"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

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Education to Get Ahead?

An infographic packs a great deal of information and presents it in a visual manner clearly and quickly. The following is an example courtesy of fastcodesign:

Infographic: How The Poor Spend Their Money Vs. The Middle Class
Downloaded from 
http://www.fastcodesign.com/1670463/infographic-how-the-poor-spend-their-money-vs-the-middle-class
The above shows how American families are spending. The sizes of the circles are drawn according to what fraction is spent for a particular item. Families are grouped according to the household income. Circles are pretty much the same size suggesting for example, that poor families rent or live in small houses while the rich are spending the same fraction, but from a bigger salary, so the wealthy are living in bigger houses. The same goes with clothes as well as eating out so the rich must be dressing up in fancier clothes and going to more expensive restaurants. The circles are not of the same size for "food at home", "utilities", "transportation", and "health care" where the poor spends a greater fraction, and for education and investments, where it is the opposite, that is, the rich is spending a bigger fraction. In absolute terms, the rich are actually still spending more on food at home. With poor families, the basic needs are simply taking a bigger fraction of their income. For the items where the circles are larger for rich families, there is even a much more dramatic difference. In dollars, a poor family spends about $250 a year on education while a rich family spends a minimum of about $7000, thirty times more than a poor family. This difference becomes even more striking in spending on savings for retirement (investments). One important take home message from this infographic is that Americans view education as an investment.

How does this picture apply to the Philippines? The differences are only magnified. Social services in the United States are arguably at a much higher level than they are in the Philippines. In schools, there is either free lunch or meals at subsidized prices. School supplies are provided, for health care, there is Medicaid, and for the poor, there are food stamps. The poor in the Philippines could barely afford to send their children to schools even though there are no tuition fees because of school supplies, transportation, and meal costs. Using education to get ahead is much more dramatic. There are elite schools from preschool to high school where tuition fees are definitely not within the reach of the majority of the society. These elite schools have far better resources. And the system is self-perpetuating. Education in these elite schools provide students with a head start. Social connections are made likewise and kept within a small segment of society. Alumni from these schools will fare better in society and become the next wealthy generation. These rich alumni will of course donate back to their alma mater further increasing the gap between the schools for the rich and the schools for the poor. The situation is not as dire yet in the United States. But when Finland's education expert, Pasi Sahlberg, education as a means for getting ahead is one of the key features noted that makes it difficult for the United States to achieve the same success as Finland did. Anu Partanen talks about this in the following article:

What Americans Keep Ignoring About Finland's School Success

ANU PARTANEN - Anu Partanen is a Finnish journalist based in New York City. She is writing a book about what America can learn from Nordic societies.
DEC 29 2011, 3:00 PM ET

The Scandinavian country is an education superpower because it values equality more than excellence.

Excerpts:
For Sahlberg what matters is that in Finland all teachers and administrators are given prestige, decent pay, and a lot of responsibility. A master's degree is required to enter the profession, and teacher training programs are among the most selective professional schools in the country. If a teacher is bad, it is the principal's responsibility to notice and deal with it. 
And while Americans love to talk about competition, Sahlberg points out that nothing makes Finns more uncomfortable. In his book Sahlberg quotes a line from Finnish writer named Samuli Paronen: "Real winners do not compete." It's hard to think of a more un-American idea, but when it comes to education, Finland's success shows that the Finnish attitude might have merits. There are no lists of best schools or teachers in Finland. The main driver of education policy is not competition between teachers and between schools, but cooperation.
Finally, in Finland, school choice is noticeably not a priority, nor is engaging the private sector at all. Which brings us back to the silence after Sahlberg's comment at the Dwight School that schools like Dwight don't exist in Finland. 
"Here in America," Sahlberg said at the Teachers College, "parents can choose to take their kids to private schools. It's the same idea of a marketplace that applies to, say, shops. Schools are a shop and parents can buy what ever they want. In Finland parents can also choose. But the options are all the same." 
Herein lay the real shocker. As Sahlberg continued, his core message emerged, whether or not anyone in his American audience heard it. 
Decades ago, when the Finnish school system was badly in need of reform, the goal of the program that Finland instituted, resulting in so much success today, was never excellence. It was equity.

Education reform in the Philippines likewise will only work if the Philippines recognizes this important perspective from Finnish educators. The Philippines not only ignores what the Finnish system does, but actually does the opposite. DepEd's K to 12 begins with a similar aspiration: 
We need to add two years to our basic education. Those who can afford pay for up to fourteen years of schooling before university. Thus, their children are getting into the best universities and the best jobs after graduation. I want at least 12 years for our public school children to give them an even chance at succeeding. My education team has designed a way to go from our current 10 years (6 elementary, 4 high school) to a K-12 system in five years starting SY 2011-12. Kindergarten (K) to Grade 12 is what the rest of the world gives their children.
The intentions are in the right direction. What then is sorely missing? The quality of education is not in the number of years. The quality is provided by what Sahlberg notes above: 
...in Finland all teachers and administrators are given prestige, decent pay, and a lot of responsibility. A master's degree is required to enter the profession, and teacher training programs are among the most selective professional schools in the country. If a teacher is bad, it is the principal's responsibility to notice and deal with it....
What makes a good school good? Do not look anywhere else. The answer is simple: Teachers. When teachers are underpaid, overworked and dictated, a spectrum of schools will naturally happen: Good schools and bad schools. Worse, there will be very few good schools and a lot of bad schools. When there are good and bad schools, education becomes a simple market place. Those who could afford to send their children to good schools will do. Those who could not have no choice. Philippine basic education in its current state sustains and magnifies inequities in society.  "The Scandinavian country is an education superpower because it values equality more than excellence."

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