A Bridge of Hope


Twelve-year-old Angelo had been looking forward to the day when he would walk up the stage to receive his elementary diploma and move on to high school. His parents have pinned their hopes on the young boy, the eldest in a brood of six, to finish college, find a good job and in turn, help send his younger siblings to school. Unfortunately, after taking the High School Readiness Test (HSRT) last May, Angelo was among the 700,000 incoming high school students who were found not yet ready for high school. Now, it is up to his parents whether to send him on to high school where he may perform poorly or invest in a year of remedial classes and get a fighting chance at the future.

That the Philippine educational system has greatly deteriorated in the past two decades is an accepted fact. The 2000 Philippine Human Development Report noted that the students’ low scores in standard tests at the national and international levels reflect the poor quality of education. Results of the National Elementary Achievement Test showed that students answered correctly less than 50 percent of the questions. In the Third International Mathematics and Science Test among 13- to 14- year-old students of 38 countries, the Philippines ranked second from the bottom in the mathematics category and third from the bottom in the science category. The Medium-Term Philippine Development Plan (MTPDP) 2001-2004 recognizes this situation and has called for, among others, progressive curricular reforms and the institution of a system of assessment and testing. These strategies aim to make teaching more learner-centered and develop a unified policy on testing that will evaluate performance of the school system and also improve instruction and curricular structures.


HS Bridge Program: A Bitter Pill

The government through the Department of Education (DepEd) has thus finally decided to implement the High School Bridge Program. The program is akin to a bitter pill that aims to cure an illness. The results of the HSRT showed that 91.7 percent of the 1.4 million incoming freshmen who took the test scored 50 percent or less revealing that they are inadequately prepared to tackle the high school curriculum in English, Math and Science, the DepEd said.

DepEd officials clarify that the HSRT, which administered for the first time on May 24, is not at all a test of intelligence but a test to check on the readiness of elementary school graduate of high school. Those who fail the test may thus go through the Bridge Program, a one-year remedial process in English, Science and Math before moving on to high school.

For one year, students are to undergo two-hour sessions for the three subjects using a combination of “modular, self-paced and guided learning, a face-to-face, whole day interaction.” Studies show that among countries in Southeast Asia, the Philippines has the shortest education cycle, which is 10 years. Singapore and Brunei each have 13 years of basic education. Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam have 12 years while LAO PDR and Myanmar each have 11 years. This has led authorities to believe that the short education cycle has also been a major factor in the system’s churning out of ill-prepared elementary graduates.

As it considers adding another school year for elementary education, the government has prepared a corresponding resource programming strategy for the program. According to DepEd officials, there would be no additional costs for the next four years since increase in high school population will come in the fifth year, when students under the Bridge Program will have to stay an additional year.

Thus, government will program the estimated fifth year expenses for basic resources into three years beginning Fiscal Year (FY) 2006, so that by FY 2008, schools would have spaces for the incoming students. For school Maintenance Operating and Other Expenses or MOOE, requirements for the fifth year shall be programmed on the fifth year and the amount per capita shall be raised from Php 350.00 to Php 500.00

Bridge Program: Pros and cons

Critics of the Bridge Program have at least two major points against it. First, critics say that it is anti-poor and that it discriminates against the less fortunate, as it will be a financial burden to the parents to send their kids to school for an extra year.

And, second, the Bridge Program is allegedly a palliative measure, a quick fix akin to putting plaster on a deep wound. It was suggested that since it will entail extra expense, the better solution would be to improve the quality of teaching and build more classrooms.

DepEd officials assert that the remedial classes that focus on the three main subjects will help learners to sharpen their skills and enable them to compete with the kids who attend private or exclusive schools. According to Education Undersecretary Juan Miguel Luz, the additional cost to parents would not come this year but in 2008 when those who had to take the remedial year reach their fifth year of high school.

He explained that instead of viewing it as a burden, it would be better to look at it as investment for the future, when our children would have grown up to be well-equipped and well-trained adults who can confidently carry their own in the global workplace.

It was pointed out those countries like Singapore cannot simply cut back on the number of years spent for basic education because it knows it has to preserve its competitive edge in terms of its skilled and educated workforce.

With the Bridge Program, DepEd officials and their supporters feel there is hope that the standards of education in the Philippines will finally rise to its former status as one of the best in Southeast Asia.