Getting a job to help support his family was foremost in the mind of John Louise Sualog when he walked on stage to receive his senior high school diploma in the Philippines in April. The 18 year old from Palo municipality in Leyte province is among 1.2 million young Filipinos who finished for the first time the country's K-12 basic education program
. Unlike its neighbors in the region, the Philippines only implemented the 12-year compulsory basic education in recent years. The country used to be the only one in Asia, and only one of three in the world, that observed a 10-year compulsory education cycle. More recently, in 2017, President Duterte signed a law providing free tuition for Filipino students at 112 state universities
and colleges. "I'm excited to start work. It's already time for me to apply the training I received in school so I can earn money to help my family," said Sualog, who finished an electrical maintenance course. Christian Montilla, a classmate of Sualog, said he now plans to return to the construction company he left to complete his studies, to apply for a better job there. Myrabelle Lopez, one of the top students of the graduating class, said the new educational program paves the way for "experiential learning." Lopez said she acquired "essential and basic skills and knowledge that I must possess to be globally competitive" during the course of her education. Under the new program, the additional two years of senior high school allow students to choose their field of specialization from various fields. Support for quality education
Despite some hesitation in the past, private educational institutions have joined in the clamor for better quality education
through the new program. Father Anthony Salas, chairman of the board of Liceo del Verbo Divino, a Catholic school in Tacloban, said the new curriculum would help the country reclaim the high academic standard it used to be proud of. The priest said the quality of education a young person receives depends not only on the quality of the teachers but also on the time they can dedicate to the task.
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Father Salas said the new program allows students to think critically and solve problems "because that is how they are supposed to contribute to society." He said the Catholic Church, through its educational institutions, allows students "to awaken their spiritual forces to become cultured people and become fully human." The priest said that Catholic education in the country would continue "to purify and harness our humanity." Government doing its best
Education Secretary Leonor Briones said the government is doing its best "to correct whatever needs to be corrected" in the new program. "We are not saying we are perfect, but there are significant reforms [needed] and that has to be recognized," he said. Various groups have blasted the authors of the new curriculum for what they see as a lack of sufficient preparatory work before it was implemented, as well as the absence of enough skilled teachers. For Lopez, who is graduating with honors in the accountancy, business and management strand of the program, the government can still improve the curriculum. "I might get left behind," she told ucanews.com, adding that she is taking political science in college, a course not related to her basic education program. However, officials have assured the new graduates the program will benefit them in the long run. In Manila, Senator Grace Poe has filed a resolution urging the private sector to employ the first batch of senior high school graduates. The legislator said the successful implementation of reforms in the educational system requires the cooperation of the private sector. One of the key selling points of the program is that graduates of the basic education system are immediately ready for employment. The new program was rolled out nationwide in 2016 after the law was enacted under former president Benigno Aquino in 2013. Despite criticisms from various sectors, the program has since earned the support of the administration.