Artwork by Alyssa Arizabal (https://www.instagram.com/alyssaarzbl)


The transition from elementary education to junior high is a complex one because it marks a transition from childhood to adolescence (ages 11-12 to 16-17).  Dr. Doris Allen, the psychologist who specialized in psychodrama and development and who founded Children’s International Summer Villages (CISV), wrote that children globally reaching the age of eleven begin to learn to think independently but are still too young to adopt the biases and prejudices of their elders.

Learning to think and act independently is a major stage in a child’s development. 

In Jean Piaget’s 4 Stages of Cognitive Development, Stage 4 is the Formal Operational stage covering the ages 12 and up.  Starting at this age, the adolescent begins to think in the abstract and reason about hypothetical problems.  Teens begin to think more about philosophical, moral, ethical, social, and political issues that require theoretical and abstract reasoning.  They begin to use deductive logic to answer questions.  At this point, children become capable of seeing multiple potential solutions to problems.  Thinking scientifically is a new skill that helps them interpret and understand the world around them. (verywellmind.com; Scott & Cogbum, 2022)

In Eric Erickson’s Stages of Psychosocial Development, the adolescent years from 12 to 18 are characterized as “Identity versus role confusion” and focus on developing and understanding social relationships.  During adolescence, children explore independence and develop a sense of self.  Teens need to develop a sense of self and personal identity.  Success leads to an ability to stay true to oneself.  Failure leads to role confusion and a weak sense of self. (verywellmind.com)


In junior high school, the games once pursued in the elementary years by children in school start giving way to social relationships.  Boy and girls begin to form closer relationships initially within the same sex until they start to be cognizant of the opposite sex.

Adolescent children start doing more dealmaking amongst themselves to accomplish tasks or get what they want.  In junior high school, we talk about collaboration or collaborative work where students work with each other on tasks including learning.  The level of agency is enhanced by a greater awareness of identity. 

This level of social interaction is not without its growing pains.  It is an age where children are finding their own identity and where they are developing a sense of self-worth.  The inability to develop this sense of self-sense of worth fully or even adequately can seed doubt, uncertainty, and even insecurity and where these persist, children (as do adults) rely on behaviors that may be less-than-social, even anti-social at best, to behavior that can be disruptive or even deviant, at worse.

A manifestation of this behavior is captured in a series of background questions given to the Filipino Grade 9 students taking the PISA international assessment test in 2018 (the first time the Philippines participated in PISA).  When asked if they had experienced bullying in school whether shunning, verbal abuse or physical abuse, an astonishing 95 per cent replied in the affirmative.  This was the highest response rate of all the countries taking PISA and significantly higher than the world average.

Offhand, I can think of three theories about this (though I am not a trained psychologist).  With the large number saying they have experienced bullying, either nearly all are engaging in this (being bullied and bullying others in turn) unless they do not understand the question (this lack of comprehension of the question is a different issue to be explored in other essays).

Or, this behavior has become a social norm in the community which in itself is problematic.

What I fear, however, is that if children are learning below level and falling behind, they may revert to such behavior in order to establish their self-worth or standing among peers or to express or vent their frustrations. 

This observation in the PISA findings needs to be studied further.


While knowledge is ever expanding, class time in school is fixed in time.  The practice in DepED has been to add competencies in all the subjects at all grade levels until the COVID-19 and the switch to distance education.  Forced into producing learning packets, DepED trimmed the curriculum reducing the content and number of learning competencies by as much as 60 per cent depending on the subject.

De-cluttering the curriculum was necessary after the results of the 2018 PISA for the Philippines was revealed.  Before the curricular reform brought about by COVID-19, some subjects were covering almost a learning competency each school day in each subject.  Time was spent presenting a lesson; not enough time was given for students to practice what was taught in order to deepen the learning.

If you follow the old thinking, there was a dilemma:  Increased subject matter versus limited class time.  Adding content waters down that content and no time to digest and internalize that content leads to poor learning as revealed by the international assessment tests.

Here, pedagogy has to change.  In this internet age, delivering content from the teacher’s dais is no longer effective.  Students with devices or with access to the internet can access as much information as they can absorb.

The 21st Century Skills of today are much different.  Where once competencies were focused on curricular content, today, new skills matter – the ability to search for new information from online sources; the ability to discuss, debate, and argue with fellow students; the ability to communicate not only in the written and verbal forms but also digitally and using different media; the skill of collaboration to attain shared goals. 

Here, however, there are new challenges.  Students (and teachers, too) have to learn how to distinguish facts from claims; to distinguish facts from fake news or false claims.  This is becoming more and more difficult as purveyors of the latter use social media to present alternative facts they pass off as real facts. 

Where once the measure of learning was solely tests and examinations to reveal what students may have learned (i.e. what they know), educators today speak of “true assessment” – students showing their level of learning in written or presented work they do.  The former is focused principally if not solely on testing, the latter is more on any number of different work by students including projects, constructed work, presentations in different media, collaborative endeavors.

Learning, then, is more than just academics.  It becomes much more varied.  It should include extra-curricular activities, clubs and organizations, social endeavors, and, at the high school level, a stronger orientation to civic duty.


Academic learning at the high school level becomes discipline-focused as students learn in greater detail many different subjects:

  • Principles in science
  • Formulas and equations in mathematics
  • History and its meaning and effects on issues of today and tomorrow including current events
  • A deeper dive into language for communication, expression, and culture

Science moves beyond an exposition to and appreciation of new scientific topics in the elementary grades to a deeper dive into the main branches of science:  Earth science, Biology, Chemistry, Physics.

Mathematics dives into the world of logical and computational thinking: Algebra, Geometry, Trigonometry.

History and social science looks beyond facts and figures to foundational content.

Language Arts on how we speak and write and express ourselves.

As a plan, academics should be limited to 60 per cent of learning time (i.e. classroom time) with the balance reserved for extra-curricular activities, clubs and organizations, physical fitness and sports in order to allow for the development of better-rounded students and individual.


If students are to take charge of their own learning, this has to be through what progressive educators term “learning by doing”.

There is a quote that some attribute to the Confucian philosopher, Xunzi (Xun Kuang, c. 310 – c. 235 B.C.E.):

              “Tell me and I forget;

              Teach me and I may remember;

              Involve me and I learn.”

This is the essence of a progressive education – Learning by doing.  It is less about lectures and more about working through the subject matter to learn concepts, principles, facts.  Students teaching themselves though guided by teachers. 

In the sciences, there are lectures, but there should be as much laboratory time to learn.   

In mathematics, students should link concepts, formulas, and equations to real world application.  Developing skill in calculation gives one advantages in addressing real world problems.

Literature through readings books, watching plays, dramas and musicals cultivates imagination, expands vocabulary, and can introduce children to new worlds.

Computer simulations will help students imagine potential outcomes or multiple pathways.  Coding helps develop logical thinking further.

The junior high school years are the right time to introduce new workshop skills such as woodworking, tailoring, weaving and other practical arts.

Music, art, drama, and dance expands one’s world view as do foreign languages.

One of the great learning tools is role-playing.  One good role-playing activity covering multiple subjects is the Model United Nations (UN) Assembly.  This can be expanded to a model ASEAN.  Students learn about current events and social, political and environmental matters while also developing tools and skills in debate, argumentation, presentation, and simulation.

Another good learning activity with practical application that can be used for life is First Aid including CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation).  Swimming, lifesaving and survival skills would be more advanced topics to learn.  In a country as disaster-prone as the Philippines, these would be extremely practical skills to learn.  (Certainly more practical than the planned ROTC promoted by some.)


As children grow into adolescence and their teens, developing self-identity is a major step.  Schools play an important role as places where this emotional and social growth can happen – for developing a world view from self to community to society.

We are not fully geared for this especially in the public school system.  But we can, be given the huge increase in resources made available for public education in the last 12 years.  We have increased resources for education substantially in the past 12 years such that we should be able to plan the reengineering of our schools moving forward.    

(For context, In the early 2000s, the DepED annual budget ranged from P110-115 Billion.  Starting 2010, the annual budget started increasing by P30-45 Billion under the PNoy Administration.  In 2021, the DepED budget was P595 Billion set to rise to P629.8 Billion in 2022.  This represents a 550 per cent increase over the past two decades.)

The current pandemic may have derailed education, but the so-called “new normal” might be the opening needed to shift to a new mode of education – Progressive education.  This learning environment might be more supportive of student experimentation and practical learning at the high school level – a learning environment that allows for more student interaction and interchange not only within schools but among schools

This would match the characteristics of adolescence that such classic child psychologists as Piaget and Erickson wrote about. 

Junior high school should provide a rich and diverse learning environment for adolescents and teen. 


Ericson, Eric H. (1980).  Identity and the Life Cycle.  Norton & Company, Inc.

Scott, Hannah K., and Mark Cogbum (2022).  Piaget, StatPearl Publishing LLC.




Grade 7Organizing and structuring information.  Structuring reasoning.Deliberative and cognitive creativity (inventiveness).Participation in clubs.Expository and descriptive writing.
Grade 8Considering and organizing evidence.  Testing evidence.Deliberative and emotional creativity (Therapeutic A-Ha moments).Model ASEAN.Persuasive and narrative writing. Written, audio, and video blogs.
Grade 9Identifying assumptions.  Subjecting assumptions to logical test.Spontaneous and cognitive creativity (discovery moments).Model UN General Assembly.Debate and discussion (laying out premises and positions).
Grade 10Building and evaluating arguments.  Communicating conclusions.Spontaneous and emotional creativity (artistic endeavors).Model UN General Assembly.Debate and discussion (negotiation and bargaining).



Grade 7How to take apart complex problems.  Breaking problems into smaller parts to solve; reassembling the solved parts into a whole.Piecing together bits and pieces of information into a coherent, plausible narrative or account.  Filling in the blanks.
Grade 8Projecting outcomes from a series of events.Fact-checking data and information. 
Grade 9Intended and unintended consequences.Outlining positions, nuances in complex issues.  Why do people have differences of opinion on complex issues?
Grade 10Pareto analysis.Spotting fake news in social media.  Testing fact from propaganda, lies.
Source:  J. M. Luz, November 2021.  Author’s formulation.


Juan Miguel Luz is a Fellow of FEU Public Policy Center