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K-12 +10

Early this month, Trade Secretary Alfredo Pascual urged companies to rethink their hiring policies that favored college graduates and to employ more K-12 finishers, as students who finished the country’s K-12 program face less-than-bright job prospects in a country where employers still prefer overqualified applicants with undergraduate degrees.

Government introduced the K-12 system with the intention of its graduates being ready for employment. The well-meaning program was Ideally meant to provide the necessary training for graduates to become “fully functioning employees.” It hoped to provide more employment for Filipinos who should be trained and qualified for jobs that do not require the overkill undergraduate degree that most employers require simply because high school graduates back then were practically unemployable.

The Philippine K-12 program was launched in 2012, making it a decade old, which means that the kinks should’ve been ironed out by now. However, since we see the good Trade Secretary is still urging employers to give K-12 graduates a shot, it would be safe to say that one of its simple goals have not yet been met.

Is it because, unlike the Filipino voters that have terribly low standards when it comes to qualifications and competence, Filipino employers have standards that are too high for prospective employees?

Or is it because our government officials responsible for its implementation have no interest in seeing the K-12 program succeed because it was implemented by political rivals that they’d rather demonize? Are politics and their petty quarrels more important than the program’s success, which means an easier path to employment for millions of poor Filipinos who had neither the intention nor the resources to pursue an undergraduate degree?

Because if you come to think of it, after almost a decade of implementation, the K-12 program should already be fully integrated into Philippine society, which means Senior High School graduates are employable by employers that understand and agree with the goals of the program.

What we have instead is a half-assed attempt to modernize the educational system that cannot take root, as it is constantly under attack, internally and externally, by forces that inexplicably yearn for the old ways that are no longer relevant in most of the developed world.

Most of the blame lies with the Department of Education, which had 10 years to get K-12 right, yet it continues to be a failure, at practically all levels. When colleges and universities still haven’t synced up with SHS programs so students and parents don’t waste time retaking classes that should’ve already been taken up and credited, it’s no wonder why employers are still not willing to hire K-12 graduates. The DepEd needs to go all in on the K-12 system and make it work as it should instead of making in into a convenient scapegoat for all its continuing failures that an extra 100B budget and the return of the vaunted ROTC definitely cannot solve.

The two years lost to the COVID-19 pandemic can be an excuse for the mediocrity at DepEd, but now that the pandemic is practically over, whoever is responsible for this country’s education has a lot on her plate and if you come to think of it, one of the simplest goals of the current DepEd would be to ensure that its K-12/SHS graduates are truly employable, hopefully by the end of this schoolyear.

If the DepEd, DOLE and DTI worked together to come up with a plan or program to change the landscape by making SHS graduates qualify as members of the workforce ten years ago, the employment landscape could’ve been changed and employers would be hiring high school graduates with confidence while the better qualified ones who spent more time in higher education would be offered better jobs instead of settling for jobs meant for SHS graduates.

But apparently, they did nothing, considering that the shift to K-12 should’ve been a game changer for the country, so here we are now, still stuck at square one, a full decade later. To make matters worse, this failure of governance is seen by many as simply a failure of the K-12 program so their easy solution is to roll back to the previous system that nobody in the world uses anymore.

K-12 was supposed to be a better way of providing basic education to 110 million Filipinos. Ten years after, it is becoming clear that it didn’t matter whether we went with K-12 or the old way because our Department of Education and politics-fueled style of governance are the ones that ultimately determine where any attempt to improve anything ends up.

In the case of the Philippines and its education system, the past 10 years are looking like it has been a waste of time. Will our new government and education secretary do something about it or is the Filipino youth doomed to suffer from more poorly implemented education programs?*

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