How does the K+12 education reform impact Philippine higher education?


The Philippines fully implemented in school year 2016-2017 the K to 12 program, a reform initiative that lengthens the total number of basic education years from ten to 12. It was a reform that was met with some opposition by parents and teachers alike but was carried out smoothly and according to schedule, despite change in government administration. In the last two years of basic education termed as senior high, students choose one of four learning tracks as specialization, with the Academic Track as preparatory for university. The three other tracks, particularly the Technical-Vocational-Livelihood, focus on skills and talent development and target gainful employment or entrepreneurship for students without the need for a university degree. This research delved on the reform’s implication on the massification of higher education through a survey questionnaire administered among officials of seven Philippine private universities. Does the reform encourage enrollment into university, especially students from low-income households? The research found out additional costs due to a longer educational cycle and the practicality of gainful employment over enrolling in university as two common factors that can hinder movement into university, diminish the value of a university degree, and affect the sustainability of university operations.

Keywords: kto12, education reform, philippine reforms


Many Asian countries have adopted education reforms. These reforms respond to challenges brought about by globalization and the imperative for stronger collaboration among countries. In Asia primarily, reforms are geared towards increasing the competitiveness of human resource, addressing poverty issues, meeting international standards as regards employment qualifications, and putting educational systems at par with counterparts in Western countries (Tiongson, 2005). And the Philippines is not to be left behind. In 2010, the Philippine government launched a massive education reform initiative, described as the most comprehensive since the Philippines established its basic education system over a hundred years ago (SEAMEO, 2012).

Consistent with the Education for All thrust of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the reform is an accomplishment of the Philippines’ own Education for All Plan Action 2015 Critical Task No. 5 which mandates longer basic education cycle from ten to 12 years. In the State of the Nation Address of then President Simeon Benigno Aquino III, he highlighted this reform initiative as his priority. This was pursued with three goals, more like what a Filipino should be: life-learner, holistically developed, globally-oriented, and locally-grounded; and seeks to develop within students 21st century skills: learning and innovation; information, media and technology; effective communication skills; and life and career skills. It is a reform initiative that aims to make the educational system in the Philippine more competitive and its graduates on par with their foreign counterparts.

Before the Congress of the Philippines passed the Enhanced Basic Education Act of 2013, which encompasses the K to 12 Education Program, the country was one of only three in the world that retained a ten-year basic educational cycle. The other two were Djibouti and Angola, both in Africa.  The ten-year basic education cycle of the Philippines posed a challenge to many Filipinos seeking employment abroad, especially in countries where minimum basic education requirements were pegged at 12 years.

The reform is aimed at decongesting the old basic education system, inclusion of kindergarten (K) as mandatory in the basic education cycle, and possessing the necessary skills by the employable age of 18 by the time one completes the K to 12 cycle (SEAMEO, 2012). Broken down into years, the new reform mandates one year of kindergarten, six years of elementary education and six years of secondary education. In contrast, under the old basic education program, kindergarten was not mandatory; elementary was still for six years but secondary education was only for four years. The reform adds in two more years, dubbed senior high, between what traditionally was conveniently called high school, which now is known as junior high. The two years of senior high is considered critical in preparing students for either employment or university.

Over these two years of senior high, students are made to choose between four tracks: Academic Track, Technical-Vocational-Livelihood Track, Arts and Design Track, and Sports Track. It is the Academic Track that is designed to prepare students for university. Those who are looking at getting into college are to choose one of four strands or specializations within the Academic Track. These strands are: Science Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM), Humanities and Social Sciences (HUMSS), Accountancy, Business and Management (ABM) and General Academic. The other three tracks outside Academic are envisioned to provide students with the necessary skills development in their technical specialization of choice to facilitate smooth transition into the labor market or world of business, if they so desire to venture into entrepreneurship. For those who take up the Technical-Vocational-Livelihood Track, they are granted national training certificates by TESDA to ascertain that they have acquired middle-level skills.

While the K to 12 reform initiative was implemented to overhaul the basic education system, it was not necessarily designed to move students away from higher education. In fact, in the pronouncements of then President Aquino, he highlighted how the increase in the number of basic education years will facilitate the movement of Filipino students into “best universities”, not only to get them into the best jobs (SEAMEO, 2012). And higher education is equally a priority of government as reflected in the mandate of the Commission on Higher Education (CHED). CHED is the governing body for colleges and universities, while the Department of Education oversees primary, elementary and secondary schools. In the mandate of CHED, it is clear that it seeks to ensure the accessibility of quality higher education to those who seek it, and highlights a conscious effort to make higher education more accessible to the poor.

Higher education in the Philippines is highly privatized though. Based on figures from CHED, of the total number of higher education institutions (HEI) including campuses, 675 are government and 2,374 are private. Government HEIs account for 1,416,056 of the university population in the country, while private HEIs claim 2,147,340 in different programs. Yet the National Statistics Office has noted that youth unemployment has remained at 17.5%, double the national rate; and college graduate unemployment (those with degrees but don’t have jobs) register 11%, which is equivalent to 41% of the total unemployed in the Philippines.

Obtaining a university degree continues to be a priority among families in the Philippines. And lucrative jobs in the country and abroad have reflected the value given to higher education by requiring applicants to at least have a relevant university degree. In fact, a survey by JobStreet, one of the larger online job hunting platforms, affirmed what may be a challenge in realizing the employment potential of K to 12 graduates without a university degree. The same survey indicated that 62.7% of employees in the Philippines do not only give importance to a university degree but also the HEI from where they have obtained their degrees.

Literature Review 

There is hardly any literature specific to the impact of the basic education reform on Philippine higher education. This is understandable given that the reform was only fully implemented recently, in school year 2016-2017.

Countries in Asia and the Pacific have seen many education reforms unfolding. Philippines’ own reform initiative was made against an analysis of similar reform initiatives in the same countries, such as Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam to learn from these countries about their best practices and areas of improvement (SEAMEO, 2012). These education reforms were usually induced by economic or political changes. Tiongson (2005) referred to education reforms as selected interventions driven towards certain opportunities. Many resort to education reforms owing to proven economic benefits. There is a growing number of literature though that suggests budget allocation to be made more for lower than higher educational levels (Tiongson, 2005), what could be a recognition for more investment towards basic education and vocational and technical skills development.

But as countries in Asia and the Pacific improve their educational landscapes and compete with Western counterparts in international rankings, not all educational reforms have proven effective. Tilak (2003) lamented poor staffing, deteriorating facilities, and decreasing budgetary appropriations for education as among those that hinder the success of education reforms. What Tilak discussed in his paper somehow mirror the same sentiments made by those who opposed the K to 12 reform. Problems such as insufficiency of classrooms, lack of teachers, requirement of capacity-building and retooling, and the additional financial pressure on parents were among those floated by those, including teachers, who expressed concern over the K to 12 reform initiative. But part of the blueprint of the Philippine government in the implementation of the reform are those two components of infrastructure development and capacity-building for teachers.

It is interesting though to reflect on the reform initiative in the context of the concerns of the labor market. The Trade Union of the Philippines cited the high number of HEIs but bewailed the lack of programs that are tailored-fit to the demands of industry, particularly the manufacturing and services sector. There are specific skill sets required by certain industries that have left many Filipino university graduates unemployed due to job-skill mismatch, as reported by the Department of Labor and Employment. And this, CHED acknowledges as it intensifies efforts to institute its own reforms within the higher education sector. CHED Commissioner Patricia Licuanan was quoted in a forum that higher education in the Philippines needs to be more responsive to the developmental needs of the country (World Bank 2012). This, resonating with how the World Bank emphasizes the value of education as articulated by its economist Prateek Tandon: “The evolving links between higher education systems and the business sector are becoming a major focus of policy… universities are viewed more and more as sources of industrially valuable technical skills, innovation, and entrepreneurship” (World Bank, 2012). The vital role that education plays in any country cannot be undermined though, especially that, as the UNESCO in its Education for All campaign promoted, higher education is more and more considered critical in propelling economic development.

Among the issues with higher education though is how it has not been able to translate degrees to high employment. College graduate employment in the Philippines plays around 11%, and its education to population ratio is at 60%. But the sheer number of private HEIs has created an intense competition that many private HEIs offer degrees based on a general sense of industry demands, not specifically on what could be the need of industries within their own regions. Intense competition has also caused private HEIs to offer similar degrees or academic programs. In order to better regulate private HEIs, CHED has been more stringent in its review of HEIs. Non-performing HEIs, as evidenced in licensure examinations and accreditation findings, are ordered for closure. And for private HEIs to also better cater to the needs of the labor market within their areas of jurisdiction and avoid oversupply of graduates of programs of low industry demand, CHED is looking into clustering program offerings according areas of interest or specialization.

This problem of oversupply of graduates of certain courses, which contributes to college graduate unemployment, is not new though. Gonzalez (2006) wrote that results of a study done by a Presidential Commission on Philippine education pointed to an oversupply of graduates in business and teacher education, and the reverse for the numbers of graduates in vocational and higher technical education. Thus, reforms were instituted to diversity higher education. But instituting education reforms in higher education, which is highly privatized, is a challenge. Private HEIs are mostly autonomous and are run independent of government. Any attempt to overhaul the system or cause fundamental changes, while may not be impossible, requires tremendous political will and arduous consultations.

Given this, the K to 12 Education Reform may be better understood in consideration of the theory of gradual institutional change. Reforms are introduced to gradually effect changes to the system and address gaps and gray areas, minimizing shocks and avoiding dissolution of organizations that prove slow or unable to provide the same objectives for which reforms are carried out (Mahoney and Thelen, 2009). As government needs to be able to respond to the demands of labor market, and acknowledges the gap in terms of human resource that have the necessarily skill set, it initiates change at both momentum and scope that it can. As suggested by Mahoney and Thelen (2009), changes address what are inefficiency, insufficient and don’t work in the system; but instead of shaking the system up to dissolve an established institution (i.e. private HEIs), it creatively influences change on the same institution’s level by creating necessary adjustments around it. Reflecting on the implication of the reforms, private HEIs are experiencing what could be indirect consequences for what may be failure to develop academic programs that are receptive to the country’s developmental needs. In the process, with CHED at the helm, private HEIs are in the process of reviewing curricula to make it more suitable and relevant, given substantial reforms made to the basic education system.

Research Questions and Objectives 

The research may be among the first made on the implication of the K to 12 reform initiative on higher education, particularly on how private HEIs perceive this implication on university enrollment.

Of primary importance to the research was the overarching question: “Does the K to 12 education reform facilitate enrollment into university?” This research question became the baseline in the contextualization of massification. Throughout the research, and as reinforced in the questionnaire, massification is understood as the reform’s potential in increasing overall enrollment into university, facilitating movement of lower-income students from basic education to higher education, enhancing or reinforcing one’s regard for a university degree translated to increased motivation to pursue higher education, and, at the end of the delivering entity, ensuring the sustainability of HEI operations.

Broken down into objectives, the research sought to: (a) analyze the implication of the K to 12 education reform based on the perspective of Philippine universities on its impact on the viability of a university degree after graduating from senior high; (b) identify gaps in the understanding and implementation of the reform from both government and university perspectives, and gauge them against relevant arguments made for and against the reform; and (c) discuss longterm implications of the K to 12 education reform on overall institutional sustainability…

….to access full research essay, “The Implications of the K to 12 Education Reform on the Massification of Philippine Higher Education”. e-mail the author at

The research essay was submitted as part of the final requirements for the completion of the Master of Public Policy and Governance (Social Policy specialization) at the Education University of Hong Kong. 


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