Philippines Undertakes Major Review of School Curriculum

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Philippines Undertakes Major Review of School Curriculum

The Marcos administration wants to make major changes to an education system that is still recovering from the closures of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Philippines Undertakes Major Review of School Curriculum

A group of students gathering at a high school in Bacolod, Philippines, March 1, 2019.

Credit: Depositphotos

Several initiatives could lead to an overhaul of the Philippine education sector under the government of President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. First, legislators have already convened the Second Congressional Commission on Education (Edcom), which set a three-year timetable to evaluate the impact of the legal reforms implemented in 1991. Second, the Department of Education (DepEd) is already reviewing and revising the K to 12 curriculum, which it describes as congested. And third, the Senate is already deliberating the reimposition of the mandatory Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC) program in colleges.

Edcom’s report is highly anticipated as three decades have passed since the Philippines reorganized its education system into three departments. Aside from assessing the bureaucratic changes, Edcom members said they intend to make schools globally competitive in both education and labor markets.

Meanwhile, Senators expect the ROTC bill to be enacted into law this year. The proposal could encounter opposition from student groups and educators who insist that patriotism and discipline can be developed without requiring military training among youth. The Philippines removed ROTC as a college requirement in 2001 following the death of a cadet who exposed corruption in the program.

With regard to K-12 curriculum reforms, Deped has already enjoined stakeholders to review its proposed learning guides. As of May 3, it had received papers from 4,499 individuals and 344 organizations.

Some of the topics highlighted in the draft history curriculum include the presentation of American colonialism and Japanese occupation as imperialism, the description of the post-World War II situation in the Philippines as a period of neocolonialism, and a discussion of the Marcos dictatorship during the Martial Law years, with reference to issues on human rights violations, ill-gotten wealth, and the country’s grave economic crisis.

For the subject of “Contemporary Issues,” grade 10 students will tackle topics related to the West Philippine Sea, the Hague Arbitral Ruling which recognizes the Philippines’ sovereign rights in the maritime area being claimed by China, red-tagging, extra-judicial killings, trolling, same-sex unions, and same-sex marriage.

The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) welcomed the inclusion of human rights topics in the learning guides. “It provides an opportunity for students to critically analyze the complex and multi-faceted nature of human rights violations, and to explore ways to address them through peaceful and lawful means,” the CHR said in a statement.

The Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) noted the irony of teaching red-tagging as a human rights violation while Education Secretary Sara Duterte, who is also the country’s vice president, is accused of being a red-tagger by her critics.

“DepEd’s purported commitment against red-tagging does not hold water when the agency head does not even bat an eye while red-tagging our unions,” ACT said in a media interview. The group urged Duterte to set a good example of admitting her mistakes by issuing an apology.

Some religious leaders also frowned on the suggestion that students be taught about same-sex relationships. House Deputy Speaker Eddie Villanueva of the CIBAC party list, a conservative Christian, said the proposal was “anti-God” and unconstitutional. “It is just very disturbing that there are proponents of gender ideology inside DepEd that inject this advocacy to the education of our youth,” he told the media.

Deped clarified that LGBT topics have been in the curriculum since 2013.

Another controversial plan is the removal of the Mother Tongue subject at the primary level and the use of English as the medium of instruction. Educators said Deped should carefully review this program revision because of its potentially huge impact on learners and the workload of teachers.

In an editorial, the Philippine Daily Inquirer reminded Deped to focus on improving the welfare of teachers. “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,” it argued.

The editorial added that the national government should address the longstanding budget problems facing the education sector: “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.”

Indeed, the Philippines’ education crisis has worsened during the pandemic and both teachers and learners are still slowly catching up because of the extended school closure imposed by the previous administration. It will take years before the learning benefits of reforms become evident. The government must prioritize subsidies for the education sector. In the meantime, stakeholders must be actively engaged in the ongoing review of the curriculum instead of merely allowing the process to be dominated by politicians.