By Beatriz Marie D. Cruz

A PROPOSAL to make the last two years of high school optional to fast-track students’ entry into the workforce will worsen inequality among working professionals, analysts said.

“Making senior high school (SHS) optional will not improve economic conditions and will likely perpetuate the income disparity between those who finished college and those who did not,” Christopher A. Tan, country head of PHINMA Education Philippines, told BusinessWorld in an e-mail.

If students are not job-ready once they reach Grade 10, making SHS optional will not make them employable, Mr. Tan said.

Terry L. Ridon, a former youth party-list legislator and currently the convenor of think tank InfraWatch PH said the measure “will create formal divisions,” in the workforce because “those without 12 years of study will essentially be relegated to manual, menial and low-value work.”

“Employability and job availability is not due to the number of years of study but it is mainly attributable to the actual quality of basic education,” Mr. Ridon said in an e-mail.

The K-12 (Kindergarten to Grade 12) curriculum was implemented following the passage of Republic Act (RA) No. 10533 or The Enhanced Basic Education Act of 2013, adding two more years to basic education with the intent of making graduates employable and globally competitive.

The Philippines at the time was the only Asian country and one of three in the world — the others being Angola and Dijbouti — with a 10-year basic education curriculum.

After noting the financial burden of an additional two years of high school with no guarantee of employment, Senior Deputy Speaker and Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo filed House Bill No. 7893, making senior high school (SHS) optional and providing a pathway for more immediate graduation.

“The failure of the K to 12 program to provide its graduates with promised advantages exacerbates the additional burden on parents and students imposed by two additional years of basic education,” Ms. Arroyo said in the bill’s explanatory note.

“There should be an option for the young to graduate from basic education soonest, after four years of high school,” she added, noting that students who wish to pursue tertiary education or attain a professional license can opt for the additional two years of basic education.

Mr. Ridon said that “if fundamental education metrics on mathematics, science and languages have not progressed in the last few years, it is a symptom of the failure to ensure quality education in our schools.”

Senator Sherwin T. Gatchalian has called on the private sector to provide more employment opportunities for SHS graduates in the technical-vocational-livelihood strand.

Senate Bill No. 2022 or the proposed Batang Magaling Act calls for work immersion programs to be incentivized under RA 11534 or the Corporate Recovery and Tax Incentives for Enterprises (CREATE) Act.

“Industry partners shall be allowed an additional item of deduction from their taxable income of the value of expense incurred for the skills development of SHS graduates,” Mr. Gatchalian said in the bill.

“The intention is to give incentives as a form of deductible. So, if you accept senior high school students in your company as part of their work immersion program, that work immersion program can be used as a deductible,” Mr. Gatchalian said in a statement on Monday.

“Historically, what moves a low-income country to mid-income levels is a combination of developing a robust industrial or service base and sustained investment in human capital,” according to Mr. Tan.

Mr. Ridon added that employability is highly influenced by the general state of the economy. “As long as strategic impediments in the economy continue to exist, such as poor governance, social and environmental compliance, job opportunities will remain limited,” he said.

In the 2023 national budget, funding for all education agencies was the equivalent of 3.6% of gross domestic product, according to the group Alliance of Concerned Teachers.