"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

Sunday, April 29, 2012

ChemStart: Looking Back

As the semester unwinds, we are now in the period of giving our concluding lectures. The following is a story that I share with my students this semester - In a way, it summarizes what we went through....

It was my last semester as an undergraduate student at the Ateneo. Fr. Schmitt wanted to see me in his office. Apparently, a rumor has reached him that I was interested in pursuing a teaching career. He was actually a bit surprised, but he offered me a temporary position in the department. I was excited, as two of my classmates were likewise staying after graduation to teach. But I was disappointed after meeting Fr. Schmitt, while my friends would have their own courses to teach, I would be working as a teaching assistant to Fr. Schmitt in his ChemStart program. He basically thought that I was not yet ready for prime time. ChemStart was a summer program which introduced chemistry to high school students who had just finished second year. It was an opportunity to provide high school students an introductory taste of chemistry. For the entire summer, the high school students go through a full day of experiments in the laboratory, which were supplemented by short lectures.

Rev. William Schmitt, S.J. and Amando Kapauan,
my mentors at the Ateneo
I was assigned to give the lectures on intermolecular forces and acid-base equilibria. For intermolecular forces, one of the experiments involved testing the solubility of several alcohols in water. With a simple series of alcohols, students had the opportunity to see how the length of the "greasy" (hydrogens and carbons) part of the molecule determined its solubility in water:
Figure taken from http://chemwiki.ucdavis.edu/
The students were also given the chance to make their own soap. We took advantage of the learner's preference for visual input.  Perception likewise was tilted towards the other modes of sensing: hearing, touching, smelling and tasting. But we did try to bridge visual into verbal and sensing into intuition. Students processed what we were teaching them in an active way, oftentimes directly experiencing scientific phenomenon, but we also exerted efforts to bring our exercises into a reflective domain, one that made use of imagination and thought processing.

Acid-base equilibria could be challenging and without pH meters, it was not easy for each student to monitor what was happening when acid was added to base, or vice-versa. For this excursion, we employed a universal indicator, a mixture of various dyes whose colors depend on the acidity of the solution:
Figure taken from http://www.middleschoolchemistry.com/lessonplans/chapter6/lesson8
The students added dropwise a strong base (NaOH) solution to a flask containing a strong acid (HCl). The solution inside the flask started with the color red after adding a few drops of the universal indicator, and stayed red even with the addition of NaOH. Then, after adding a number of drops of NaOH into the flask, with just one drop of NaOH, the solution turned purple. The students repeated the experiment, but this time, using a weak acid (acetic) solution inside the flask. In this case, addition of NaOH made the solution pass through the colors orange and yellow before turning into purple. We also inverted the experiment, starting with NaOH inside the flask and adding HCl dropwise, in which the solution inside the flask started as purple and drastically changing to red after adding HCl. We also worked with an aqueous solution of a weak base (ammonia). Adding ammonia dropwise to a flask containing HCl started with a red color in the flask, which turned abruptly to blue green and with additional ammonia, the flask went through blue, indigo and purple. The combination of weak acid and weak base allowed the students to observe the entire rainbow of colors.

Aqueous equilibrium involving precipitation was also introduced via "chemical mastermind". In this set of experiments, colorless aqueous solutions containing various ions were used. Certain combinations of these ions resulted into precipitates, some are brightly colored. With these results, students were then able to identify which ions were present in the original colorless solutions. Of course, chemistry would not be that much fun, without vigorous reactions. So we started adding small pieces of lithium metal into water. That produced bubbles and after some time, the pieces of lithium metal would disappear. Then we switched to small bits of sodium metal and that was a bit more exciting. But the students really marveled when they saw what happened to potassium when added to water. These were the alkali metals and it was very clear that these metals were very reactive towards water. These metals were not like copper, silver, platinum or gold, whose ions have very favorable reduction potentials

The students also had experiments that were more on the reflective side. Using small styrofoam balls and toothpicks, we constructed models describing how some metal atoms arrange into a crystal:

Styrofoam-toothpick model of face-centered cubic system
Figure taken from http://www.strangematterexhibit.com/demoworks_final.pdf
With these lattices, the students learned to distinguish between atoms that were on the face, atoms that were at the corner, and atoms that were inside the cube. It was an exercise into understanding how nature packs things and it allowed students to appreciate how much empty space was there in each type of arrangement.

At one time, we had no electricity so we could not do an experiment. So I suggested to Fr. Schmitt that we used the reaction between iron(III) and oxalate ions. This reduction-oxidation reaction required light. The students thus performed the experiment outside the chemistry building. The reduction of iron(III) to iron(II) could easily be visualized by adding 1,10-phenanthroline.

We did not cover Boltzmann's entropy - we would leave that for college, and we did not have experiments on radioactivity. At that time, climate change and greenhouse emissions were not yet big issues. Nevertheless, a walk through ChemStart got us through quite a number of topics in chemistry.

Although disappointed at first, I found myself quite engaged in ChemStart. And at the end of that summer, Fr. Schmitt found me standing right outside the front door of the chemistry building. I looked sad, so he asked me what was bothering me. I told him that after ChemStart had ended, I suddenly felt this emptiness in my heart. The summer went through with so much excitement, but at the end, it seemed that I had lost something. I thought Fr. Schmitt tried to teach me everything I needed, but how come he never told me that there was this feeling at the end of teaching. He simply gave me a profound smile.

Teaching is indeed a difficult task. Amando Kapauan, who was my instructor in several chemistry classes, used to quote Charles Schultz' Charlie Brown, "How can we be wrong when we're so sincere?". He emphasized both inside and outside the classroom that we should aspire for both competence and commitment. Teaching does involve a great deal of sacrifice. But Kapauan insisted that it was not just a matter of self-giving, but as equally important, having something to give. Competence is a must. With the problems Philippine basic education faces, the words of Kapauan are of great significance. Quality of instruction depends on both competence and commitment from teachers. Herein lies the reason why addressing higher education first is key to solving problems in primary and secondary schools.

Last year marked the first attempt of the Philippines on universal kindergarten. In "Is the Philippines ready for universal kindergarten in 2011", Alliance of Concerned Teachers' secretary-general France Castro was quoted:

About 30,000 teachers will have to be hired to serve these new kindergarten students,” said Castro.
Castro said that the teachers will be teaching 6 hours per day, or 3 hours in the morning and 3 hours in the afternoon. Each class will be composed of 45 students.

“Each of these teachers will receive an honorarium of P6,000 per month, which is way below the minimum wage”, Castro notes.

Kindergarten is the first year of the new DepEd K to 12 curriculum, yet, its implementation last year was very poor. Kindergarten, as a gateway to formal schooling, is full year and not a couple of months. Hiring volunteers to teach children in kindergarten shows how seriously (or not) DepEd views early childhood education. The honorarium paid to these volunteers likewise provides an impression to all of how much society views teachers in kindergarten. The continued exploitation of early childhood teachers hurts the teaching profession and does not help in attracting talent to this much needed component of basic education. Kindergarten is perhaps the least controversial element of the new DepEd K to 12 curriculum and DepEd continues to do a very poor job in this area. There is no reason to expect that the implementation of the other elements will be better than dismal. DepEd is simply creating additional problems to the basic education in the Philippines and delivering empty promises on improving quality.

I would like to end this journey in the past with excerpts from a recent report from the World Bank. In "Putting Higher Education to Work" (World Bank report):

"....Pervasive lack of human capacity in higher education makes it hard to respond to labor market demand. The lack of qualified human resources has widespread implications for the relevance and quality of higher education, all the way from curriculum design to teaching and to research, also affecting the quality and quantity of university-industry links....

Academic faculty has a critical role in skill provision. First, they train future primary, secondary, and tertiary teachers who in turn shape the quality and relevance of the entire national education system. Second, they provide skills to future high-level research, technical, managerial, and administrative personnel who will lead government, business, and industry. Third, they are key incubators of the innovation and creativity that will enhance national productivity and competitiveness. Lower- and middle-income East Asia are suffering from two main faculty-related constraints: higher and growing student-to-faculty ratios, and a low share of faculty with graduate degrees....

....About 53 percent of the faculty in Indonesia lacks master's degrees, as does 60 percent in the Philippines....This is in contrast with Korea; Mongolia; Taiwan, China; and Thailand, which have more than 70 percent of faculty with at least a master's degree....

....The Philippines is the weakest TIMSS performer among the tested Asian countries....countries with a higher TIMSS score in math and science have higher STEM enrollment shares in tertiary education later. The relation may be even clearer if one considers the quality of these STEM skills (as seen in the poor quality of engineers in several countries). A similar relation holds between TIMSS scores and journal publications: higher TIMSS scores are associated with more publications....

....Increasing the number of tertiary institutions in a sending country with a low skill-price increases outbound migration of tertiary students, whereas improving the quality of domestic tertiary institutions decreases student migration. This is likely the result of the higher number of college graduates increasing the number of workers who would benefit from migrating to high skill-price countries. But higher quality retains students in country...."

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Hooray! No More Trigonometry

Note:  Since the publication of the article, I have been made aware of reactions from DepEd. Although DepEd order no. 31 s.2012 failed to mention trigonometry in enclosure 1, page 3, trigonometry is indeed part of the spiral curriculum for Mathematics in Grade 10 (the old fourth year high school) - as described in a draft of the curriculum made in January. In this draft, the first three years of high school (Grades 7-9) will cover algebra, geometry, and statistics and probability every year in a spiral fashion. This is good news. The bad news is that the article below is not so much about not having trigonometry. The article begins with a reaction (which seems happy) of a teacher after finding out that trigonometry is not part of the curriculum, but the rest talks about why science must be taught in early childhood. DepEd may have missed the science education part which is the central topic of the article but what is more disconcerting is that DepEd missed a deeper side of the article, one which begins with a teacher's statement, and how the Philippine society really views science and scientists.


A post in a Philippine teachers' forum says:

"All subjects will be taught in a spiral approach. Science will have biology, chemistry, physics and earth sciences per year [1 quarter each] from Grade 3-10. The math curriculum also features a strengthened statistics component. Based form [sic] the DO, there is no trigonometry component in K-10. I think that this is a good move by DepEd since Statistics is easier and is needed by majority of the students than Trigonometry which is needed only by STEM (sci, tech, engg, math) students."

Science will not be taught as a formal subject in Kindergarten up to Grade II.  Although this has been the practice since the education reform at the beginning of this century, this continued omission in the new K to 12 curriculum should have been revisited and reexamined to see if this was really beneficial to the education of Filipino children.  There are indeed other countries that do not have science as a formal subject in the early years of education.  However, one must carefully consider how science is viewed in general by the society.  The Philippines is one country that is enslaved by superstitions and pre-enlightenment religion.  In 2006, a meeting was held between leading Philippine scientists, the Department of Science and Technology, and members of the House Committee on Science and Technology.  In that meeting, one congressman related the story of how a relative was trying to find a cure for cancer. According to the congressman, even scientists at the National Institutes of Health in the US had given up, but it turned out that the cure for cancer was drinking one's urine early in the morning.  Apparently, according to that congressman, the urine that built up during one's sleep contained the remedy for cancer. And there was no response from any of the attendees of that meeting.

Young children are exposed to this paradigm that is simply void of reason.  Postponing the introduction of science in early childhood education simply reinforces what young children are learning from their homes and in the streets, a world where biases and preconceived notions rule, an environment that does not nurture queries and investigations.  Considering where the students are should have been a great reason to reinstate science as a formal subject in the early years of Philippine education.

There are additional compelling reasons on why science should be taught in the early years.  "Should Science Be Taught in Early Childhood?" by Eschach and Fried provides strong arguments supporting the introduction of science to young children (http://www.jstor.org/stable/40188693, Journal of Science Education and Technology , Vol. 14, No. 3 (Sep., 2005), pp. 315-336). Children are naturally inquisitive. These young minds are ripe for enjoying, observing and thinking about nature. Within a society where adults only have bad memories regarding taking high school chemistry or physics (or trigonometry), exposing the young children to the wonder of science may help in fostering a positive attitude.  The early introduction to nature helps in better understanding of scientific concepts in later years of education.  Science, as opposed to literature, talks directly. Early introduction to scientifically informed language is key to mastery of scientific concepts. Children can reason. Their favorite question is "why?" And since science is unique both as a discipline and as an approach, only a formal subject of science can help develop scientific thinking. The early years offer a great window. Nash, Shore and others have shown from brain research that the brain develops (neurons and their interconnections) very fast in childhood and almost stops at age 10 (grade IV) (Nash, J.M. (1997) Fertile Minds, Time 3:49-56; Shore R. (1997) Rethinking the Brain: New Insights into Early Development, Families and Work Institute, New York).

"The above figure shows the changing rates of global brain glucose metabolism from newborn to adulthood. Peak glucose metabolism occurs around 4 years and begins to decline around 9 years. These changes in glucose metabolic rates are linked to the formation of neuronal connections- axons and synapses in the human brain."  (Figure and caption, courtesy of Prof. Onofre de Jesus, University of Wisconsin) Therefore, as early as 4 years of age, it is suggested that children can indeed be provided input for learning. 

"The Importance of Teaching and Learning Nature of Science in the Early Childhood Years" (Akerson et al. Journal of Science Education and Technology Volume 20, Number 5 (2011), 537-549) shows why it is important to teach the nature of science to children, and this can be done within a formal subject of science This can not  be achieved with science being thrown as tidbits and integrated in the other subjects, as DepEd has planned for Kindergarten to Grade II. Victoria R. Fu, Ph.D., a Professor of Human Development and Director of the Institute for Learning outlined in her article what should be taught in the early years (http://www.pbs.org/teachers/earlychildhood/articles/learning.html).  What young children learn in the early years have a significant impact on their future. "Native Japanese speakers, for example, typically do not discriminate the “r” from the “l” sounds that are evident to English speakers, and this ability is lost in early childhood because it is not in the speech that they hear." (J.D. Bransford et al., "Mind and Brain", in The Jossey-Bass Reader on the Brain and Learning, John Wiley and Sons, Dec 21, 2007, p. 97)

One important issue in teaching science as a formal subject in kindergarten to Grade II comes from the fact that this is how society demonstrates its view of science and scientists.  What society teaches in the early grades is what society wishes to advertise to its youngest members.

I end this article with excerpts from Science K-8: An Integrated Approach, by E. Victor, R.D. Kellough, R.H. Tai, Prentice Hall, 2007):

Building Foundations for Understandings:

In science, children should practice inquiry skills that lead to higher-order thinking. For example, kindergarten children can be taught the importance of listening fully to the ideas of others—a step toward the development of a critical, questioning attitude. They can be helped in their learning of impulse control, and they can be taught skills needed to generate data, such as observing, recalling, identifying, and measuring. Children should also be taught how to handle and care for plants, for animals, and for one another. Children should learn cognitions in science that build as they progress from one level of schooling to the next. Kindergarten children learn to identify objects with similar characteristics, to compare and match pictures of animals and their offspring, to predict what will happen in some particular case, and to experiment to discover whether their predictions were correct. These are but a few of the intellectual skills that lead to a child’s developing understanding of the larger conceptual organizations around which the K–12 science curriculum is built. Science is taught in the earliest grades, not only because that is where we must begin laying the foundation for conceptual understandings, process skills, and positive attitudes and feelings about science and technology, but also because it is when we must begin stimulating and developing the child’s innate curiosity about the natural environment. By doing science and learning science, children can

     •Develop and apply values that contribute to their affective development
     •Develop positive attitudes about science and technology
     •Develop an awareness of the relationship and interdependence of
       science, technology, and society
     •Develop an awareness of careers in science and technology
     •Develop higher-order thinking skills
     •Develop knowledge, understandings, and skills that contribute to
      their intellectual growth
     •Develop their psychomotor skills

The development of students’ interest in science also appears to have a real influence on their career decisions later in life. In 2006, a study appearing in Science offered evidence suggesting that students who reported an interest in science-related careers in eighth grade were two to three times more likely to graduate with a baccalaureate in a science discipline than their peers who were interested in nonscience careers. This study also showed that standardized test performance was related to earning degrees in the physical sciences, but was not significant in determining who earned degrees in the life sciences. In the end, it appears that what we do as teachers to promote interest in science, may have far-reaching influence in our students’ lives.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

DepEd's Spiral Curriculum

Read more on this topic in DepEd's Spiral Curriculum II.

"Mapapagbuti na natin ang kaalaman ng mga mag-aaral sa Agham at Matematika sa pagsusulong ng spiral approach sa ating bagong curriculum," the DepEd chief said. (With the spiral approach in the new curriculum, we will improve learning in math and science)


Note: DepEd's current approach to reforming the basic educational system in the Philippines is an example of a spiral approach. DepEd tries to cover too many things at one time, without focus and prioritization. DepEd does not see the importance of "First Things First", the importance of prerequisites, the essence of mastery. In a layered reform, as opposed to spiral, the roots of the problems are first addressed: shortages, before boldly taking ambitious programs that are not going to be supported properly. In this spiral approach, DepEd is more likely to take a vicious circle or a downward spiral.

"If we do not think spirally, why do we have to learn or teach spirally? And this is what makes it so difficult. There are many right words in the quote and the right intentions. But, as long as the fundamentals are wrong, the pedagogy behind the spiral approach is not viable.
Concepts - classes - are not organized in a single hierarchy. Rather there is a web of related classes in which a variety of hierarchies can be distinguished. Recognizing individual hierarchies is as important as discerning relationships between the classes. But spirals?"
Figure and caption taken from http://www.cut-the-knot.org/Mset99/examples.shtml

Studies from the US and Canada:

"American schools follow a "spiral curriculum" in mathematics; that is, they spend such a substantial proportion of time on review each year that only limited progress can be made with new material…. American students who perform poorly in arithmetic are subject to a special form of the spiral curriculum, which might be termed the circular curriculum": they repeat arithmetic over and over until they stop studying math" (Gamoran, 2001, p. 138)"

Gamoran, A. (2001). Beyond curriculum wars: Content and understanding in mathematics. In T. Loveless, Ed., The Great Curriculum Debate, pp. 134-162. Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution Press.


Things don't add up in BC

"Reading and math are the two crucial elementary school subjects required for high school and life beyond, but British Columbia's elementary math curriculum is crippling learning, especially among disadvantaged students.

B.C. has used what is called a "spiral" curriculum since 1987, following a tradition of emulating U.S. educational practice.

A spiral curriculum runs a smorgasbord of math topics by students each year, the idea being that they pick up a little more of each with every pass. In reality, the spin leaves many students and teachers in the dust.

Ideally, the curriculum should cover fewer topics per year in more depth.

Presently, teachers face having Grade 4 classes who still cannot add 567 + 942 nor multiply 7 x 8 because the Grade 1, 2, and 3 teachers were forced to spend so much time on graphing, polygons and circles, estimating quantity and size, geometrical transformations, 2D and 3D geometry and other material not required to make the next step, which is 732 x 34.

And because elementary math fails to provide a solid foundation, many basically capable students simply give up when faced with the shock of high school algebra, which would be the doorway to advanced technical training at all levels. High school math teachers cannot make up Grades 1 to 7 while teaching Grade 8."


Refocusing U.S. Math and Science Education

"This persistence of old topics and lack of instructional focus on topics that are newly introduced at each grade may help explain the drop in U.S. student achievement levels between grades 4 and 8. The persistence of elementary content in middle school suggests that the lauded "spiral curriculum" in the United States is in fact a vicious circle."


The DepEd has been using the terms "spiral curriculum" and "learner-centered" without providing details to the public what these really entail and require.

A kindergarter classroom layout for literacy
Figure taken from http://teacher.scholastic.com/literacy_centers_photos/
A kindergarten classroom in the United States that is "learner-centered" is quite different from classrooms we went through when we were elementary school pupils. A classroom that is individualized and takes into account where each student is can no longer be just one room with desks arranged in rows. Instead, the room is divided into various stations, each one designed for a specific activity: a drawing section, a listening section with headphones, a reading section, a math corner, a discovery module, and a silent space where students could rest. In these "learner-centered" classrooms. It should be obvious that the size of the class (in terms of number of students) is limited, since these "independent" sections inside a room will require supervision or guidance. In a kindergarten classroom, the highest ratio for this to be feasible is about 12 pupils to one teacher. With 12 children, four could be working on one activity, which means each teacher could be supervising three different activities simultaneously. Having more than three requires too much multitasking on the part of the teacher.

A kindergarten classroom
Figure taken from http://kpoindexter.wordpress.com/2011/07/22/2011-2012-classroom-pictures-after/
The "spiral curriculum" requires that progress is indeed achieved in each year. Otherwise, it becomes circular. Combined with "learner-centered", the "spiral curriculum" can indeed become circular with the students learning the same thing over and over each year. This happens when an individual student fails to grasp or master the material in the first pass. As a result, in the next year, the teacher will have to cover the same material. Remedial intervention does not occur easily when topics are presented to students in a mixed fashion. The spiral nature pushes the students into various topics without giving enough time to master each one. In elementary schools, this is not yet a serious issue since the material to be learned is usually appropriate for the age of the children. Math and science are very general in nature at this stage. However, there are still skills that need to be mastered, which could only be accomplished by drills and a given amount of emphasis that a spiral curriculum sometimes does not provide. Adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing are essential, and these constitute one of the foundations of mathematics education. Only a layered curriculum, one which recognizes that there are discreet steps in learning, allows for mastery of the skills and concepts necessary to advance to the next level.

In high school, the "spiral curriculum" not only requires good teachers who could handle multiple disciplines, but also a different type of textbook. Students cannot have four textbooks each year for example, for the sciences to cover all four areas of the spiral curriculum: biology, chemistry, physics and earth sciences. Using four separate textbooks will not define how each of these areas will be covered in each year of high school. In fact, one of the materials in school that operationally defines what will be covered is the textbook. Thus, without a textbook, the content of these science courses will be unclear.

The public is not made aware of the details. Instead, the DepEd simply throws these terms in a rhetorical fashion, promising that these are the solutions to the country's present problems in math and science education. Unfortunately, these are not the solutions. These are additional problems.

The Wisdom behind Deped's Short School Hours

And why is Grade 1 reduced to only half a day? In many countries with K to 12, Grade 1 is a full day.
“Unlike in other countries, many of our Grade 1 students spend hours walking to and from school,” Luistro says. “They are tired when they reach school. I want them to enjoy school, not (to feel) that (it) is imposed on them.”

From: Straight talk on K to 12 By  


First, In the US, if a student lives beyond one mile from the public school assigned, transportation by school bus is provided, otherwise, students here walk. Second, if this is the reason why school hours are shorter then it illustrates how badly policies are drawn by DepEd. There are much better solutions:

(a) provide transportation
(b) build school extensions
(c) copy what the Bernidos do (instead of reducing every school day, meet less frequently during the week). I think this is a more intelligent choice – one makes the efforts of the students in getting to school more worthwhile and with Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday as full days, and Wednesday as a holiday - students need to walk only 4 times a week….


And the specific examples for (a) and (b) are:

In Paete, there are sitios situated in the mountains. Children from these villages spend a long time going
down and climbing up the mountain to reach the elementary schools in the poblacion. The people of Paete decided to build a school inside the sitio. This way, only the teachers need to make the daily travel to and from the school.

Elementary school in Sitio Papatahan, Paete, Laguna, http://paete.org/forums/viewtopic.php?t=11037
In Layag-Layag, children used to swim their way to and from the school. But now, boats have been donated
to help these children reach their destination quicker and without getting wet.
School Boat, Figure taken from https://www.facebook.com/philippine.funds


A study shows that longer class period gives more “Time for a rigorous and well-rounded education that prepares students for success in college and careers.”

Time Well Spent: Figure taken from http://www.timeandlearning.org/?q=node/102

And in "The Power of More Time to Deepen Inquiry and Engagement" by Kathleen Traphagen,
released in November 2011, Strengthening Science Education: The Power of More Time to Deepen Inquiry and Engagement, the importance of school hours was likewise underscored. 
Figure taken from Strengthening Science Education: http://www.timeandlearning.org/?q=node/125

"....Another aspect of the K to 12 plan that has been promoted without scrutiny is the length of instructional hours. This is intimately related to multiple shifts in schools. This area, as experts have warned, is likewise characterized by scarce good data. There are large amounts of data that contain information regarding the length of instruction and learning outcomes, but these data involve so many additional factors. Nonetheless. amidst these complicated cases, one thing is clear: "....the amount of time spent engaged in learning tasks is related to student performance....”(Abadzi, " Instructional Time Loss in Developing Countries: Concepts,
Measurement, and Implications” World Bank Res Obs (2009) 24 (2): 267-290, http://wbro.oxfordjournals.org/content/24/2/267.full.pdf)...."


Special feature: 'Emergency classes do not bring quality'
By Marigold P. Lebumfacil (The Freeman) Updated June 21, 2012 12:00 AM 

Photo is loading...
Some students at the Guadalupe Elementary School have to wake up early for their 5 a.m. classes.  The early morning sessions are part of the emergency classes that the school is implementing because of its huge student population.  REYNAN VILLENA
CEBU, Philippines - Most graders wake up at 6 a.m. during weekdays to prepare for school.

But 9-year-old Christie Jane Bacalso needs to be up at 3 a.m. to be in school early for her 5:40 a.m. class at the Guadalupe Elementary School.

“I’m already used to waking up early at 3 a.m. everyday. I don’t want to be late. I see to it that I will always be the first to arrive in the classroom,” Christie said in Cebuano.

Christie is among the 920 grade three pupils taking emergency classes, the school’s way to accommodate all students despite the shortage of classrooms and teachers.

Guadalupe Elementary School is one of the biggest schools in Cebu City in terms of the population.

The school decided to hold emergency classes for grades three, four and five classes because the grade one enrollees drastically increased this year.

To

A critique of some commentaries on the Philippine K-12 program

A critique of some commentaries on the Philippine K-12 program
By Dr. Flor Lacanilao

Note that in my critiques below, the comments of scientists (1 to 3) on the Philippine K-12 program are supported by properly published studies or authorities, whereas those by nonscientists (4 to 8 ) are not.

Note further that the nonscientist authors and cited authorities include prominent people in education, and that these nonscientist authors and cited authorities enjoy wide media coverage. I think this situation explains the present state of Philippine education.  [My comments are in brackets]

A. Views of Filipino academic scientists [By definition, academic scientists are defined as those who have made a major contribution or contributions to one’s field as shown by publications in peer-reviewed international journals; that is, in journals covered in Science Citation Index (SCI) or Social Sciences Citation Index (SSCI). You can find that out with Google Scholar.]

1. The basic education system of the Philippines faces two major problems: (1) high dropout rates in primary and secondary schools, and (2) lack of mastery of specific skills and content as reflected in poor performance in standard tests for both Grade IV and Grade VIII (2nd year high school) students. Unfortunately, the proposed K+12 curriculum does not directly address these problems. Click this link to read the full text: “First things first: A commentary on K+12”

2. The Philippines has embarked on an enormous P150-billion project—the K to 12—that is set to add as part of the basic education a mandatory kindergarten and an additional two years to the high school. The mandatory kindergarten is not contentious because there is empirical evidence that it does improve learning outcomes. It is the learning outcomes that should concern us here. I still have to see evidence (perhaps I did not look hard enough) that the additional two years of high school will improve learning performance. Click this link to read the full text: “K to 12: Wasteland”

3. The controversial K-12 (kindergarten to grade 12) is not really controversial. All commentaries I have read by Filipino academic scientists are not in favor of the new K-12 program (For example, Science and K+12, Philippine Daily Inquirer, 6 Feb 2012). On the other hand, Filipino authors supporting it are not natural or social scientists (without valid publications or properly published work), regardless of their position (e.g., Group launches program to save RP education, Philippine Daily Inquirer, 28 Jan 2010). Click this link to read the full text: “K+12 most likely to fail”

B. Views of nonscientist Filipino educators and cited authors  [By definition, nonscientist Filipino educators and cited authors are those without any major contribution to one’s field as shown by lack of publications in peer-reviewed international journals; that is, in journals covered in Science Citation Index (SCI) or Social Sciences Citation Index (SSCI). You can check this with Google Scholar.]

4. The central feature of the K to 12 Program is the upgrading of the basic education curriculum to ensure that learners acquire the relevant knowledge and skills they will need to become productive members of society… With the participation of the Commission on Higher Education and the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority, the program has the capability of offering professionally designed classes and apprenticeships in sports, the arts, middle-level skills, entrepreneurship, and applied math and sciences. [Note that officials of CHED and TESDA are not academic scientists.] Click this link to read the full text: “The K to 12 curriculum: Our first step to recovery”

5. Meanwhile, Brother Armin remains upbeat, saying “Genuine reform needs at least a generation to take root. We’ll just have to be happy with being part of planting the seed.” [Commentaries by academic scientists, however, show that this planted seed will either not grow or has been planted in infertile soil.] Click this link to read the full text: “Building a literate society”

6. The delay (referring to the implementation of the K-12 system) has already caused considerable damage. The truncated basic education cycle exerted a perverse effect on the entire educational system… Filipino students, while studying more, were learning less because they were not getting enough time to master basic concepts. [The above claims, however, are not supported by properly published studies or authors.] Click this link to read the full text: “Returns on higher education”

7. Adding two years to the present 10-year basic education cycle is “an absolutely essential reform” to put the country’s public education system at par with the rest of the world, an international education expert said on Wednesday… “I actually don’t see how people can disagree with it,” said Shaeffer before an audience of top Philippine education officials and representatives from various schools.
[This so-called international expert has only 2 SSCI published paper; none in SCI. He did not cite any properly published study or author, just like others who have made commentaries supporting the Philippine K-12.] Click this link to read the full text: “K+12 program ‘absolutely essential,’ says expert”

8. Department Order No. 74, issued in 2009, institutionalized mother tongue-based multilingual education (MTBMLE) as a fundamental policy in our formal and non-formal education… the Department of Education has decided to use the L1 as medium of instruction in all kindergarten and Grade 1 classes nationwide effective June 2012 under the new K-12 curriculum… This is precisely what the 2nd Philippine Conference-Workshop on Mother Tongue-Based Multilingual Education aims to inculcate in us…

The keynote speakers are international literacy consultant Dr. Kimmo Kosonen and our very own Valenzuela City Rep. Magtanggol Gunigundo.
 [The keynote speaker has only 2 SSCI and no SCI published papers; the other speaker has none. See also commentary 1.] Click this link to read the full text: “A sense of where we are”

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Dr. Flor Lacanilao obtained both his BS and MS in Zoology from the University of the Philippines in Diliman and his PhD, with specialization in comparative endocrinology, from the University of California at Berkeley. He served as professor and chairman of the Zoology Department at UP Diliman and chancellor of UP Visayas. He made pioneering discoveries in neuroendocrinology and led the research group that achieved the first spontaneous breeding of milkfish in captivity.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Solving the Problems of Philippine Basic Education

Note: Prof. Queena N. Lee-Chua recently commented on an email that I sent her (which contained a draft of this article):
" Last year, I wrote about Finland’s quality teachers (“Finland, Harvard and fun math,” May 23, 2011). Your ideas on the “conservation” element echo the concerns of many people, including former Ateneo president Fr. Bienvenido Nebres, S.J. (“Math mastery comes with balance of why with how,” Sept. 18, 2011). Her comments were published in the Inquirer.


Education policies for raising student learning: the Finnish approach. Pasi Sahlberg* Journal of Education Policy Vol. 22, No. 2, March 2007, pp. 147–171
Sahlberg enumerated seven key elements of education development, following the previous works of Hargreaves and others:
Aho, E., Pitkänen, K. & Sahlberg, P. (2006) Policy development and reform principles of basic and secondary education in Finland since 1968 (Washington, DC, World Bank).
Hargreaves, A. & Fink, D. (2006) Sustainable leadership (San Francisco, Jossey-Bass).
I would like to focus on the last two of these seven elements
(Resourcefulness and Conservation):

“Resourcefulness: Young, talented and creative individuals have been appointed over the past three decades to lead schools, local education offices, and central departments, guided by the belief that competencies often override routine experience. Systematic and research-based ways to prepare and continuously develop leaders and to maintain their knowledge and skills were introduced in the 1980s.

Conservation: Education development has represented a balance between bringing in new innovations and employing existing good practices. The public recognizes that many needed educational innovations already exist somewhere in the system. This was a key acknowledgement of teachers’ wisdom and realization that learning from past experiences is at least as important as introducing totally new and often alien ideas in schools.”


Finland pushed these elements into its educational reform by (pages
“….All basic school teachers must hold a Masters degree to become permanently employed. Primary school teacher preparation was converted from a three-year program at teachers’ colleges to four- or five-year university programs in the late 1970s. Hence, most primary school teachers today possess higher university degrees. Westbury et al. (2005) point out that preparing teachers for a research-based profession has been the central idea of teacher education developments in Finland….”
“….the Masters degree is the basic requirement to be permanently employed as a teacher in Finnish school….”
“Finnish teacher education programs are distinguished by their depth and scope. The balance between the theoretical and practical in these programs helps young teachers master various teaching methods as well as the science of effective teaching and learning. Curriculum reform in the mid-1990s revealed that teachers with high professional competency are quite motivated and easy to engage in school development processes in their own schools as well as in national and international projects.”
“….teachers can diagnose problems in their classrooms and schools, apply evidence-based and often alternative solutions to them and evaluate and analyze the impact of implemented procedures….”

The reforms which were made at the higher education level began in the 70′s. It took several decades, (but one of the seven elements is a longer vision and not instant gratification from reforms), so Finland took its time to do things right. Possibly, there are no shortcuts.


Do we have the teachers?
Preparing teachers for the big reform
By Queena N. Lee-Chua
Philippine Daily Inquirer

Secondary School

“The researchers said, if 75 percent was the benchmark for minimum amount of actual learning, math majors achieved an average mean of 51.59 percent; English, 51.67 percent; and biology, 37.86 percent.”

Elementary School

“….In a 2006 survey by NTC researchers, commissioned by the Math Teachers Association of the Philippines (MTAP), results were no better…. Scores of future elementary teachers ranged from 55 to 73 percent, while their secondary counterparts scored even lower, 53 to 65 percent.”

Teachers of Teachers

“Does the problem lie with the teachers of the teachers?
“Their academic preparation, which is Ed.D. in educational management and leadership, does not entitle them to teach with confidence major courses such as modeling for math, biochemistry for biology and stylistics for English,” the report says.


The test scores of teachers mirror the scores of students in basic education. Higher education faces the same problem and the data above show that mastery of subjects is lacking. Teachers not only need to learn how to teach, but as important,what to teach. Learning new styles of teaching, getting introduced to curricular reforms may be achieved in a series of workshops or seminars. Unfortunately, mastery of the subjects to be taught can not. This takes years and Finland took decades. But this is where a possibly successful reform in basic education should begin. The proposed K to 12 misses the places where reforms should be focused: The early years and higher education. (And not at the end of high school). As Finland has demonstrated, working with primary education to attain education for all, while at the same time, promoting quality in higher education, is much cheaper. Higher education reforms mean doing the best, selecting the capable, and providing a few with excellent training. And this is required to solve the problems in basic education.

Solving problems requires dreams that are based on reality. That dream may be described by "A day in the life of Strömberg School":
Figure taken from Strömberg School, http://finland.fi/Public/default.aspx?contentid=162937&nodeid=41807&culture=en-US
But this dream requires the following.

"....Teachers' high education level allows them to plan their work and choose their methods independently. The Finnish school system is based on a culture of trust, not control, and teachers are active in developing their own work. On the job they set an example of lifelong learning...." (http://finland.fi/Public/default.aspx?contentid=162937&nodeid=41807&culture=en-US)

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