By Brian James Lu

Leave no one behind in Philippine education

January 22, 2024, 12:11 pm

The Commission on Higher Education (CHED) has informed state universities and colleges (SUCs) and local universities and colleges (LUCs) to stop accepting senior high school students starting the next academic year. The “next academic year” is 2024–2025.

What prompted CHED to issue such a directive? The CHED said SUCs and LUCs will no longer have any legal basis to ask for funding for their senior high school operations. The CHED asserts that the transition period in the implementation of K–12 is over; thus, there is no need for SUCs and LUCs to accommodate senior high school students.

I don’t think this is about the question of funds intended for senior high school students. What must be paramount is providing various opportunities for our children and youth to access quality education, since this will shape them into responsible citizens who may become our future leaders. If indeed the transition is over, the government should have an alternative or a new program to accommodate senior students who prefer SUCs and LUCs.

Based on data from the Department of Education (DepEd), there are 17,751 Grade 11 students and 2,030,451 Grade 12 students currently enrolled in SUCs and LUCs. We can safely assume that the same number of students will lose the opportunity to enroll in SUCs and LUCs. Granting that the same number of students will transfer to DepEd schools, I don’t think they can be accommodated in these schools.

The net result is the massive displacement of students on a nationwide scale. I believe our government should not allow this to happen. In 2016, the implementation of the K–12 program introduced a new curriculum that aimed to prepare technologically proficient youth for early employment by building an even stronger foundation on critical subjects and skills. However, there were a number of issues: an estimated 400,000 students failed to enroll; parents were not financially ready for the additional two years of education; and, moreover, DepEd did not have enough classrooms and teachers.

I cannot help but wonder about the fate of the 400,000 students initially displaced by the K–12 program. Of course, the succeeding years would result in the displacement of students who could not afford an additional two years of education. While the government implemented a voucher system for the tuition fees, this did not include other miscellaneous expenses such as uniforms, transportation, and the like, which became a burden to the parents.

Then came the Covid-19 pandemic. The Covid-19 pandemic completely affected an estimated 27 million students. The Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines (CHR) conducted a study revealing that within the first three months of the pandemic, the number of out-of-school youth (OSY) increased from 16.9 percent in January to 25.2 percent in April 2020. The study emphasized that the Philippines opened its schools last, with no formal classes of any type being held from March to October 2020. Face-to-face classes were only held in some selected areas starting in October 2022.

The online or distance classes posed a lot of problems for students and teachers. The quality of education suffered a lot from a lack of gadgets, a lack of or intermittent internet connection, the short attention span of students, and difficulty complying with projects and requirements. Studies have shown that students are “learning less” with distance or online education. In fact, the World Bank reported that 9 in 10 Filipino students aged 10 struggle to read simple text.

I realize that it was only on Nov. 2, 2022, when the Philippines returned to full face-to-face classes, or just 14 months ago. The order to transition to five-day in-person classes was given by Vice President Sara Duterte, who is also the DepEd secretary.

It is unfortunate that after the displacement of students under the K-12 program and the Covid-19 pandemic, senior high school students may yet again find themselves displaced under the plan to phase them out of SUCs and LUCs. I believe that SUCs and LUCs must continue to accept senior students, considering that DepEd does not have enough buildings and teachers to accommodate them in the first place. Furthermore, SUCs and LUCs anticipate the displacement of senior high school teachers and non teaching personnel. The loss of jobs will affect thousands of families.

All aspects of Philippine society are still recovering from the pandemic. Businesses, agriculture, people, and education are still recovering as the global economy opens. Our people, especially the marginalized, are still reeling from the effects of the pandemic due to the massive loss of jobs and livelihoods. Inflation is causing all prices of basic commodities to increase, including the cost of transportation, which is significantly impacting the economic well-being of people.

What I worry most about is the lost opportunity for our youth to have access to schools that are accessible and offer quality education. Parents chose to let their children study in SUCs and LUCs due to the proximity of their dwellings.

With the high cost of education, particularly in urban areas, accessibility remains the primary reason parents choose a school for their children.

Filipinos place a high value on education. When it comes to sending their kids to school, parents will stop at nothing. For those who are marginalized in particular, education has become an investment in lifting their families out of abject poverty. Every citizen has the fundamental right to an education. They have hope for the future because of it, and we shouldn't allow that optimism to fade. The Philippines' development agenda includes Goal 4 on Quality Education, one of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) of the UN, which aims to "ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all." The United Nations has set goals for education to support national development, and our nation abides by them -- promoting inclusion in the context of Filipino children's education and the government's execution of the SDG Framework's "leave no one behind" principle.

Editor’s note: The opinions expressed in the foregoing article are solely the author’s and do not reflect the opinions and beliefs of the Philippine News Agency (PNA) or any other office under the Presidential Communications Office.


About the Columnist

Image of Brian James Lu

BRIAN JAMES J. LU, MMgt, is an entrepreneur, business adviser, government consultant, and is deeply involve in civil society organizations. He advocates good governance, ethical business practices, and social responsibilities. He is the President of the National Economic Protectionism Association (NEPA) and Chairman of the Foundation for National Development (Fonad). His broad experiences in the private and public sectors give him a unique perspective to advance his advocacies.