need to "share labor resources". Ramos widely opened the Philippine economy to foreign investors through the Foreign Investment Act. In 1995, when the trial and execution of overseas worker Flor Contemplacion put the Philippine migration in a bad light, the Ramos administration hastily a passed a bill regarding migrant workers’ rights. The Magna Carta of Migrant Workers (later renamed to Migrant Workers and Overseas Filipino Act of 1995) or RA 8042 discussed overseas workers’ rights however, some provisions in the bill lead to the deregulation of labor export.

President Estrada adopted Ramos' version of the LEP and even supported it through creating a separate government agency in charge of training workers for immediate employment, here and abroad. The agency, named Technical Education and Skills Development Authority, is still active until now.

When Arroyo took over in 2001, she admitted that the Philippine economy was not yet ready to absorb the millions of Filipinos working overseas and that they should continue working abroad. She even encouraged that the workers be treated as "bagong bayani" (modern-day heroes) because they are the one who supply the dollar reserves that boosts the country's economy.

President Noynoy is ultimately the biggest promoter of labor export compared to other presidents. As of 2011, statistics from the POEA showed that 1,850,463 Filipinos are working abroad as overseas contract workers. This is clearly the highest number of migrant workers in history. Worse, through K-12, export of labor will be reinforced further.

As stated by the Department of Education, one of the reasons why K-12 is being implemented is to enable graduates to become more globally competitive. The K-12 program, it said, was patterned after the Washington Accord of America and the Bologna Process of Europe.

The Washington Accord is an agreement among nations regarding the standards of education among the field of engineering. On the other hand, the Bologna Process is a mutual recognition pact among European countries designed to higher the standard of education in Europe. In both treaties, it is stated that at least 12 years of basic education is recommended to be better equipped with skills and abilities related to work.

DepEd also cited a 2009 study where it was found that international employers considered those who graduated from shorter basic education cycles as lacking in necessary work-related traits such as time management, work ethics, etc.

In the earlier part of this paper, it was stated that vocational subjects are taught as early as Grade 9 and that students can obtain COCs through the program where the NC II can be equated to a diploma in a vocational course issued by TESDA. From this, it can be inferred that the K-12 program was designed for students to be trained in areas relevant to the foreign labor market. The Philippines does not need a vast army of semi-skilled workers. Instead, it requires professionals who can boost the country’s economy through nationalized industries which is the start of any developed country.

In K-12, students will graduate at 18, the age where they can legally participate in a contract. The graduates have the option to work in semi-skilled labor industries. Of course, for well-off and a few middle class families, the only sound choice is to go to college, but the situation isn't the same to the poorer families. The students will be forced to work instead of continuing their studies because of the high tuition rates and poverty in general. The result is a huge army of young semi-skilled individuals entering the labor force. With a limited number of jobs available, unemployment will rise. As attested by macroeconomics, when unemployment increases, the result is always the decrease in workers’ wages.

The promise of the national government of immediately having jobs after graduating from the program is a lie. Even without the addition to the labor force, unemployment is still rampant. There is no reality in the assurance of jobs to K-12 graduates; millions of Filipinos are still unemployed. To add to this, the government is promoting the export of labor through working in jobs abroad for cheap wages. The K-12 program will further subject the Filipinos, especially the youth, to exploitation by foreign companies as cheap slave labor.

The country’s economy is now dependent on the dollar remittances of the overseas workers and we may expect that this will still be the case years from now unless a genuine national industrialization program is implemented in the Philippines.

To quote former Kabataan Party-list representative Raymond Palatino, “with the absence of national industries and sufficient jobs, many are forced to work abroad. DepEd’s plan to introduce vocational and technical courses in high school, using as argument the so-called fact that students no longer want to finish college, is essentially an endorsement for those students unable to enter college to make do with the voc/tech training and become for-export laborers” (Palatino, 2014).

There is no doubt that the K-12 program was not based on a comprehensive analysis of the real problems of our country’s education and society. It is an attempt at boosting the country’s labor export through promoting a culture of migration. By deeming college or tertiary education as unnecessary, the government discourages the students from going to college and they choose to sell their labor cheap to companies overseas.

To paraphrase incumbent Kabataan Party-list representative Terry Ridon, if the program can truly help the youth and the country and eventually produce jobs through a nationalized industry then K-12 is okay but that is not the case. The K-12 program is being done not to develop immediately employable youth locally but to become underpaid workers in a foreign land (Ridon, 2013).


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