News and Features

Reality Bites: The Truth about K to 12 Program Implementation

The current Philippine basic education system

The Philippines is the only country in Asia and one of the remaining countries in the world with a ten-year basic education cycle. This includes six years of elementary and four years of high school. The average Filipino child starts formal schooling in elementary at the age of six. Children who avail of private education undergo pre-schooling at the age of three.

In the past decade, the quality of Philippine basic education has been continuously deteriorating. The latest achievements scores highlight the students’ poor performance in national examinations. In SY 2009-2010, National Achievement Test (NAT) results for Grade 6 showed only a 69.21% passing rate while NAT results for high school is only 46,38%. Furthermore, international test results in 2003 Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) show that the Philippines ranked 34th out of 38 countries in HS Math and 43rd out of 46 countries in HS II Science.

The Department of Education cited this dismal statistics to pursue the implementation of the K to 12 program this year. The K to 12 aims to decongest the curriculum by spreading the lessons of subjects over 12 years, instead of 10 years. President Benigno Aquino compared the 10-year basic education program to “force-feeding.” According to him, ten years is not enough to savor the knowledge the students are receiving; thus “information is not processed as well as it should be, context is not a given and thus not applied, and the implications on the greater majority of Filipinos are not explained.”

The enhanced K to 12 curriculum

K to 12 means kindergarten and the 6 years of elementary (Grades 1 to 6), four years of junior high school (Grades 7 to 10) and two years of senior high school (Grades 11 to 12). The following discusses the salient feature of this new policy in education.

Universal Kindergarten Education

K to 12 has kindergarten as base which has been integrated into the basic education system to ensure that all grade students are ready for academic learning. Kindergarten was made mandatory starting SY 2012-2013 through Republic Act No. 1057, entitled “An Act Institutionalizing the Kindergarten Education into the Basic Education System and Appropriating Funds Thereof.”

The Mother Tongue-based Multilingual Education (MTBMLE) Component

The mother tongue will be used as the medium of instruction (MOI), replacing the English and Filipino from kindergarten to Grade 3. English and Filipino will be introduced as MOI starting Grade 4.

Core Academic Areas

The core academic areas include Math; Filipino; English; Araling Panlipunan; Edukasyon sa Pagpapakatao; and Music, Arts, Physical Education, and Health (MAPEH).

Science will be taught in grade 3, but its concepts will be integrated in other subjects like Health (under MAPEH). Math, and Languages will be taught in grades 1 and 2. Edukasyong Pantahanan at Pangkabuhayan will be taught starting in grade 4. Technology and Livelihood Education and technical–vocational specializations, consistent with the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority training regulations, will start in grade 7.


The additional two years (grades 11 and 12) or SHS will allow students to choose among academic, technical–vocational, or sports and arts tracks depending on their interest, the community needs, and the results of their skills assessment. The SHS is expected to allow mastery of core competencies for lifelong learning and preparedness for work, higher education, middle-level skill development, or entrepreneurship.

Reform first or K to 12 means nothing

Since the implementation of K to 12 program last June 2012, it has met with many problems. The first is the correlation between the lengthening of educational cycle and the improvement of the education system. In a study conducted by Abraham Felipe and Carolina Porio on the Length of School Cycle and the Quality of Education, they concluded that “there is no basis to expect that lengthening the educational cycle, calendar-wise, will improve education.”

Secondly, there is no law yet that institutionalize K to 12. Until such law is passed, the sustainability of the program could not be guaranteed by government.

Thirdly, the government has yet to present a convincing program to remedy existing shortages in the education sector.  Party-list Representative Antonio Tinio (ACT Teachers) stated that there is a steady decline in the education budget and this brought about a glaring shortage of teaching manpower and supervisory personnel which consists of 54,060 teachers, 4,538 principals, and 6,473 head teachers. The lack of budget also resulted in shortage in education resources and capital outlay in the form of 61,343 classrooms, 816,291 seats, and 113,051 water and sanitation facilities

Fourthly is the issue of lack of sufficiently trained teachers who will teach the new K to 12 curriculum. From May to June this year, a total of 73,655 Grade 1 teachers and 70,227 Grade 7 teachers from public schools have undergone training.  Additional special teachers will be hired and existing teachers will be trained to teach core academic subjects and electives that will be offered in Grades 11 and 12 (Senior High School).

There is also a threat of displacement of private school teachers and personnel because of the expected lack of enrolment in colleges and universities in 2016 and 2017, when the first batch completes Junior High School. Instead of going to college, students will have to enroll for Grade 11 to finish Senior High School in order to become eligible to go to college.

Lastly, there is also a problem of the implementation of MTBMLE. Dr. Ricardo Nolasco, a professor of Linguistics in UP Diliman and advocate of MTBMLE, disapproved the “early exit” model on the use of L1 instruction under the current K to 12 curriculum. According to him, the use of L1 as MOI amply demonstrated that it takes six to eight years of L1 instruction before learners develop their literacy and academic skills in that language. However, the K to 12 program only allows the use of L1 from kindergarten to grade 3. DepEd Secretary Arminn Luistro admitted that DepEd did not have any research data to back the “early exit” model.

Another problem concerning MTBMLE is the language mismatch. DepEd only included 12 languages as MOI in the program. However, this becomes a problem in the areas where many languages are spoken. In Nueva Viscaya wherein Ilocano is used as MOI, teachers were surprised to learn that many students could understand or speak Ilocano. Dr. Nolasco argued against the limited number of languages included in the program.

In Zamboanga, the K to 12 curriculum policy directed the division of Grade 1 classes into sections according to the language spoken by the students: Chavacano, Tausug or the Muslim language, Bisaya and Tagalog. This, according to City Mayor Celso Lobregat, created disunity among people instead of promoting unity.

About the Author:

Michael Wilson I. Rosero is a Lecturer at the UP Department of Linguistics for Academic Year 2013-2014 and Founder/Executive Director of UP Layap: a research-based, student-led association for the advancement of a multilingual and culturally relevant education in the Philippines. He is also a field researcher and MTBMLE advocate.


Barawid, Rachel. 2012. Speaking in tongues. Manila Bulletin.

Gascon, Melvin. 2012. “K to 12” challenge in Vizcaya: Teach kids in 16 dialects. Inquirer North Luzon.

Nolasco, Ricardo. 2010. 21 Reasons Why Children Learn Better While Using Their Mother Tongue. University of the Philippines-Diliman

Nolasco, Ricardo. 2012. K to 12: More than just decongesting the curriculum. Philippine Daily Inquirer.

The K to 12 Program. Official Gazette of the Republic of the Philippines

K to 12.