A bad start for the K-12 Program

Come School Year 2012-2013, DepEd is set to launch the Grades 1 and 7 components of the K-12 Program. (The Senate Bill for the Program is yet to be signed into law. In fact, it’s only this week that the Department Undersecretaries were defending the Bill at the Senate. If the Bill is passed before June 4, it will be a feat in legislation process.)

But even if there is legal mandate for the Program, no one in DepEd is really prepared. Not the regional and local oversight offices. Neither are schools. Nor communities. Or parents. There is no official public dissemination and how many know that starting next school year lessons will be in the Mother Tongue, including Math and Science, and that ‘Mother Tongue’ is not Pilipino/Tagalog but the locality’s dialect (e.g. Tausug, Ilocano) and that DepEd has already translated subject content into 12 dialects?

Nonetheless, to prepare its force, DepEd will train Grades 1 and 7 teachers, more than 48000 all, en masse over the summer. Supposedly, the five-day training will have equipped the teachers with competencies in the Program’s new curriculum. Expectedly, by June 4, at the opening of classes, teachers will have applied the required competencies ‘right the first time’. Good luck to them.

For lack of teachers for Grade 1, the DepEd Secretary has instructed schools to utilize the current pool of Kinder teachers. In June last year or the current school year (2011-2012), the K(inder) component of the Program was launched, after R.A. 10157 (Universalization of Kindergarten) was enacted as law. National dailies and media painted a rosy picture of the launch and its first year of implementation. But go to the field, at the school level, and it’s a mess.

The launching of Kindergarten took the school principals off guard, for four reasons: One, the information was disseminated to them a few weeks before the opening of classes. When classes opened, the school principals were still reeling from shock, unbelief, and hurt. Two, buildings in the majority of public schools are eligible for declaration as heritage buildings as these are old, decrepit, and generally unsafe. Moreover, the public school system suffers from a major backlog of classrooms. There were no readily available rooms for Kinder. Three, schools didn’t have Kinder teachers. Four, there was no time to inform relevant local agencies and parents of the change.

What did the schools do?

For lack of rooms, Kinder children were given the open stage or similar venue as classroom. When I saw the children on the stage – exposed to the sun’s glare, the oppressive heat, dust swirling about, noise, general lack of comfort – my blood boiled. I was also a student and I would hate to study in that environment. I’m a parent and I don’t want my children to be in that environment. The trouble with policy makers and decision makers is, just because it’s not their own children or relations who are in that school environment they don’t give careful thought to the impact of policies and decisions they make on the children of the common tao.

For lack of Kinder teachers, day care workers were enticed out of DSWD into schools as volunteer teachers (because DepEd is yet to create items for Kinder teachers). Being volunteers, they are only entitled to a few hundred peso allowance monthly. As further enticement, they are given a “bonus” of 2,000 pesos when they have recruited 30 Kinder pupils. The volunteer Kinder teachers went into the day care centers and brought out the rest of the children into their DepEd classrooms, and received their “bonus”. The tactic makes sense, financially. Otherwise it further severed the already unstable relationship between DepEd and the DSWD, the agency which has mandate over preschool-aged children and caring for these children via its Day Care Service. In fact, there were day care workers who accused schools/DepEd of “stealing their” day care-enrolled children.

The volunteer Kinder teachers were given a crash course on the Eight-Week Curriculum (aimed at children who are transitioning into Grade 1) and no one knows (or doesn’t want to know) whether these “teachers”, who haven’t had previous experience, training, or education in preschool education nor have knowledge of the Kinder Curriculum, are handling the children within the bounds of the K-12 Curriculum Framework.

So where in the DepEd management of the Program could be seen the K-12 vision which is of holistic development and globally-competitive Filipino when at the onset children are being chivvied off to a wrong start? Where in the Kinder component implementation is the rhetoric for “the best start is the ECCD years” evident?

Everything’s wrong and the program isn’t fully running yet.

Yet despite the glaring evidence of it, the Department is adamant to launch Grades 1 and 7 within the next four months.

Governance is a twin. The continued silence of the citizenry (and its general laziness to seek to know critical national and local issues, preferring to laze in front of TV novellas) means the continued stubbornness of their elected representatives. It’s like hiring a personal business or fund manager but you don’t communicate to this manager what you want in your investment portfolio, giving him/her full control and authority. Sooner or later, unless the person’s a saint, you’ll discover that h/she’s grown wealthy and you as poor as a mouse. Behind your back, h/she has siphoned off your funds into his/her own portfolio. When citizens don’t convincingly and regularly communicate what they want, really good governance will not become reality inspite of measurements such as GGI.

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