Are two more years essential?

The Philippines is supposedly one of only three countries with a 10-year basic education. Others have 12.

But this is not exactly accurate.


“We tend to think of basic education and pre-university education as the same,” says National Scientist and mathematician Fr. Bienvenido Nebres, S.J.

They are not.


“By Unesco [United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization] definitions and as used in several countries, basic education is the compulsory education for all students, whether or not they go to university,” Nebres says. “It is often defined as education up to age 16 (not 18) or as elementary and lower secondary.”

Several countries also have only 10 years of basic education.

“In Singapore, basic education would be the 10 years (not 12) up to the O-level exams. In Japan, this would be up to lower secondary (where students finish at age 16, not 18),” Nebres says.

More accurately then, we are among a few countries with a 10-year pre-university education.

“Pre-university is usually 12 years. In Singapore, after the 10 years and O-level exams, or those going to university in Japan, take two more years in a junior or senior high school,” Nebres says.

“Those not going to university in Singapore go straight to polytechnics (for three years of study) after the 10 years and O-levels. In Japan, they go to technical school after age 16.”

Technical courses


Nebres says, “Many programs in our colleges and universities, like hotel and restaurant management and many information technology (IT) courses, would be considered as polytechnic or technical courses in, say, Japan or Singapore, and would not require two more years.”

What is the difference between university and technical courses?

“Technical courses are designed for jobs in a very immediate way and focus on specific competencies,” Nebres says. “An IT subject here prepares people to do CISCO or programming languages, but does not include studies in artificial intelligence (AI) or theoretical computer science.

“On the other hand, a university course in computer science includes a fairly high level of math and physics, theory, AI, and so forth.”

Nebres says we only have “very few good technical courses,” citing programs at Don Bosco Technical College, the Meralco Foundation and Xavier University Center for Industrial Technology.

As for university courses, many of them “are not of the academic standards that would be accepted as such abroad.”

Finding jobs

“Countries like Singapore or Japan ensure that after the 10-year (or nine in Japan) basic education, students can go into a technical course to prepare them for work,” Nebres says. “We do not have a clear track of post-10 years (or post-basic education) technical courses that prepare young people immediately for the job world.”

How will K-12 help?

In the K-12 curriculum, including years 11 and 12, core subjects such as math, science and English will be strengthened.

By Grade 10, students can choose from tracks that lead to specializations in academics (university courses), vocational (technical courses, including apprenticeship), or sports and arts.

Experts from the Commission on Higher Education (CHEd), Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (Tesda) and other groups are currently working on the curriculum competencies and standards for Grades 11 and 12 for students going into various specializations.

(Full disclosure:  Nebres is currently the chair of the CHEd technical panel on math and science. I continue to work with Department of Education groups and will help the CHEd panel on the K-12 math curriculum.)

Engineering standards

Two more years will supposedly help our professionals get recognized abroad, by  the Washington and Bologna Accords, for instance.

This is also not entirely accurate.

The Washington Accord is a group of 14 countries that have agreed to recognize each other’s engineering accreditation systems. It includes the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, Japan, South Korea, Singapore and Malaysia.

The Bologna Accord is similar, but includes European countries.

Jose B. Cruz Jr. says the Philippine Technological Council (PTC), an umbrella group of engineering societies, is planning to apply  for membership in the Washington Accord for the Philippines.

Cruz, a balik-scientist, has served as vice president of the US Institute for Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), the most prestigious engineering society in the world, founded by Thomas Alva Edison himself.

To be eligible for membership, “PTC is about to start accrediting local engineering programs,” Cruz says. Current accreditation is done by associations of universities, which  are not independent bodies and do not represent the profession.

Will two additional years help us get into the Accord?

“While most engineering courses in the Philippines include math subjects such as trigonometry, geometry, college algebra … that are normally taken in high school in the US,” says Cruz, “it is not a simple case of adding two more years before entry to university…”

Education Secretary Armin Luistro says the additional two years are a requirement by certain agencies, in Japan and Australia, for instance, for eligibility to college or graduate studies grants.

Europe has stricter policies than, say the US, where many Filipinos have long managed to enter university and graduate school, including those in the Ivy League.

“For the sciences, the challenge is not so much number of years as actual expertise,” Nebres says. “US colleges don’t really care about number of years. They just want to know how good you are. I got into Stanford University without an undergraduate math degree.

“For Europe, some countries will sometimes require the 12 years, but our experience is that that is not the real barrier,” he adds. “The real barrier is that our programs are not strong enough.

“In France, for example, the level of math of your fellow French students is so high, especially for those who come from the so-called Grandes Ecoles, that it is not realistic for us to go there for a Ph.D. in pure math.

“One professor at Stanford when I was there, Harvey Friedman, got his Ph.D. at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology at age 16, so obviously he did not do 12 years before undergraduate math.

“The best schools would be happy to get you as young as possible,” Nebres says, “if you are good.”

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TAGS: Basic education, Education, K to 12, Learning, Philippines
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