11 December 2013

Philippine Schoolyear to Start in August?


One of the hottest topics in the news these days is that several of the country’s top universities are seriously considering adjusting their school calendars for an August instead of June opening of the school year. The primary reason being put forth is to be synchronised with the rest of ASEAN.

Of the organisation’s member countries, the primetime news reported last night, only the Philippines and Thailand start the schoolyear in June. The rest open in August as is also the case in many western countries.

This development has again triggered the debate about whether it makes more sense to move the entire Philippine educational system into an August rather than June opening. The primary argument by proponents of this move is that an August opening avoids the height of the rainy season.

Let us look at these two primary arguments up close.


The most compelling argument against changing the opening of school was put forth by a public school elementary teacher in an interview aired by the primetime news last night. Not all schools, she stated, are equipped to cope with the summer heat.
Synchronising the calendar with the rest of ASEAN is beneficial for internationalisation, which is a hot agenda among many local colleges and universities these days. This involves partnerships between universities from different countries to facilitate exchanges in faculty and students.

There are diverse models for internationalisation in education; but by and large this allows for the immersion in other cultures by both faculty and students, which is a thrust in globalisation in education. Internationalisation can also be a lucrative venture for enterprising colleges and universities.

It goes without saying that exchanges become problematical if not outright impossible for local colleges and universities if the Philippine school calendar is not synchronised with those of other countries. Ideally, faculty and students visit for a semester; then return to their home universities without breaking stride.

On the other hand, for the ordinary Juan and Juana, particularly those in basic education – i.e. elementary and high school – I can see no practical benefit from synchronisation for internationalisation purposes.

There are, of course, the occasional cases of transfers. For children of expatriates, there are the international schools which are in tune with the international school calendar, anyway.

For children of Filipinos abroad who wish to enrol in local schools, frequently it is a case of insertion in the middle of the schoolyear or sitting out the rest of the schoolyear until the formal opening the next June.

The second argument – i.e. avoiding the rainy season – naturally also has its pros and cons. The main concern is the loss of class days; that is, when inclement weather forces the cancellation of classes. Many public schools around the country are also used as evacuation centres in times of weather-related disasters.

On the other hand, the agencies governing education in this country require a minimum number of school days within the 10 or so months of the schoolyear. It goes without saying that this requirement is being met by all and sundry – monsoons and typhoons notwithstanding – else the calendar would have been changed aeons ago.

Students concerned about vacation time spent cooped inside the household because of inclement weather, naturally, oppose the change in the school calendar. What for is a vacation, they argue, if it cannot be enjoyed?

One is also tempted to ask, what will be the cost to local tourism of a change in the opening of classes from June to August? Have the education agencies even talked to the tourism people?

The most compelling argument against changing the opening of school was put forth by a public school elementary teacher in an interview aired by the primetime news last night. Not all schools, she stated, are equipped to cope with the summer heat.

Having taught in non-airconditioned high school classrooms before, I know for a fact that students are at their most restless and distracted during hot and windless days. Having worked in the discipline office as well, I also know that infractions rather tended to pile up during those days as well.

It has been almost half a century now, but I seem to recall that when I was in elementary back in the sixties, there was this one time when we had an unusually long summer vacation. The additional month, if I recall it correctly, was because of a change of the opening of classes from May to the June that is still what we have in the present.

I do not know the exact reason for this, but I have a suspicion that the summer heat also had something to do with it. For all we know, the argument may have just gone full circle.

Personally, I used to hate teaching during hot days when, apart from being distracted, students also rather tended to be lethargic. I say keep things as they are. Opening in June is quite fine.

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