Opinion
Teaching Profession Opinion

How Policy Changes Affect Teachers: Case of the Philippines

By Stacy Gasteiger — September 15, 2016 6 min read

District and state policy changes can really affect what happens in American classrooms. But these are not as dramatic as some major changes being implemented in the Philippines, as Stacy Gasteiger, a fifth grade teacher at Selinsgrove Intermediate School in Selinsgrove, PA explains.

Over the last few years, I feel like I’ve been bombarded by educational changes. I’ve been moved across grade levels, directed to change my instructional practices, and the biggest beast of all, adopted PACore (Pennsylvania’s version of the Common Core) standards. I admit to feeling a severe case of initiative fatigue. I wasn’t sure how much more I could bend. Then I went to the Philippines this summer, as part of the State Department’s Teachers for Global Classrooms (TGC) fellowship program and saw what real dedication and flexibility looks like.

The Filipino Education System
Filipino education is different from that of most other Asian countries. It is based on the education system of the United States, thanks to the U.S. colonization of the Philippines from 1898 to 1946. Unlike the Spanish colonists, the United States introduced the concept of universal free education for everyone. While working with educators during our trip, we frequently heard, “The Spanish gave us religion, and the United States gave us education.”

One major difference from the U.S. system is the centralization of education in the Philippines. Everything comes from the central office, called DepEd. We frequently met educators who had some level of frustration with the DepEd regulations that prevented them from doing what they thought best for their students. For example, one teacher managed a very small library at her school. The tiny room was filled with old reference books and textbooks. A local church had offered to donate several trade books and novels for the students, but the reference books and textbooks were required by DepEd. She was concerned that if she removed them to make room for the more enjoyable books, her school would get penalized by a DepEd inspector.

Recent Initiatives
This centralization can be tricky in a country as diverse as the Philippines, which is made up of over 7,000 islands and 180 languages. In the 2012-2013 school year, DepEd decided to address language and cultural diversity directly through their new “Mother Tongue” initiative. Suddenly, schools were required to teach K-3 in the local dialect or mother tongue. They originally selected 12 languages and have since added seven dialects. After grade 4, teachers should change their instruction to Filipino and English.

Common Core may be a big jump, but imagine if someone suddenly told you to teach your classes in another language! Some primary teachers weren’t native speakers of the language where they were based. There weren’t a lot of educational materials in Bikol or Chavacano. But the teachers also believed it was better for the students to begin their education working in the language they knew best. The teachers also understood the importance of preserving the diverse cultural heritage of their country and not letting it be dominated by Manila. Mother Tongue instruction is now the norm throughout the country.

Just a few years after working hard to adopt the Mother Tongue policy, teachers have been whiplashed by another major initiative, and we were lucky to witness its implementation during our visit. Until this school year, the Philippines was one of only three countries that completed school after the 10th grade. (The others are Angola and Djibouti.) The government found that this limited education was hampering their citizens. Those finishing secondary school often didn’t have the skills necessary to begin a vocation or job. Colleges had to do a lot of basic instruction in the first two years. Universities and employers in other countries were often hesitant to enroll or hire Filipinos, because they had two fewer years of school than graduates from other countries.

The government and DepEd decided to change this and passed the K-12 Initiative. According to this new law, students are required to complete 12 years of public education. This year (2016-17) every school district added a grade 11 and next year, they will add grade 12. Not surprisingly with such a giant step, there are a lot of complications.

Most obvious to me is the issue of space. The Philippines is not a wealthy country. Schools can’t easily build new classrooms to accommodate an entire new grade. The schools I visited were already overpopulated. Classes hold 38 to 40 students. Many schools operated in shifts. For example, my host school had grades 7 and 10 come from 6:00am to 12:15pm and grades 8 and 9 from 12:45pm to 7:00pm. Many of the schools that we visited had a similar shifting schedule. My host school is building classrooms for the new 11th grade, but they are renting some rooms in an old building several blocks away in the meantime.

The second issue is teachers. No one has taught 11th grade before. The curriculum is entirely new. There are several tracks—academic, sports and arts, and technical-vocational-livelihood, but some tracks are not available at all the schools. We were there during the first week of school and the principals and teachers were doing an amazing job trying to make sure every classroom had a teacher, but things were being switched around everywhere. Because education is completely centralized, schools must wait until DepEd transfers a new teacher or principal to a school. If the school is short-staffed, the principal has to figure it out without being able to hire a new teacher.

The third issue is college. Colleges and universities will have virtually no incoming classes for the next two years. Every college is suddenly losing two years of students and their tuition. The government doesn’t want the K-12 initiative to jeopardize the jobs of thousands of college teachers, so they have developed plans to help them. Some school districts have partnered with the colleges, so the college teachers will be teaching in grades 11 and 12. This has caused some interesting funding issues, as colleges are not free in the Philippines. The government is also offering scholarships to college teachers to obtain graduate degrees. Only 50 percent of higher education faculty have a graduate degree, and the government’s goal is to have 70 percent with degrees by 2020.

Impact
Experiencing education in the Philippines taught me how important teachers are during the implementation of change. Teachers in the Philippines work in difficult environments with very few resources. They have lots of students and almost no technology. However, the good teachers have unlimited belief in the possibilities of their students. They give a lot of love and attention to the students and believe it’s important to teach character, as well as content.

When DepEd makes changes, teachers find the good in the change and do the best they can to support their students. They work hard to understand the rationale for the modifications and then make them work within their environment. They don’t rigidly follow rules but adapt them for their circumstances. If their students don’t understand their instruction in the “proper” language, they’ll change to help them through. They get to work at 5:30am or stay until 7:00pm to make sure every student has a class. If there aren’t enough teachers, they teach two classes simultaneously, so the students aren’t losing out on their education.

In many ways, teachers in the U.S. and the Philippines are facing similar challenges, although struggles in the Philippines are much more dramatic. The U.S. has been making a big policy transition to Common Core. Schools throughout the U.S. struggle with limited funds and materials. Many parts of the U.S. are dealing with teacher shortages, much as the principals I met in the Philippines. If teachers in the Philippines can do such excellent work when there is so much against them, I should be able to face this year with the same attitude. Take the changes being thrown at me and make the best of them. Find the good and make it work. The students are the center, and how I act will make the difference.

Connect with Stacy and Heather on Twitter.

Photos courtesy of the author.

The opinions expressed in Global Learning are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

Let us know what you think!

We’re looking for feedback on our new site to make sure we continue to provide you the best experience.

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Future of Work Webinar
Digital Literacy Strategies to Promote Equity
Our new world has only increased our students’ dependence on technology. This makes digital literacy no longer a “nice to have” but a “need to have.” How do we ensure that every student can navigate
Content provided by Learning.com
Mathematics Online Summit Teaching Math in a Pandemic
Attend this online summit to ask questions about how COVID-19 has affected achievement, instruction, assessment, and engagement in math.
School & District Management Webinar Examining the Evidence: Catching Kids Up at a Distance
As districts, schools, and families navigate a new normal following the abrupt end of in-person schooling this spring, students’ learning opportunities vary enormously across the nation. Access to devices and broadband internet and a secure

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Speech Therapists
Lancaster, PA, US
Lancaster Lebanon IU 13
Elementary Teacher
Madison, Wisconsin
One City Schools
Elementary Teacher - Scholars Academy
Madison, Wisconsin
One City Schools

Read Next

Teaching Profession After a Stillbirth, This Teacher Was Denied Paid Leave for Recovery. Here's Her Story
A District of Columbia teacher delivered a stillborn baby and was denied paid maternity leave. Her story, told here, is not uncommon.
6 min read
Illustration of a woman.
iStock/Getty
Teaching Profession Opinion What Your Students Will Remember About You
The best teachers care about students unconditionally but, at the same time, ask them to do things they can’t yet do.
2 min read
Images shows a stylized artistic landscape with soothing colors.
Getty
Teaching Profession High Risk for COVID-19 and Forced Back to Class: One Teacher's Story
One theater teacher in Austin has a serious heart condition and cancer, but was denied the ability to work remotely. Here is her story.
9 min read
Austin High School musical theater teacher and instructional coach Annie Dragoo has three underlying health conditions noted by the CDC as being high-risk for coronavirus complications, but was denied a waiver to continue working from home in 2021.
Austin High School musical theater teacher and instructional coach Annie Dragoo has three underlying health conditions noted by the CDC as being high-risk for coronavirus complications, but was denied a waiver to continue working from home in 2021.
Julia Robinson for Education Week
Teaching Profession Photos What Education Looked Like in 2020
A visual recap of K-12 education in 2020 across the United States.
1 min read
On Sept. 24, 2020, distance learners are seen on a laptop held by teacher Kristen Giuliano who assists student Jane Wood, 11, in a seventh-grade social studies class at Dodd Middle School in Cheshire, Conn. Many schools around the state have closed temporarily during the school year because of students or staff testing positive for COVID-19. Within the first week of November 2020, nearly 700 students and more than 300 school staff around Connecticut tested positive, according to the state Department of Public Health.
Teacher Kristen Giuliano assists Jane Wood, 11, during a 7th grade social studies class in September at Dodd Middle School in Cheshire, Conn., while other students join the class remotely from home.
Dave Zajac/Record-Journal via AP