WITH K to 12 adding grades 11 and 12 to the 10-year basic education so that the Philippine system will now be in accord with the rest of the region which has longer basic school years, UST and other higher education institutions in the country are thinking of changing the school opening from June to Septmeber. The change in the academic calendar is purportedly in time for the creation of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) Economic Community in 2015, the regional economic integration which would create a borderless society one of whose effects would be to allow young people from member-countries to enroll in any school in the region; thus the need for a synchronized school calendar.

Student mobility between universities will be easier in what is called as Asean Integration as it will enable them to establish linkages to each other. However, the Department of Education will not buy the idea, stating that the exchange program won’t affect basic education. Commission on Higher Education says it is studying the feasibility of the move.

In the 1960s, however, the education secretary at that time, Alejandro Roces, had tinkered with the idea of changing the school calendar. A year of feasibility testing showed it would not work due to the climate and culture of the country. The punishing heat did not make it any conducive to learning; most town fiestas happened in these months and the summer season was the harvest season so most kids should be out in the fields helping their parents. And who would enjoy a wet vacation anyway?

But changing the school calendar has been revived due to the forces of globalization.

The integration plan can create globally competitive professionals who could help the country develop and progress. The change in the HEI calendar would dovetail with the K to 12 program as both seek to integrate the Philippine economy and its education system with the rest of the region. More years in basic education would enable young Filipinos to take up college abroad since foreign HEIs have been reluctant in admitting Filipinos because of their alleged unpreparedness for higher education since they have finished only 10, not 12, years of basic schooling.

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Aside from globalization, climate change is influencing the change in the school calendar. The wet season when school opens has seen lately heavier monsoon rains and more deadly typhoons, so that schools, especially flood-prone UST and the University Belt in Manila, have been forced to cancel classes, making a mess of the school calendar. 

It is for all of these reasons that necessitate a change of the school calendar that it is surprising that the Department of Education and Commission on Higher Education seem reluctant to go along with the idea. It is even more shocking to find out that less than a year before full Asean integration, the DepEd and CHEd seem ignorant of the commitment made by the Philippines to realign its economy and education with the rest of the region!

But the Varsitarian supports the change in the school calendar not because of globalization or Asean integration, but because it will help correct the historically lopsided policies of the Philippine nation-state against agriculture, which should explain the country’s inability to industrialize and progress.

Socio-economic policies of the Philippines have historically been against its main strength—agriculture. Our educational system has raised an overpopulation of lawyers, executives, clerks, bureaucrats, careerists, and white-collar workers.

Meanwhile, the engineers and physicians, nurses, health and other professionals that we need have found more gainful living abroad because of the low payment they receive here so that the labor department is now thinking of importing foreign workers to fill in the brain drain in those very important professions.
Meanwhile our agricultural lands languish or are being given over to greedy developers. The 1960s plan to change the school calendar sought to redress the imbalance against agriculture. For why should young Filipinos be in the schools during the rainy months when the planting season was traditionally observed and they should be helping their parents till the fields? The plan was scuttled eventually but since then, agriculture has languished and policies against it have thrived. It is no wonder that the plan was made during the administration of the Thomasian president, Diosdado Macapagal, “the poor boy from Lubao” and the only president to have really come from the poor masses. It was Macapagal who made the first definitive moves toward agrarian reform and economic liberalizaton; he took up his doctorate in economics at the UST Graduate School and he knew that agricultural reform and removing protectionist barriers that foster competition and enable industries to shape up or die were needed for the country to fully take off in its quest for industrialization.

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But since Macapagal, during whose administration the Philippines was second only to Japan in economic progress, governments have paid lip service to agriculture so that the Philippines, once Asia’s food basket, has become a basket case. From being a rice exporter, it is now a rice importer. Monopolies and cartels in rice should explain the present furor over the rising cost of rice and poor rice varieties being sold to the poor. Monopolies and cartels plague other areas of Philippine agriculture—coconut, banana, and sugar.

The bias against agriculture should likewise explain the lack of development in the provinces. Indeed the political elite of the provinces have traditionally depended on Manila for largesse; their members are noted for absenteeism; they would rather go shopping in Manila or in Hongkong rather than stay put and do their job. Not surprisingly, they send their kids to foreign schools where the latter learn trades foreign to Philippine development concerns. Once back, these kids perpetuate the political dynasties of their clans.

Our educational system has become elitist. It doesn’t meet the requirements of a developing country. A cursory look at the course offerings of HEIs should show they are traditionally biased against agriculture and perpetuate Filipino negative attitudes toward farming and manual labor. Farmers and fishers are seen as lowly and menial. Traditional agricultural practices and crafts are romanticized although there would be no takers for them among college students and graduates. In the meantime, local products and crafts have not been developed. Elitist attitude and government policies have resulted in Philippine agriculture remaining in the dark ages. In the meantime, Thailand, whose people don’t mind being called farmers and fishers, have outstripped the Philippines in agriculture and become an economic powerhouse in the region.

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Through the change of our academic calendar, children can come back to their homes and do it like in the 1960s, when they helped their parents plant in the fields and later harvest the goods.

The Asean Integration in 2015 is an opportunity for the country to be at par with the rest of the region while also returning to its true identity as an agricultural country. The academic shift is not just anything simple—it is pro-agriculture, pro-industry, pro-progress, and pro-Philippines.

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