In a bold move that sent shockwaves through the education sector, CHED Chairperson J. Prospero E. de Vera III issued a Memorandum on December 18, 2023, directing all State Universities and Colleges (SUCs) and Local Universities and Colleges (LUCs) to terminate their senior high school (SHS) programs, effective from the upcoming school year (SY 2024-2025). The reason behind this sudden directive, as cited by De Vera, is the perceived lack of a legal foundation for continued funding. This resulted in some lawmakers questioning the abrupt decision and emphasizing the underlying concern of viability and preparedness: Is the sector of education fully equipped for this change?
What triggered the Decision?
De Vera leaned on the commission's prior decisions outlined in CMO Nos. 32 and 33, Series of 2015 and 2016, restricting the involvement of SUCs and Local Universities and Colleges (LUCs) in basic education through senior high school to the K-12 transition period, spanning from SY 2016-2017 to SY 2020-2021.
Note that this is an agreement for a transition period during which LUCs and SUCs would be allowed to accept SHS students with DepEd providing them a voucher system since secondary education should be free. Due to the pandemic, the matter was not addressed after the transition period ended in 2021 with schools transitioning to online learning.
Consequently, the impact goes beyond the abrupt cessation of the SHS programs. De Vera's memorandum, coupled with the DepEd's notice through the Private Education Assistance Committee, implies a cessation of government assistance to students and teachers in private education from SUCs and LUCs starting SY 2023-2024. This decision, according to De Vera, excludes those entering Grade 12 in that academic year. Moreover, SUCs and LUCs with laboratory schools can accept enrollees but will no longer receive vouchers.
What are the odds?
With no legal binding on CHED’s to continue the SHS program on SUCs and LUCs, DepEd will now brace for the impact of this decision in terms of resources and manpower, while both sectors face the dilemma of transitioning and displacing the students.
CHED's mandate to cease SHS programs in SUCs next year could displace more than 17,000 Grade 11 students, leaving them with just two options: enroll in public schools or opt for private schools with the SHS voucher program; with this, students may also face congestion in public schools. This does not sit well among students and teachers who are concerned about the potential economic fallout for teachers with yet another looming learning crisis.
It is no secret the current state of our education system; the lack of classrooms, deteriorating quality of education, and lack of learning resources and facilities which critics are quick to point to, doubting the efficiency of this, yet, another mishandled implementation from the country’s sectors of education. ACT National Chairperson Vladimer Quetu pinpoint the current state of classrooms, how students are congested together which might result in different impractical mechanisms in order to cater to the influx of students, such as the possibility of Saturday classes or third shifts, and the doubling number of students congested inside the classroom that might worsen the quality of learning.
Critiques have emphasized the need of consultation from relevant stakeholders to ensure the preparedness of both public schools and private schools in accepting the influx of transferees and enrollees from their former SUCs and LUCs, and how the quality of learning resources and facilities are practical enough to cater the learning needs of senior high school students. Not to mention, if there are enough personnel to handle such a large number of students.
ACT Teachers Partylist Representative France Castro strongly criticized CHED and DepEd for their lack of consultation with stakeholders before issuing the memorandum. Castro argues that the sudden impact on students losing financial aid and teachers facing job uncertainty should have been anticipated, calling for the suspension of implementing these memos until comprehensive consultations occur with all relevant stakeholders.
With the current state of our education, the establishment of schools and full funding of education are clearly needed to support our learners, instead of pushing the closures of existing ones and cutting funding. Our education system needs assistance and support, any decisions affecting the accessibility and quality must undergo thorough assessment and consultation with all relevant stakeholders, instead of easily cutting ties on the excuse of “no legal foundation” where in fact, CHED itself is not a distant and distinct body from the education sector.
The implications of CHED's decision on the future of thousands of students and educators hang in the balance. Question lingers in strides; will this “cut-off” secures a smooth sailing or will this be woes in the making?