"Bear in mind that the wonderful things you learn in your schools are the work of many generations, produced by enthusiastic effort and infinite labor in every country of the world. All this is put into your hands as your inheritance in order that you may receive it, honor it, add to it, and one day faithfully hand it to your children. Thus do we mortals achieve immortality in the permanent things which we create in common." - Albert Einstein

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

"Love to Learn"

The following is a guest post from Mike Tomelden, who directs a school feeding program in the Philippines, Good Men Feeding Program. It is always easier to appreciate a post by seeing photographs of the children in need. So we start here with the children and end with a brief description of Tomelden's project (More information is provided on the Facebook page, The Reading, Literacy and Feeding Program):

Love To Learn 
by Mike Tomelden
Grade 1
Previous weight: 34.2 lbs.
Current weight: 38.2 lbs.

Grade 2
Previous weight: 30.36 lbs.
Current weight: 32.2 lbs.

Grade 2
Previous weight: 38.5 lbs.
Current weight: 42.5 lbs.

Grade 2
Previous weight:  42.2 lbs.
Current weight: 55 lbs.

Grade 2
Previous weight: 39.38 lbs.
Current weight: 52.0 lbs.

Grade 3
Previous weight: 43.6 lbs.
Current weight: 50 lbs.

Graduates of the Let’s Read program and beneficiaries of the Good Men Project Feeding program.

Love to Learn is an active apostolate by Margaux Romero Atayde, Mike Tomelden and Nikko Buendia, under the auspices of the Paulino Garcia Charities Foundation and the Corazon Sanchez Atayde Memorial Foundation (CSAMF), Inc. represented by Margarita Romero-Atayde, Program Director; and Mike Tomelden of the Good Men Feeding Program, Program Director

The Dr. Paulino Garcia Charities and CSAMF have formed a partnership with Mike Tomelden with the vision of empowering Filipino children to finish their education; and to receive the necessary nourishment and tutorial aids to sustain learning. We all stand together in their goal of keeping children in school and nourished, thus increasing their chances of a better future.

The Program

L.E.T.S. Read is a program aimed to encourage love for reading in children, especially those at risk of dropping out of school. The program is complemented with feeding, parent and teacher enrichment.

The Good Men Feeding Project aims to feed malnourished/severely wasted school children aged zero to twelve years old, pregnant and lactating mothers. The primary source of nutrition is provided by HapagAsa through the use of Manna Rice provided by the Pondo ng Pinoy.

Part and parcel to the Love to Learn Program is a tutorial program – under the Good Men Feeding Program, in math and english to re enforce learning, and to increase the child's chances of success, as to bring together all stakeholders in the child’s life working towards the same goal.

Roles and Responsibilities

The parties’ roles and responsibilities are as follows:

1. CSAMF shall undertake the following activities to ensure proper implementation of the Program:

a. Train volunteers to implement the Program;

b. Provide parent training and education;

c. Monitor and document the Program; and

d. Submit reports to partners as requested or within a reasonable time after the completion of a certain phase of the Program.

CSAMF shall coordinate with the Partner Schools so that they shall undertake the following activities in fulfillment of the Program:

a. Provide classrooms/venues for use in activities as necessary;

b. Provide volunteer teachers ad parents;

c. Help monitor the Program and coordinate with CSAMF; and

d. Provide relevant school data, such as Phil-IRI, grades, weight/height and other pertinent information relating to the health and performance of the beneficiaries.

The Good Men Feeding Program is a feeding program that provides children hot meals from Monday to Saturday. Meals are served in the morning before kids go to school. Those that go to the morning session are also given food through their parents.

The Good Men Project

A. Objective

• To reduce malnutrition prevalence rate among 0 to 12 years old

• To improve capacity of parents to care and provide for basic needs of their children

• Improved Physical, mental, emotional and social development

• Weight gain of 1 to 2 kg per month

• More active and cheerful children

• Increased appetite

• Less sickly

• Good disposition

• Improved skin color (pale to rosy cheeks)

• Improved school attendance and performance

B. Program Components

• Supplemental Feeding

• Parents’ Education Classes

§ Affective Parenting

§ Health and Nutrition

§ Responsible Parenthood-Natural Family Planning and Values

§ Livelihood and Skills Training

• A tutorial program shall instruct children ages 6 to 12 in math and English, taught by professional public school children, with the prescribed public school K to 12 curricullum.

D. Mechanics

Target Recipients

- 6 months to 12 years old undernourished children (priority given to younger age group – 6 years old & below)

- underweight pregnant and lactating women

Feeding Administration

- 1 meal a day, 5 days a week for 6 months or a total of 120 days

- Food can be complete meal or heavy snacks

- Gather children together in one site for snacks or regular meals

- Use of food supplements:

- Manna Pack Fortified Rice

• Rice with Soya and Dehydrated Vegetables manufactured in the US

• Donated by Feed my Starving Children through Risen Saviour Missions

• Each pack weighes approx. 400g and can feed 6 children or 4 pregnant/lactating mothers

- Manpower includes volunteers and most importantly PARENTS OF THE ENROLLED CHILDREN

a. Monday to Wed: 40 to 50 children

b. Thurs to Friday: 120 children. In reality, the number ranges from 160 to 180 children daily.

c. We initially asked the school to ask parents to come to seminars. A few came

d. When asked the parents to help with cooking, serving and cleaning, some came but did not return thereafter.

e. Cooking, was initially done by the school guard Russell, who had to wake up rather early in the morning (around 3 am) to cook the children’s meals.

f. Initially, only the 40 to 50 children were fed daily, if at all. My main responsibility was to provide supplemental ingredients, which we brought to the school.

g. We took over the cooking soon thereafter. It was at this time that the number of recipients steadily increased.

h. When the program began, recipients did not respond well to the Vita Meal nor the Manna Rice – color and taste were unusual.

i. I immediately looked at the problem and designed a menu around what the kids suggested. We learned how to properly prepare the Manna Rice and Vita Meal. The menu evolved into the following:

a. Fried Rice with Manna Rice (fried egg, hot dog, ground meat mixture) – very high acceptance.

b. Spaghetti with ground meat and vita meal mix and tomato sauce – very high acceptance

c. Sopas and Manna Rice – medium to high acceptance

d. Processed cheese sandwiches on white bread, served with chocolate milk. We always make sure there is one component with high nutritional value. This is highly acceptable to kids.

e. Lumpiang shanghai made with fish and vita meal paste, served with Manna rice. As long as there is ketchup, acceptance is high.

f. From this menu, we established a daily allowance of P 10/child.

- Other Program Components

- Parents’ Education Classes

- Conducted at least once a week for 6 months

- Skills Training and Livelihood Activities

- In partnership with other organizations/institutions.

- Parents who already graduated from the 6-month program are eligible for capital loan from DSWD

- Resource mobilization and networking


This is the ideal structure:

A. Community or School Coordinator

B. Parents/Caregivers and other Volunteers

a. Food Preparation Group, Marketer(s) and Cook(s), Servers and Cleaners

b. Nutritional Assessment Group/Growth Monitoring Person/Attendance checker

c. Education & Support Services Group/Education Classes Coordinator

Expected Effects on Children

a. Physical, mental, emotional and social development

b. Weight gain of 1 to 2 kg per month

c. More active and cheerful children

d. Increased appetite

e. Less sickly

f. Good disposition

g. Improved skin color (pale to rosy cheeks)

h. Improved school attendance and performance

i. Comments/Observations:

• A good percentage of the children gained weight, but not at the rate we expected ( 1 to 2 kg per month)

• Certainly, once we developed a menu based on feedback from kids, appetites increased drastically.

• According to Let’s Read personnel, children at Dr. Sixto Antonio – as opposed to the other five pilot schools in Pasig - seemed to:

• perform better academically

• are more active and cheerful

• My main concern are the meals they are supposed to receive before and after school. As it is, teachers tell me that most do not eat breakfast – for one reason or another (kids tend to take seconds, thirds and fourth, and more, servings regularly). This may be the primary reason that weight objectives become difficult to achieve. If the only nutritious meal they get is from the feeding program, then there is a high probability of zero net weight gain.

My other concern is continuity. Our Feeding program is scheduled for six months. During our absence in the summer vacation months, our beneficiaries will probably lose weight once again, and will not have the benefit of nutritious food until school begins once again in three months time.

Blogger Tricks

Monday, October 16, 2017

Food Stamps and Academic Performance

Children growing up in a poor family experience times when their basic needs are not met. Not having enough money to buy food and clothes can have a significant impact on a child's performance in school. In the United States, there is a Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP (formerly called "Food Stamps") which provides financial assistance to poor families so that they can meet their nutritional needs. A family of four, for instance, can receive as much as $640 per month. In most instances, this amount is not really adequate for the entire month such that during the final days of the month, the chance of nutritional deficiencies becomes higher. Recent research shows that the academic performance of children correlates with the benefits cycle such that performance is poorer when the "Food Stamps" have run out.

When a math exam is administered 26 days after SNAP benefits are received, students' scores are lower:

Above based on data provided by
Cotti, Chad D. and Gordanier, John and Ozturk, Orgul D., When Does it Count? The Timing of Food Stamp Receipt and Educational Performance (June 25, 2017). 

Lower scores do seem to correlate with the SNAP cycle. Students score lower when the family has presumably run out of money to buy food. There is no argument that proper nutrition correlates with academic performance. However, the above graph does show several intriguing details. There is a significant difference between African American and White children, and among African American American children, there is a difference between boys and girls. Why does the SNAP benefits timing affect the performance of African American boys more? Why is there a difference between blacks and whites? Obviously, these questions will remain because this study is merely correlational. However, it is clear that there are differences that go beyond when families receive assistance. Perhaps, there are differences in budgets or priorities. Food shortage can translate to stress and there may be differences in family structure that can account for how this stress is distributed among family members. Furthermore, it is a fact that schools are still segregated according to income and race. So perhaps, poor white children are simply able to cope better with harder times because they are receiving a greater level of support from their schools. Whatever the reason is, it should be pretty clear why poverty gets in the way of education.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

"Weight of Evidence" versus "Balance" in News Reporting

In an opinion article on "fake news" in the Philippine Daily Inquirer, a former journalist and journalism professor, Crispin Maslog, wrote: "We drill into our students the principles of objectivity, double-checking facts, accuracy, fairness and balance in news reporting, as well as responsibility in opinion writing." Fairness, objectivity and balance are standards we often hear regarding news reporting. Both sides need to be heard. In fact, when I was trying to get my opinion on K to 12 published in the Inquirer, I was told that the editor would always want to have a reply from the other side. Since the Department of Education never made a comment, my articles were never published. While this norm on balance may be appropriate for political news, applying it to issues that are best addressed by scientific research is actually precarious. Other examples where balance in news reporting is problematic are climate change and drug addiction. On Rappler, Cecilia Lero wrote, "Drug use in no way adversely affects my personal or professional lives."

Above copied from Rappler

The debate within the scientific community is of course dominated by a broad consensus on what psychoactive drugs do to the human body. Here is an example:

What is worth noting here is part of the last sentence in the above abstract: "...afflicted patients are unlikely to admit to the substance abuse...." Clearly, balance in news reporting is not advisable especially when mounting evidence goes against publishing the other side. 

Another example is on climate change. Boykoff and Boykoff found that in the United States, mainstream news outlets were giving both sides of the debate equal coverage:

Balance clearly cannot be a substitute for truth. To this dilemma, Sharon Dunwoody, Evjue-Bascom Professor of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, offers the following suggestion
"I suggest another strategy that would permit journalists to retain their emphasis on objectivity and balance but still share with their audiences a sense of where "truth" might lie, at least at that moment. I call this strategy "weight-of-evidence" reporting. It calls on journalists not to determine what's true but, instead, to find out where the bulk of evidence and expert thought lies on the truth continuum and then communicate that to audiences. Reporters are still responsible for capturing points of view accurately (objectivity) and for sharing with audiences the existence of more than one contrasting point of view (balance). But added to that mix would be information about which point of view has captured the hearts and minds of the majority of experts, information about where they think the truth lies at that moment."
Rappler should therefore have added a footnote to Cecilia Lero'a article that says what most experts really think about psychoactive drugs.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Drug Abuse Is a Health Issue

"...Comic book drug narratives construct a dichotomy between drug users and drug dealers. Users are typically presented as victims of predatory drug dealers. They may be physically, sexually, and morally degraded, but they remain victims who should be saved by the hero... By contrast, dealers are predatory villains who are criminalized and punished through the justified violence of the hero", writes Mark Stoddart in the Journal of Criminal Justice and Popular Culture. This is indeed the popular notion in society, a simplistic view that drug dealers are evil and that they are solely responsible for the drug problem a society faces. Unfortunately, such a narrative fails to help us see fully how a drug crisis actually evolves, as Stoddart notes in his paper.

How a drug trade sets foot in society is not as simple as how villains are depicted in comic books. In Saviano's "ZeroZeroZero", drug dealers are not simply criminals for they are often high in social stature - efficient business leaders and politically savvy. Drug abuse often exists simultaneously with corruption in government and police forces.

Recognizing that substance abuse is a health issue likewise should go much further than acknowledging what illicit drug use does to a person's health, behavior and functioning. There is no argument that drug abuse is a devastating public health problem. What is often missing is the fact that drug abuse often starts during adolescence and that there are individuals who are at a higher risk of becoming drug addicts. A recent study published in Substance Use & Misuse supports previous findings that difficulty in regulating emotions, impulsivity, and greater peer influence are all linked to a higher risk of substance abuse.

Drug dealers are businessmen and politicians while drug addicts are predestined because of their poor emotion control, impulsiveness and influential peers.  So perhaps, comic books are correct. The question is: Where is the hero?

Proclaiming that drug abuse is a health issue should be more than lip service. Something needs to get done. Unfortunately, the solutions are not easy. In the United States, there are now high schools that specifically target young drug addicts.

Above copied from PBS

In these schools, recovery is still very difficult since the initial factors of poor emotional control, impulsivity, peer influence remain. Perhaps, there is a better way. The Berkeley school district in California starts addressing this challenge early in the kindergarten and elementary years. They use a toolbox:

Above copied from
Berkeley Public Schools

A school with the right climate can help children develop emotion regulation and control impulsivity. Drug abuse is really a problem that starts in basic education.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Fake News, Critical Thinking, and Democracy

"They were not all fake news. Within the pile were true stories of Pepto Bismol-colored water pouring from faucets, a tornado spiraling alongside a rainbow and the president of the Philippines urging citizens to kill drug dealers." These are lines from an article describing a class on "Fighting Fake News" at the Newseum where students from Annandale High School are given the opportunity to figure which articles are real. The exercise has confirmed one concern shared by educators in the United States. Due to "fake news" being on the spotlight for a significant amount of time, some adolescents in the United States now think that everything they read is fake.

In the Philippines, the Senate has decided to tackle "fake news" as well. Senators have met with bloggers supposedly in order to get a better idea of this new medium through which information is now transmitted. A former solicitor general, Florin Hilbay, has even gone as far as suggesting the establishment of an "information police".

Above copied from Interaksyon

Proliferation of fake news is merely a symptom. Focusing on who writes or disseminates completely ignores the other question of why fake news has taken a strong grip on Philippine society. Entropy which measures probabilities can easily explain why fake news always has an upper hand. There is only one truth but there can be numerous lies. Even an incomplete set of facts can be misleading. For instance, the Department of Education in the Philippines has always made the claim that it has been providing for the needs of public schools. Whether this is true or not actualy depends on which school a child attends. A paper  published in Regional Studies, Regional Science shows a great disparity in Philippine public school facilities:

Above copied from
Ligaya Leah Figueroa, Samsung Lim & Jihyun Lee
Regional Studies, Regional Science Vol. 3 , Iss. 1, 2016

Truth does depend on where you are. Schools in the capital region definitely do not have enough toilets and classrooms while those in Batangas are apparently in a much better situation. One can therefore report the case in Batangas with the specific agenda of illustrating that the government has answered the needs of basic education or report the case in Metro Manila where the opposite is true. Both are "fake news". Both misinform the public. And the above is not even politically charged or intrinsically divisive.

But seriously, a truth commission can never address the fact that people want to read what they believe in. A truth commission can never replace the fact that we, readers, should not be lazy in the first place. Critical thinking is hard work. It requires both time and effort. And so does democracy.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Teachers Can Make a Difference

October 5, 2017 is World Teacher's Day. Do teachers really make a difference in the education of our children? With all the factors that can influence learning outcomes, it is not straightforward to extract how much of the results can really be attributed to a teacher. Neverthelss, a recent study from the Netherlands that focuses on twins has been able to establish a relationship between teacher quality and student achievement. As a policy, twins in Netherlands are placed into different classes. Since most factors are often equivalent between twins, being enrolled in different classes allows for researchers to relate academic outcomes to the only factor that is different between the twins, teachers. Doing so reveals one characteristic that is important for teacher quality. It is experience.

Above copied from UNESCO

Better academic outcomes are associated with teachers having more experience. One year of experience is equivalent to one percent of a standard deviation. And this relationship appears to be stronger during the primary years than in secondary education.

The above finding only reminds us that empowering teachers means so much more than just recruiting them. Empowering teachers mean supporting them all throughout their career. As the Netherlands' study concludes:
More focused policies that maintain experienced teachers in the classroom appear beneficial, especially for younger students.
First things first, we need to take care of the teachers who teach our young children.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

"Magic 8" in Preschool Education

A study that run for two years involving more than eight hundred preschool children across more than twenty classrooms yielded a set of areas that correlates with improved academic and social outcomes. These areas, called the "Magic 8", are reducing transition time, increasing the quality of instruction, creating a more positive emotional climate, teachers listening more to children, providing more sequential activities, fostering social learning (associative and cooperative) interactions, fostering higher levels of child involvement, and creating more math opportunities.

Free Childcare Clipart #1
Above copied from Free Childcare Clipart

These areas are not listed according to any order, but it is still worth noting that the first is about logistics. The time between activities is not only a waste of time, but also a potential gap during which children can become easily distracted which can often lead to either bad or unproductive behavior. Quality of instruction goes beyond a child simply regurgitating information. It must include development of inferential thinking which begins only after a child is given the opportunity to reflect on their thoughts and what they are learning. Children need emotional support and they need their voices to be heard. There must be an order in the activities for this is how a child learns multi-step approaches to solving a problem. Children learn from each other both academically and socially. Recess and free play are important. Children need to participate. Children are never too young to begin learning both math and science.

By the way, the above "Magic 8" not only applies to preschool, but also to basic education.

Monday, October 2, 2017

When Problems in Education Are "Not in Education"

The former principal in my children's elementary school wrote this note to me sometime last week, "I have been traveling a lot and talking to many wonderful educators and was speaking to a gentleman about his school and he was talking about how great the kids were but there were some challenges. I asked him about the discipline and he said it was not bad but there was an uptick. He said, 'Well, Mexicans are moving in', with no malice from his voice just as if it were a fact that Mexican equaled trouble. But he followed up with, 'There are some great kids'. I am not sure he realized what he said or how it may affect his interactions with some kids. Please read this post from that lens. Change starts with honest self reflection... In reflection I have been guilty of this not proudly shared regarding unconscious bias." In this note the principal was referring to a post made by Bill Ferriter, "Second Guessing My Kids of Color".

Education is indeed multifaceted. Various factors can influence what happens in a school and oftentimes, these factors are outside the curriculum. There are indeed times when how well our students perform depends not so much on what we teach them but on how we treat them. In the Philippines, there is the mother tongue issue which can make children who do not speak the preferred language at home feel like second class citizens in their own schools. And of course,  race may not be an important issue in the Philippines, but the fact that factors outside education such as poverty have a strong grip on learning outcomes remains true. Poverty can easily be misinterpreted as not complying with requirements in cases where a child cannot bring the necessary school supplies. Poverty can be translated into insubordination in cases where a child is unable to do what he or she is asked to do simply because he or she has an empty stomach. Poverty can easily be equated to tardiness in cases where a child is unable to reach school on time because of lack of transportation.

There are problems in education that are outside education. For this reason, it is important to look at schools in a holistic way. Poor learning outcomes are sometimes due to factors outside school and the necessary reforms in these cases can not be found inside the curriculum. A recent video from the Philippines captures this. To improve learning in school, we sometimes need to look at things that are outside the school. Perhaps, it is already difficult for our children simply to attend school as in the case of children who are risking their lives while crossing a makeshift bridge in Camarines Sur, Philippines:

Above copied from GMA News Online

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

The "Wisdom" of the Philippine Congress

The House of Representatives in the Philippines just approved the national budget for 2018. It was nearly unanimous. The vote was 223 to 9. An appropriations bill encompasses so many issues and interests so it is not really straightforward to infer what is behind a representative's vote. However, the process does begin with a proposed budget from the executive branch. Therefore, how the approved bill differs from the proposed budget can shed some light on what the legislative branch is thinking. Congress did make changes to what was proposed and the Department of Education had the biggest cut, 30 billion pesos. 

Above copied from Interaksyon

The cut was made apparently to fund a law that Congress passed recently, R.A. 10931, the "Universal Access to Quality Tertiary Education Act". This law provides free tuition to all students enrolled in state colleges and universities. Earlier, when questions were raised regarding this Tertiary Education Act, Senator Aquino provided an answer to a common concern or misconception on his website:
Concern or Misconception: We need to focus on basic education before we focus on college-level.
Bam Aquino: We are not taking away any of the budget from K-12 implementation.
The budget that is allocated for K-12 implementation, as coursed through the Department of Education, will remain intact to continue improving basic education facilities like building more classrooms, hiring more teachers, and improving the overall quality of K-12 delivery.
The budget for free tuition in SUCs will come through a different budget allocation and will be coursed through CHED and SUCs. Reforms in the higher education sector are complementary to the reforms in the basic education.
Mara Cepeda of Rappler is reporting additional details regarding the cut in the proposed budget for the Department of Education. Cepeda writes, "P30 billion out of the proposed P36 billion for technical-vocational labs for Grade 11 and 12 students will be realigned to fund the free tuition law next year." Cepeda quotes education undersecretary Annalyn Sevilla who says, "The wisdom of Congress is that we have the voucher program of tech-voc, which means we have to shift from DepEd providing the laboratory services to a private institution providing it instead."

Such is the situation of basic and higher education in the Philippines. It is unfortunately a big mess of questionable education policies that are even thrown against each other. The chairperson of the budget committee, Karlo Nograles, offers a different angle on how changes in the proposed budget are made: "We have considered at least two major factors in making our adjustments. One is urgency and another is capacity. We carved out budgets depending on the urgency of certain projects and programs that require allocation and depending on the capacity of implementing agencies to really put their funds to good use." A previous post on this blog did highlight the fact that the Department of Education failed to spend 40 billion pesos in its previous budget. Nevertheless, the actual needs of basic education in the Philippines still require a solution. Simply because the Department of Education is incompetent does not mean one should take away its budget and give it to Higher Education. It does not solve the problem in basic education. Yes, the free college law is a pet project of the Congress but so is K to 12. Where is the "wisdom"?

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Nurses Fail English Test

The Times is reporting that out of 59 nurses from the Philippines who have already been offered nursing positions in the United Kingdom, only 7 pass the IELTS, a high stakes English test used for study, work or migration. The UK’s Nursing and Midwifery Council requires a minimum score of 7.0 across all elements of reading, writing, listening and speaking.

Above copied from the Times

This requirement is indeed stringent. According to IELTS data, only forty one percent of native English speakers achieve a score of 7 in all areas. Their average score is only 6.3, and worldwide only one out of four applicants (25 percent) would pass. However, a passing rate of only 12 percent for nurses in the Philippines is troublesome. Commenting on Facebook, Nigel Pope shares his experience as an IELTS tutor:

Nigel is basically describing what we often misconstrue in language. A considerable number of people, for instance, believe that it is easier to learn any language as a child than as an adult. A child talks like a child but we expect something much more from an adult. A child therefore only appears to learn a language more easily simply because not much is expected yet. A good command of a language requires using it above and beyond "How are you?", "Where do you live", or conversations that do not require critical thinking. There are international standardized exams that we can choose to ignore but there are also these tests that can decide whether we get hired or not.