MANILA, Philippines – In the past, incoming Education Secretary Leonor Briones did not shy away from criticizing the Aquino administration.
But on Monday, June 6 – during her first press conference as incoming education secretary – she acknowledged the "intensive" preparations that went into the government's K to 12 program.
Briones was asked whether the country is ready for the full implementation of the K to 12. The largest batch of students under the program will enter senior high school's Grade 11 on June 13.
"Right now, from where I am, from my own involvement in the 4-year process of preparation, the question that we have to raise is, which is more harmful: to stop it at this time, to suspend it at this time, or to continue and to recognize the deficiencies?" Briones told reporters on Monday.
"From what we see...definitely there are problems. As to suspending it, there might be more problems also right now. But, of course, I'm open to change. We will see the actual – what really will happen – on June 13. The next two weeks – that is when the problems will be coming out."
Briones said there are two major concerns right now regarding K to 12: the need for more funding in senior high school, and the possible displacement of college workers. (READ: Duterte's education concerns: Out-of-school youth, displaced teachers)
On top of these concerns, there are also worries that some students might drop out of school because of the challenges in senior high school, such as the need to transfer schools, or the additional expenses of two more years in high school.
"With or without K to 12, you will have 50% of those who graduate from elementary who cannot proceed – that is the record," Briones explained.
She added, "With or without K to 12, you will have fallout, you will have a level of casualty, because of poverty, because of access to education."
With this in mind, she said there is a need to expand the Alternative Learning System (ALS) of the Department of Education (DepEd).
ALS is a module-based, non-formal way to learn, designed by DepEd for learners who cannot afford to go through formal schooling.
"We want P45 billion more, largely for ALS, but we have to find out how much is left," Briones said. She added that her organization, Social Watch Philippines, had maintained that the budget for ALS was "inadequate."
Briones said the resistance to K to 12 is "understandable," but she urged critics to put it in context.
"I've been very critical of many policies of this government, particularly the budget, particularly the pork barrel. But this thing is pressed upon us not only by internal environment, but also by external environment," she said.
In particular, she said there is a sense of urgency in preparing for the ASEAN integration "and really giving to our great professionals and our workforce the kind of respect and recognition they deserve whether in other countries or here in our own country."
There may be birth pains because of the reform, but for Briones, to say that the country is totally unprepared for K to 12 "may not stand close scrutiny."
During the transition period, Briones said the incoming Duterte administration will closely monitor the implementation of senior high school. President-elect Rodrigo Duterte has decided to support the K to 12 program after being initially skeptical about it.
Jee is part of Rappler's Central Desk, handling most of the world, science, and environment stories on the site. She enjoys listening to podcasts and K-pop, watching Asian dramas, and running long distances. She hopes to visit Israel someday to retrace the steps of her Savior.