With more schools planning to adjust their academic calendar to that of the rest of the world, the Commission on Higher Education (CHEd) is weighing the proposal of the “big four” universities for a change in the start of the academic year to August or September. But Patricia Licuanan, CHEd chair, said on Friday that the proposal would be carefully studied to determine its impact and implications on the wider education system in the Philippines.
“We are forming a technical working group and asking them to study the implications and hold consultations on this proposal,” Licuanan said in a telephone interview. The University of the Philippines (UP) and Ateneo de Manila University (ADMU) were the first to propose the change last year. The University of Santo Tomas (UST) and De La Salle University (DLSU) followed shortly with the same plan. Licuanan, however, said that only UP and Ateneo had notified CHEd of their plans. The big four universities argued that adjusting their academic calendar would prepare them for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) Economic Community (AEC) planned for 2015 and align their academic calendars with other major universities in the world.
Autonomous schools Licuanan said the four universities were “autonomous,” a status granted them by CHEd, so they had the freedom to carry out the change, provided they notified the commission first. Most of the country’s more than 2,000 colleges and universities do not have that status and must seek CHEd approval before they can change their academic calendar. “I don’t think there will be much of a problem if only these four will adjust their academic calendar. But now, it seems other groups of universities and colleges are supporting the idea. As their regulator, we have to step in and study this carefully,” Licuanan said. Adamson University, also autonomous, recently announced its plan to change the start of its school year to August, if a shift would be allowed this year, or September if the change would start in 2015. The Catholic Educational Association of the Philippines (CEAP) welcomed the proposal and said many of its members supported the idea. No hurry But the CHEd is in no hurry to put Philippine schools in sync with the rest of the world. In fact, it is just beginning to form the group that will study the big four’s proposal. “We are only starting now because we did not think this was a big deal, as only the four had [announced that they were changing] their academic calendar. But now it is a big deal because of the bandwagon effect,” Licuanan said. The group will submit its study by March, then call for discussions and hold consultations. “I don’t think it’s for all institutions, but just for a select few.” Licuanan said.
“There might be some kind of alternative for the rest, something in between a shift in the calendar. Like a quarterly term system, for example, which will allow mobility of students a lot better while still allowing us to be part of the Asean 2015 system without changing the basic education system.” Disruption of system A problem posed by the proposed shift is the disruption of the local education system. “If [elementary and high school students] will graduate in March and the opening of classes will be in September, there will be a huge gap and a disruption. And if in the end, not all colleges and universities decide to adopt the new schedule, that’s something they have to work out,” Licuanan said. “It could be a benefit to big universities that can attract more international students, so it’s a boost to international mobility. But the bulk of students will still come from local high schools,” she said. Philippine weather remains a big factor, Licuanan said. “We went through this a lot of times before, and the main argument is really the weather. Once the first storm hits us, there’s a clamor to move the start of classes. But other months are stormy as well,” she said. Not keen The Department of Education (DepEd) is not inclined to change the academic calendar for elementary and high school students. Tonisito Umali, assistant education secretary for legal affairs, said in a separate interview that while the DepEd is carefully studying the proposal, it is not keen on adopting it. “Schools have proposed a shift before, citing the weather. But in 2009, a survey we did showed only three of the 16 regions—Central Luzon, Western Visayas and Western Mindanao—were in favor of the shift,” Umali said.
“So the weather is not enough reason to move the [start of the] school year. Now, they’re putting forward a different reason, the Asean integration. We’ll see if there are really compelling arguments for their proposal,” he said. Umali said the June-to-March calendar was the best option. “If you look at other countries, their school year begins in autumn, which comes in August or September. Their vacation starts around June, which coincides with their summer. Here, the vacation period starts in April, which is also summer,” he said. Weather Umali said that while rains and storms only affect certain parts of the country at any given time, the heat of summer is felt everywhere at the same time. “Not all our classrooms have air-conditioners. And students have always chosen summer as bonding time with their families, which we consider very important. We have many fiestas and holidays during summer. The Holy Week also comes [in summer]. These are the few times to contemplate and to enjoy their families’ company,” he said. There are other factors to consider, he said. “We have to look first at the number of international students coming here for basic education. It’s quite big for college, but we have to determine it for elementary and high school,” he said. Advantages But the CEAP sees advantages in the shift. Joseph Noel Estrada, CEAP legal counsel, said the shift would open up opportunities not just for students to easily transfer to other educational institutions abroad, but also to universities.
“Because of the difference in the academic calendars, many of our member schools miss many opportunities for collaboration in research and student and faculty exchanges,” he said. “Many of our member schools support the idea, but they cannot take concrete measures yet because they are regulated by CHEd. Until CHEd gives the go-signal for the shift, we cannot really [have concrete plans] for this,” Estrada said.