DepEd curriculum: Boon or bane?

By Sheila Crisostomo, The Philippine Star, 7 June 2002

Millions of students are scheduled to return to public schools next week to a revised curriculum aimed at improving the standard of education in the country. But the government is having such a tough time selling the idea to educators and congressmen that the plan may be delayed.

The strong resistance from prominent educators has triggered a congressional inquiry into the Revised Basic Education Curriculum (RBEC), whose pilot testing is scheduled for the opening of public schools on Monday. One of the opponents of the RBEC, Sen. Blas Ople, is expected to file a motion seeking to delay the curriculum by a year.

As Education Secretary Raul Roco argued, at stake is the standard of Philippine education, which is vital to the country's future.

We are told repeatedly that education in the country has deteriorated, Roco said.

To fix the problem, the department has come up with the RBEC.

It is the product of 16 years' study and seven years of intensive consul-tations,Roco said.

The government has not revised the curriculum for public elementary schools in 13 years. Meanwhile, the curriculum for public high schools has not been changed for almost two decades, in sharp contrast to the general practice worldwide, which calls for a revision every 10 years.

That is why the RBEC, which is responsive to the ever-changing world, is badly needed, senior education department officials argued.

To actualize a gracious life in our changing world, Filipino learners need an education system that empowers them for a lifelong learning, or (the system) that enables them to be (more) competent in learning how to learn even when they are left to themselves, said Dr. Fe Hidalgo, education undersecretary for programs.

We want them not only to learn how to read but to understand what they read, she added. Our (old) curriculum has so many offerings but we have the shortest period of basic education—six years for the elementary (level) and four years for high school for a total of 10 years. Other countries have 12 years.

The RBEC has been drawn from various studies, particularly that of the Committee on Information Technology, Science and Mathematics, Education and Technologies. This committee is under the Presidential Commission on Education Reforms.

The committee's finding showed that elementary curriculum in the Philippines, particularly for Grades 1-3, is overcrowded. Having too many subjects to study, the committee said, limits the extent to which teachers and students can focus on the basic skills critically important for good performance and success in later grade levels.

Hidalgo said an overcrowded curriculum either hinders or delays the development of the lifelong learning skills, given that the coverage of the subject matters tends to take priority over in-depth learning.

Meanwhile, the committee's report also suggested that the government review the secondary curriculum, citing the fact that the mean percentage of the National Secondary Achievement Test (NSAT) scores among high school students is only 50 percent.

Moreover, the Philippines was ranked close to last in the result of the International Mathematics and Science Study in 1999. Among the 38 nations participating in the test, the Philippines was ranked 36th. That reflected the poor standard of Philippine education, officials said.

One of the areas of changes the RBEC calls for is reducing the core courses to five from eight. The courses are Filipino, English, science and mathematics—the so-called tool subjects—and Makabayan.

Called the laboratory of life, Makabayan will be the practice environment for the tool subjects. It is designed to help the students develop better interpersonal skills, empathy will cultures, vocational efficiency and problem-solving and decision-making skills.

The components of the elementary Makabayan include Araling Panlipunan (Social Studies), Edukasyong Pantahanan (Home Economics), Musika (Music), Sining (Art), Edukasyong Pangkatawan (Health Education), and good manners and right conduct.

For high schools, the Makabayan components are social studies, Teknolohiya at Edukasyong Pantahanan at Pangkabuhayan (Education Technology at Home and Work), Musika, Sining at Edukasyong Pangkatawan at Pangkalusugan and Edukasyong Pagpapahalaga (Values).

Other elements of RBEC are patriotism, experiential learning and self-sufficiency.

Our vision is to equip the students with life skills so that they become self-developed persons, said Hidalgo. These elements can also be found in the existing curriculum but we just wanted to strengthen them through RBEC. Some loopholes The components of the RBEC have drawn harsh criticisms from various educators, who said the education department is undermining the disciplines integrated in the subject.

One of the critics of the revised curriculum is Nilo Rosas, former undersecretary for regional operations of the department. Rosas, who is now the president of the Philippine Normal University (PNU), said the RBEC has some loopholes.

The methods of content delivery, application of new technologies and integration mechanism (that teachers must use) are not clearly defined, he said. So, although he supports the pilot testing of the RBEC, Rosas said it should be open to revision if necessary.

A well-defined in-service training on these new strategies and technologies must be done at every level, he said. Principles of integration and interactivity must be fully understood and translated into actual classroom strategies.

Rosas also warned that merely retelling the teachers how to use certain teaching strategy is not enough.

Associate Professor Felice Yeban, who teaches social studies at the PNU, shares Rosas' view. Although Yeban agreed that there is a need to reform the national curriculum, she is unsure if the RBEC is the panacea for the problems of Philippine education.

My concern now is the preparations made by the DepEd, or the lack of it, and how they came up with the formula, she said. Is RBEC the answer? It seems that DepEd is in a rush to implement this.

Yeban also argued that the time allotment for the tool subjects in the revised curriculum is extended at the expense of the Makabayan subjects. Any increase on the time allotment for a certain subject will result in the reduction of the time allotment for other disciplines, she added.

No one can categorically say or would admit if there are subjects that will be watered down under the restructured curriculum, Yeban said. It is not clear how Makabayan will be taught. It's not like chopsuey … . There is no learning syllabus for teachers. DepEd leaves the principals to implement RBEC and many of them are now confused.

The Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) is now urging the department to delay the implementation of RBEC. Carol Almeda, the alliance's president and a University of the Philippines professor, also charged that international organizations are the force behind RBEC.

RBEC is not based on the need of the students—this is merely an imposition of giant financial institutions like the Asian Development Bank and the World Bank in exchange for loans, she said.

But the department has won strong support from the Federation of Associations of Private School Administrators, which said the RBEC is the right medicine for the Philippine educational standard. It should be administered immediately, said Eleazar Kasilag, FAPSA president.

While private schools are not required to follow the RBEC, Eleazar said many of the FAPSA's members are now preparing to adopt the revised curriculum as their own.

As of May 27, the department has trained half a million Philippine teachers and school officials for the revised curriculum%G�%@more than 44,000 people more than the target the department had previously set. This is because some private teachers and substitute mentors have also participated in the training, Secretary Roco said.

The department will review the curriculum after one year of implementing it. But first it has to convince Congress and educators that the RBEC is worth a try.