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To shift or not to shift?

The Department of Education and the Commission on Higher Education are now urged come up with their official recommendation…

With education as a vital component in achieving the key characteristics for the establishment of the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) in 2015, many stakeholders are now worried that the Philippines—particularly Filipino students and schools—may be left behind if its academic calendar would not be in sync with ASEAN neighboring countries.

With the AEC a year away, major universities including the University of the Philippines, University of Santo Tomas, Ateneo de Manila University and De La Salle University, among others have expressed openness to the idea of shifting their academic calendars from June to a later month—July, August, or September.

With this development, the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) is currently being urged to “give the go-signal” to HEIs under its jurisdiction to shift the start of the academic calendar to September. HEIs with “autonomous status” can decide to change their school opening to September given that they inform CHED of their intention.

CHED Chairperson Patricia Licuanan said the Commission will be forming a technical working group to conduct a “more thorough study if all HEIs should really shift into September opening of classes” and intends to come up with a recommendation before March ends. However, she cautioned HEIs to carefully considering shifting their calendar saying the “shift may not be for everyone [and] may not really be advantageous for all.”

The Department of Education (DepEd), on the other hand, is not very keen on moving the classes to September citing that students’ learning might be greatly affected if they attend classes during summer months.

“DepEd is not closed to the idea but there is no compelling reason to push for it either,” Education Secretary Armin Luistro said.

WHY SHIFT?

The AEC is the end goal of regional economic integration by 2015 which will focus on achieving a highly competitive economic region and one that is fully integrated into the global economy. The establishment of the AEC will also mark the start of free trade among the 10 members of the ASEAN community.

Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) in the Philippines are somehow compelled to shift their academic calendar to be in sync with the school calendars of other ASEAN countries. One of reasons of the HEIs in moving the opening of classes from June to a later month is to prepare for the ASEAN 2015, particularly to provide its students more opportunities to participate in international conferences which are mostly scheduled in July or August.

Earlier, Dr. Jose Paulo Campos of the Coordinating Council of Private Educational Associations (COCOPEA) said that there is a need for the country’s HEIs to be in sync with the academic calendar of other ASEAN countries “otherwise, we’re going to be off cycle.”

COCOPEA has member schools from five major school associations in the country which include the Association of Christian Schools, Colleges, and Universities (ACSCU), Catholic Educational Association of the Philippines (CEAP), Philippine Association of Colleges and Universities (PACU), Philippine Association of Private Schools, Colleges, and Universities (PAPSCU), and the Technical-Vocational School Associations of the Philippines (TEVSAPHIL).

Due to the ASEAN 2015 integration, Campos said that most—if not all private HEIs (PHEIs)—will probably consider changing the schedule of class opening from June to July, August, or September.

“You don’t want to be against the herd and you want to be in sync with everyone so that your schools can transfer or receive students, otherwise you’re going to be an odd man out,” he added.

Asked about the implication of AEC for basic education, Luistro said the ASEAN Integration will greatly affect student mobility and the readiness of the Philippine schools to accept international students.

“If ASEAN 2015 really pushes through, the travel of students—even the minors—will happen and would be cheaper,” he said. This, he explained, will pave more access to education by trying to eliminate barriers through physical travel.

Given this, Luistro said that Philippine education should also be ready in accommodating students—especially the curriculum.

“Our curriculum should also be ready both ways—for students to move to another ASEAN country and not to have difficulty being absorbed and the other way around,” he explained. “Because of that greater mobility, there’s an implication to DepEd because we have to be ready to accept other international students into our schools.”

However, he also noted that “student mobility is very limited among grade school and high school students in ASEAN” thus, moving class opening to September for basic education should still be carefully considered.

CAREFUL CONSIDERATIONS

Luistro clarified that DepEd is “not against the September opening of classes” for the basic education, saying that “as the higher education institutions start shifting, I think we should be willing to reconsider.”

However, he stressed that other than being in sync with other countries for the ASEAN 2015, one other reason that should be considered is the effect on the students’ learning.

“I think one of the reasons that should be on the plate is how viable are the summer months in the public schools in terms of learning,” he said. “One problem is typhoon but how about the problem with the heat? I think we have to study that carefully,” he pointed out.

Luistro also stressed that students’ learning might be greatly affected once academic calendar is adjusted from June to later months of August or September because the school year will cover summer months. “There could be a negative impact on learning during the hot months of April and May,” he said.

Moving the start of school opening means classes will be until the hottest months of the year and with public school without adequate ventilating system or air conditioning system, DepEd said that health problems may arise while students are attending school.

Luistro also cautioned that moving class opening to September “does not necessarily solve typhoon or flooding problems as weather patterns are changing.” Before the ASEAN Integration, the main rationale for moving to September is that if the students will be able to escape at least two months of the heavy typhoon season.

“If you look at the typhoon season, most of that is confined into a few regions but not all typhoons pass through the same areas. So if you look at the rationale for moving the calendar into September, hindi naman ka-advantageous if the only reason is because you want to avoid the typhoon.”

The DepEd chief said that before considering the proposals to move the school opening to September for the 2015 Integration, other ASEAN countries must also have the same academic calendar.

“Apparently, when we did our initial review, only the Higher Ed in ASEAN countries have converged—around August to September,” he said. “But when we looked into the basic education, mukhang hindi lahat ganun.”

DECIDING ON WHAT WORKS BEST

Campos, meanwhile, stressed that COCOPEA would not compel its member-schools to shift their academic calendars.

“These are all based on individual schools but the majority of schools either don’t know this is happening so that they won’t be able to make the change or if they know it, they will probably follow,” he said.

According to him, there are some 1,800 HEIs nationwide, 300 are state universities and colleges (SUCs,) 100 local universities and colleges (LUCs) and about 1,400 PHEIs. As President of Emilio Aguinaldo College (EAC), Campos said that the school might be changing the opening of classes into July in 2014 “but we’re not going to do it in one switch.”

Private schools, Campos added, are free to set to their school opening but it is always “dictated on by what works best.” Some schools, he said, are on trimester but they do that because they want to be able to use their facilities maximally. “Some schools are on a semester maybe because their students couldn’t afford to pay on 10 or 12-month basis.”

CHED said that schools which have autonomous status can decide to shift the opening of the academic year granted that these HEIs will inform the CHED about their intention. The autonomous status allows universities “to design their own curricula, offer new programs and put up branches or satellite campuses without having to secure permits, confer honorary degrees, and carry out operations without much interference from CHED.”

However, those HEIs that were not conferred with “autonomous status” might have to secure approval since they are regulated by CHED.

With this, Licuanan cautioned HEIs to “take their time” before finally coming up with a decision whether to move their school opening to September. “Perhaps alternatives or other strategies can be looked into such as quarterly school year over semestral to make mobility easier for faculty and students and not necessarily start September or October,” she ended.