"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

Friday, September 28, 2012

The Problem with Reforms that Focus on One Piece

Right from the beginning, it is apparent that education reformers in the Philippines are fixated in the number of school years of basic education. With this emphasis, the real solutions have eluded those who are in power to improve the educational system. Comparisons are made against other countries but these studies have already been preconditioned by an agenda that the Philippines lacks years in basic education. Such inclination steers the observer into focusing mainly on curricula, which is perhaps the least important factor contributing to the quality of education. 

When the United States, for example, compared its mathematics education against that of Singapore, a more thorough examination was performed. This is illustrated in the work of the American Institutes of Research entitled, "What the United States Can Learn From Singapore’s World-Class Mathematics System: An Exploratory Study (and what Singapore can learn from the United States)".

Figure downloaded from  http://www.air.org/focus-area/education/index.cfm?fa=viewContent&content_id=598

Here are excerpts from the above study (I emphasize the first sentence of the last paragraph):
"...Analysis of these evidentiary streams finds Singaporean students more successful in mathematics than their U.S. counterparts because Singapore has a world-class mathematics system with quality components aligned to produce students who learn mathematics to mastery. These components include Singapore’s highly logical national mathematics framework, mathematically rich problem-based textbooks, challenging mathematics assessments, and highly qualified mathematics teachers whose pedagogy centers on teaching to mastery. Singapore also provides its mathematically slower students with an alternative framework and special assistance from an expert teacher. 
The U.S. mathematics system does not have similar features. It lacks a centrally identified core of mathematical content that provides a focus for the rest of the system. Its traditional textbooks emphasize definitions and formulas, not mathematical understanding; its assessments are not especially challenging; and too many U.S. teachers lack sound mathematics preparation. At-risk students often receive special assistance from a teacher’s aide who lacks a college degree. As a result, the United States produces students who have learned only to mechanically apply mathematical procedures to solve routine problems and who are, therefore, not mathematically competitive with students in most other industrialized countries. 
The experiences of several of the U.S pilot sites that introduced the Singapore mathematics textbooks without the other aspects of the Singaporean system also illustrate the challenges teachers face when only one piece of the Singapore system is replicated. Some pilot sites coped successfully with these challenges and significantly improved their students’ mathematics achievement, but others had great difficulty...."
Math teachers in Singapore are required to undergo a hundred hours per year of continuing education. Teachers in Singapore are also experts in the subjects that they teach. Teachers also receive enough pay to support their cost of living. Time inside classrooms is time well spent. The comparison between instructional time can not be made purely on the basis of the number of minutes in classroom time. The textbooks are different. The curriculum cannot be evaluated thoroughly by just browsing at the contents and structure of the lessons taught. A close examination of the textbooks used is necessary to see how mastery and depth as well as a focus on problem solving are evident. For students who take more time to learn, expert teachers are assigned, not the other way around. These are major elements of Singapore education and to focus on years of education completely misses these important factors.  

Rolando S. dela Cruz, president of the Darwin International School System, recently wrote in the Manila Bulletin, "The Science Dilemma in Philippine Schools". He pointed out:
Lack of training of teachers, overpopulated classrooms, dull curricula, outdated teaching methods, lack of equipment, and books offering Mickey Mouse lessons – these are some of the factors that lead to the poor state of science teaching. This is worsened by the general culture that undermines scientific thinking and technological innovation in favor of “bahala na” (“what will be, will be”) and “puwede na” (‘no need to excel”) in our daily national life. 
In the end, the educational system, family and government fail to effectively inculcate scientific thought that is necessary in the development of science and technology. This one whole system must be responsible in the large-scale dumbing down of generations upon generations of Filipinos in the field of Science.
The differences between Singapore and Philippine basic education goes beyond the walls of the classroom. The general environment in the Philippines is not supportive of math and science education simply because there are now several generations that have been poorly educated in these fields. Obviously, the Philippines is in no position, due mainly to lack of resources, to copy all of the elements that lead to a successful education program in the sciences and mathematics. This, however, is not a good reason to make Philippine education worse than it is now.

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