I remember how it was like during "my time". In grade school, English was the language of choice, and every Tagalog (now called Filipino) word spoken would cost you 5c. It wasn't as horrible as it sounds, mind you; at times it was even fun as classmates occasionally forget to speak in English and kids attempt to calculate how much needs to be paid, and in their concentration forget the rule and speak in the local language too!
I had 6 years of grade school and 4 years of high school. A total of 10 years (+ a year in kindergarten).
I started University in 1987. At that year, the constitution was revised and Spanish was abolished as an official language, and was thus stopped from being taught in school. I was among the first batch of students who did not have to study Spanish, and I was relieved because I heard it was a difficult subject.
At that time we had fewer letters to memorize from the alphabet (made even easier by Florante's song - below). And even fewer years to graduate and move on to University study.
There have been lots of changes since then. For one, the Filipino alphabet expanded to include more letters. And the current school year will now have the K-12 year programme implemented.
The K-12 Programme is quite an interesting development because it significantly changes the delivery of the curriculum. The most noticeable - and most controversial - is the addition of 2 more years of schooling. Whereas before we had Kinder, then 6 years of grade school, followed by 4 years of high school, there will now be Kindergarten, then six years of Primary School, followed by Junior school (Years 7-10), and then 2 years of senior high (Years 11-12).
For families who have a difficult time making ends meet, the addition of schooling years appear more as a burden than as an opportunity to improve the quality of education. But if you consider the bigger picture - that of world standards - the previous system does have the obvious setback where the time kids stay in school is a lot shorter than the rest of the world (there are actually two other countries in the same scenario we were, but that makes it even more glaring). In fact, here in New Zealand, it takes 13 years for kids to graduate from high school (which they also call College) and choose their career in University.
Personally, I feel that this change will make Filipinos more competitive in the global job market. And it does look like the government is allocating the necessary funding to the Education sector. But in order for this to work, the government must give the full support to those who are implementing it - the teachers. Teaching, unfortunately, is considered "a calling" in the Philippines because the salary is not competitive (for public school education). If the government can give what is due them, including adequate resources (classrooms, chairs, books), then we have a good chance that this will work. The other side of the equation is the community. The community should come together and support their local schools, be it for repairs to the school, contributing for the purchase of needed resources through donations or sponsorships. It is time to stop finger-pointing and complaining, and do something to improve our lot for the benefit of the children.
Another significant change is the use of the local dialect from Kinder til Year 3. This component reminded me of the conversation I had with a colleague. He asked why Filipinos can generally speak English and are rather good at it. I told him that English is the medium of instruction at school. When I confirmed that it was from grade school all the way to University, he remarked, 'total colonization'.
That discussion does bring home a point. From an early age, we are 'trained' in English, and thereby a notion that the local language is not good enough when in formal situations, it's only good for the domestic environment. We even got penalized when we spoke the dialect! This, I think, is a step not only towards better education (as the studies revealed the kids digest the information better if discussed in the dialect), but it may just as well have a positive impact on how we regard our culture.