"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, July 31, 2012

Does DepEd Need PAGASA? A Tale of Two Visions

Forecasting is difficult. There are so many variables necessary to predict the future. While the United States has the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the Philippines has the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA). One acronym sounds like a character from Genesis while the other is the Tagalog word for hope. This maybe appropriate since, for some, hope is actually a readiness to whatever may happen in the future. 
Downloaded from  http://www.facebook.com/YouScoopGMA 
Reforming education is in a way similar to the challenges faced by climate and weather forecasters. The phrase "21st Century Learning" connotes tailoring the schools to meet the anticipated needs of the new century. Education is indeed very much about the future. Reforming education thus requires a vision. DepEd's K to 12 is advertised as a response to what other countries have done with their basic education. The claim of being left behind by other countries forms the very first rationale for adding two more years at the end of high school. When I was preparing my first commentary on DepEd's K to 12, one of my former graduate students, who is now a postdoctoral fellow at the Weizmann Institute in Israel, cautioned me when I was about to use the phrase "a mile wide but only an inch deep", saying that this phrase might not be familiar to people in the Philippines. I wanted to use the phrase since it had been used to describe in general terms one of the biggest problems of K-12 education in the United States. Seeing the initial framework of DepEd's K to 12 made me think that the Philippines might just be jumping into the same problem. There is indeed something that is in the past and the present that helps in seeing the future. Similar to constructing homes, the past and the present tell us where the danger zones are and we should therefore not build in those areas.

Another instrument in forecasting is seeing a trend. In education reform, the question is what are other countries doing. John Merrow, an education reporter for the National Public Radio in the United States, maintains a blog called "Taking Note, Thoughts on Education from John Merrow". Much of the remaining points in this post are from his recent article entitled, "Schools Do Need a Weatherman" (of course, the title of his article also inspired the title of this post), where he introduced four programs that might describe the future of basic education in the United States. Each of the four programs describe an important vision. Each one is a possible road map, each one is expressing a value. Thus, it is useful to enumerate these programs and describe each one briefly:

A New Learning Objective for Basic Education.  John Merrow cites the works of Dr. James P. Comer of Yale University on school development, which has the following core beliefs:
  • Child rearing, child development and learning are inextricably linked;
  • Development starts early and must be a continuous process;
  • Children's most meaningful learning occurs through positive and supportive relationships with caring and nurturing adults;
  • Parents are children's first teachers;
  • All parents, staff and community members, regardless of social or economic status, have an important contribution to make in improving students' education and their preparation for life; therefore
  • Adults must interact collaboratively and sensitively with one another in order to bring out the best in children
Dr. James P. Comer on Student-Centered High School

A Comer's school is therefore designed not only to address pupils but the society in general. A Comer's school is actively engaged in helping the society by preparing its members for a family that is supportive of a child's growth, development and learning. This indeed sounds more like "responsible parenthood". 

Core Knowledge.  With this philosophy, developed by E.D. Hirsch, Jr., "Education for All" means recognizing that education has fundamentals, which all students should be given an opportunity to learn. This is the core, which is roughly half of the current K-12 curriculum of the United States. Core Knowledge is therefore described as the content and skills that should be addressed from kindergarten to grade 8:
To dowload, visit  http://www.coreknowledge.org/mimik/mimik_uploads/documents/480/CKFSequence_Rev.pdf 
Core Knowledge does address the problem of having a curriculum that is a "mile wide but only an inch deep". And in distilling the curriculum while adding depth and mastery, basic education can be achieved in nine years. 

Quality PreSchool. As a previous post, "Focus on the Early Years", pointed out, the United States is very much aware of the importance of early childhood education. And to reiterate, here is that quote from Kevin Drum of Mother Jones:
...Here you go. There are two big things we could do if we really wanted to improve our childrens' future: aggressively get rid of all the remaining lead in our soil and in old houses — all of it — and spend a bunch of money on high-quality early childhood interventions among poor and working-class families. If we don't think we have the money — an argument I'll put off to another day — we should take it out of the K-12 budgets. We'd be better off with 100% more pre-K and 20% less K-12 than we are with our current funding priorities....
The rationale is simple. One problem that basic education clearly faces is the gap that is already present among children on their first day of school. Such gap only widens with each grade level. Quality preschool addresses this initial gap. It is solving the problem before it gets bigger.

Removing the Last Two Years of High School. This is the punch line. John Merrow takes Kevin Drum's suggestion one step further. To provide the necessary funding for quality preschool, two years may be removed from high school. Merrow writes:

About 10% of high school students are taking college courses in Minnesota, New York and elsewhere. I would open up “early college” to anyone who’s motivated, because it’s a win-win all around. 
Eventually, in this approach, senior year will disappear, and perhaps junior year as well, as education becomes seamless. The savings should be used for pre-school programs.
And to support this, a special school in Texas is cited:
Learning Matters, Early College HS in South Texas Part 1

Learning Matters, Early College HS in South Texas Part 2

Contrast the above four visions against DepEd's K to 12. Congressman Palatino recently shared in his blog some contents of one of the new teaching modules. 

Under the household service TLE subject, children will learn about the professional code of conduct or ethics of a household worker. They will be taught how to ‘maintain a professional image’ as household workers. Other topics include ‘Desirable Traits of a Household Worker’ and ‘Duties and Responsibilities of a Household Worker.’ At the end of the semester, students will be able to identify and operate a vacuum cleaner, floor polisher, and other cleaning materials. The teaching module also gives valuable tips to K-12 students and future supermaids:

Household workers should not sexually harass clients. Sexual harassment includes sexual advances, sexual solicitation, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature. 
Household workers should not use derogatory language in their written or verbal communications to or about clients. 
When setting fees, Household workers should receive fee that are fair, reasonable, and commensurate with the services performed. Consideration should be given to clients’ ability to pay. 
Household workers should make reasonable efforts to ensure continuity of services in the event that services are interrupted by factors such as unavailability, relocation, illness, disability, or death. 
They should take reasonable steps to avoid abandoning clients who are still in need of services.
-From Congressman Palatino's  K-12: TESDA IN HIGH  SCHOOL

Another major difference is the Department's introduction of a perfunctory kindergarten program. And of course, the fact that DepEd's K to 12 vision is adding two years to basic education while those in the United States are beginning to think of removing two years. DepEd does need a "PAGASA" to help it determine which direction the wind is really blowing.

Monday, July 30, 2012

On Human Rights, Linguistic Rights, and Mother-Tongue Based Multilingual Education

These words are huge and complex. Each one represents a value, an expression of importance. These are supposedly beacons to guide priorities. Justice, one of the seven values that guided Finland's education reform, is another big word. And in Pasi Sahlberg's words, this entailed "Attaining the goal of offering equal opportunities to a quality education for all has required creating and maintaining a socially just school network."

"Education for All" encompasses all the words in the title of this post. It is the yardstick that must be used to gauge education reforms in the Philippines, including DepEd's K to 12. It must be the primary objective, the rule that should set priorities. When DepEd spends money, time and effort on advertising its new curriculum in shopping malls, one should ask if these efforts are indeed in line with the priorities set by "Education for All".  When DepEd institutes the use of the mother tongue as medium of instruction, one must ask if this is a genuine effort for inclusive education. When DepEd jumps into new approaches, one must ask if basic needs have been provided first.

Leo Ortega Laparan II has been writing a series of article in the Manila Bulletin describing the current situation of schools in the northern islands of the Philippines. The latest in this series talks about Cadadalman Elementary School in Camiguin Norte Island. There are overcrowded classes, lack of textbooks, and poor facilities. The head teacher had the following to share:
“We even use the backstage to hold Grade 4 classes. For that, schoolchildren would have to endure the heat… even us teachers. At present, we lack a school building because of the Preparatory (referring to Kindergarten) classes, which became mandatory effective last year. That makes it seven years for us now. The kids won’t be allowed to enter Grade 1 without taking Prep. That’s why the room that you saw earlier was divided into two. We just chose the best room in terms of safety to ensure the wellbeing of the little children.” 
 The situation in Camiguin Elementary School is no different, as reported earlier in this series by Laparan. Classrooms no longer have ceilings and walls are cracked. Pupils hold umbrellas to keep themselves dry when it rains since their rooms no longer protect them from the elements. With regard to textbooks, as many as ten pupils share one copy and for science in Grade 3, for instance, a 1985 edition is still in use. These stories from the north do highlight the shortages Philippine schools continue to face. Although these islands are indeed remote, one must not be blind to the shortages in schools that are in the neighborhood of the Congress as well as in the public schools near the national offices of the Department of Education. It is a question of priorities, do we put up a display or presentation of K to 12 in the shopping malls or do we send books to Camiguin first?

Inclusive education is a high priority. The rationale behind mother tongue education partly rests on pupils' basic rights. This is in addition to preserving and nurturing cultural heritage. In a recently held International Conference on Teacher Education, Prof. Romylyn Metila of the UP College of Education presented a paper on “The Role of Teacher Education in Championing Linguistic Human Rights (LHR) and Effective Language Learning through Multilingual Education (MLE): A Fight for Fairness”. In the presentation, Metila stressed the need to examine closely the provisions of policies aimed at addressing linguistic rights and mother tongue education. Factors that require thoughtful considerations were enumerated. First, there is a need to recognize that the Philippines is really diverse in terms of languages. There are more than one hundred and fifty languages in the country. Second, the appropriateness and adequacy of these languages to serve as medium of instruction must be evaluated. Third, the spelling and grammar of these languages need to be set before these languages can be extensively used in reading and writing. And of course, last but not the least, the question of how prepared teachers are was likewise raised. The importance of educating the young on their native culture and tongue is not debatable. What requires careful examination are the pedagogical and practical sides of the argument. And these sides are best handled by the teachers and principals in their own respective schools. Inclusive education should be the main goal of the Department of Education in the Philippines. How the academic performance of students in the Philippines could be enhanced is the job of the teacher and not of a bureaucracy.

Sr. Ma. Famita Somogod, Rural Missionaries of the Philippines-Northern Mindanao Sub-Region (RMP-NMR) coordinator, has this to say:

"...Even as the government has identified education as its priority service, the indigenous peoples of Mindanao view it as a “vague illusion.” Accredited schools supposedly established for indigenous peoples were built or established in areas far from the communities. Many residents are also unable to pay even the smallest fees, and some of the Lumad children spend their formative years in community alternative learning schools usually established with the aid of non-government organizations. Even in the rare situations where communities are benefited by a literacy and numeracy school, these are not sustained because of counter-insurgency operations of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP). Instead of protecting the communities from rebel groups, the communities have become the targets of the operations. Militarization and war have resulted to human rights violations, exacerbating the living conditions of the already impoverished indigenous communities, with indigenous children becoming most vulnerable...

...In a conflict situation, children are robbed of both their right to learn and their right to live a child’s life. They are forced to violent realities too early, forced to experience terror too often. And this is not yet even going into the post-conflict trauma that these children suffer. Without access to education, there will be no room for indigenous communities to promote personal development, strengthen respect for human rights and freedoms, and enable individuals to participate freely in a free society...."
To read more,  visit http://www.internal-displacement.org/8025708F004CE90B/(httpDocuments)/48B4F5D25D01D17EC1257A09004EFAA7/$file/Education+and+Militarization+of+IP+Comm+-+Our+Experience+as+Rural+Missionaries+in+Mindanao+april+2012.pdf

 The following are videos depicting the current plight of the Mamanwa tribe of Agusan del Norte:

These are stories from the north and the south. These stories hopefully can help us understand better the words in the title of this post.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

DepEd K to 12: "Must Have" versus "Could Do"

In line with the old cliche "First Things First" is the distinction between "Must" and "Could". The adage may be old and worn out, but it still helps in understanding complex systems such as education. While the rest of the world have focused on standards, tests and a massive overhaul of curriculum, successful countries in education like Finland simply worked with seven guiding principles: Depth, Length, Breadth, Justice, Diversity, Resourcefulness and Conservation. This perspective sets Finland apart from other countries. Finland chose to define the "Must Have's" and in the process, its schools were able to realize what they "Could Do."

One can easily contrast this with the Philippines DepEd's K to 12 approach, a glaring example of micromanagement. Sheila Lacanaria writes a comment on this blog:
"In the Science K+12 Curriculum Guide, it is stated: 'Rather than relying solely on textbooks, varied hands-on, minds-on, and hearts-on activities will be used to develop students’ interest and let them become active learners.' Is this the reason why DepEd did not provide Grade 7 students with a science textbook that addresses the new content standards? Are we to assume then that the modules that DepEd has developed will deliver the promised hands-on, minds-on and hearts-on learning? With these modules, DepEd seems hellbent on dictating not only WHAT teachers should teach but also HOW and WHEN to teach them."
Add to the above Congressman Palatino's observation:
"...the prefabricated learning materials were designed by ‘experts’ in such a way that the only creative task required of teachers is to unpack them, follow the specific instructions in the kit, and then grade the students. Even the learning guides already contained exact examples and details of course content, teaching methods, and test sheets which teachers are required to use inside the classroom. Under K-12, teachers are subjected to a ruthlessly efficient reskilling and deskilling process...."
Defining in great detail how basic education should be delivered usually fails for one reason. Education unlike other systems or processes is infinitely diverse. One size cannot fit all. Even when a consideration of diversity in the planned curriculum is made by systematically incorporating these variations in the plan, the program could still fail. Finland's inclusion of diversity in its sets of values simply means allowing each community to arrive at their own creative solutions. With certainty, there are standards. This is where the science part comes in. But with every learner, there needs to be a teacher who is given both the freedom and responsibility to be creative. Education is where the arts meet the sciences:
Downloaded from
Finland clearly defines the "Must Have's" as empowering teachers, that is, by providing them good training and adequate compensation. Admission to teaching schools is highly selective and this seems to be the place where standards are in fact set and strictly applied. Teachers are not only required to master the subject they plan to teach, but are also trained to do research so that in school, these teachers are indeed responsive and capable to address a myriad of conditions and environment. 

The diversity of education makes it quite different from medicine. Diseases can be identified and classified. Proven therapies are then expected to be transferable from one case to the next. Thus, chances are very high that results obtained under controlled conditions inside the laboratory can have wide applicability. Unfortunately, this is often untrue for education. A recognition of this difference is important especially when education is attempting to copy how medicine has successfully incorporated research or evidence based thinking into its field. Education must draw conclusions from scientific studies. Education must be guided by research. But education must be cognizant of the limits.   

Herein lies the wisdom of knowing the difference between "must have" and "could do". Scientific studies are useful since these can identify and impart what is essential. Thus, in the vast set of published works on education, it is important to extract not so much the details but the overarching elements. A central authority like a Department of Education must recognize that it can best serve the schools by focusing on these transferable essentials. DepEd's K to 12 focuses on dictating every single detail. Philippine teachers are therefore conditioned to simply follow to the letter every single memo, no more, no less. Initiative on the part of the teachers is therefore greatly curtailed. On top of this, teachers do not receive adequate support. Teachers still have to worry about their basic needs, depriving them of the opportunity, time and energy to focus on their role as facilitators of learning. Resources are already limited. Stretching these resources farther to draw step-by-step instructions on how a class should be taught is not only a waste but also a mistreatment and a misuse of the front line actors of education. 

Professor of Psychology Daniel Willingham at the University of Virginia arrived at an excellent analogy to describe the teaching profession. Teachers are neither scientists nor artists. Architects are a much closer comparison. An architect knows and follows basic structural elements that will keep a building sound, but an architect still has plenty of room to add a personal touch. Teaching is between art and science. And to explain this point, Willingham has composed the following video, with particular emphasis on the difference between "Must Have's" and the "Could Do's".

Is Teaching an Art or a Science?

A good Department of Education equips its teachers with the "Must Have's" so that a teacher can in fact serve the "Could Do's" inside the classroom. 

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Focus First on the Early Years

Educational research faces similar challenges as clinical studies of a drug. There are ethical concerns, for example. If a drug is indeed capable of curing cancer, why should a study be designed such that one group receives the experimental drug while another set gets placebo. Research on learning can raise similar questions. If a method is indeed promising, why not expose all the pupils to the new scheme then? The challenges, however, even go farther than these. Medical research can go as detailed as designing molecules for targets on a computer simulation. Potential drugs can be screened and an atomic resolution of the interactions responsible can be obtained. The mechanism of how exactly a drug works can be elucidated. And slowly but surely, these studies can go from a computer screen, to a test tube, a petri dish, a mouse model, and up to primates to mimic as closely as possible the environment and circumstances. Education occurs in the real world so educational research demands real world conditions.

Nevertheless, there have been advances in social science research. The ethical issues remain but one example illustrates a fully randomized approach. Thus, on pure science grounds, the study is reliable and conclusions can be safely drawn. The study is the Bucharest Early Intervention Project, started twelve years ago, which followed more than a hundred orphans. One of the findings of the study is shown below:

Downloaded from  http://www.unicef.bg/public/images/tinybrowser/upload/PPT%20BEIP%20Group%20for%20website.pdf
Jon Bardin of the Los Angeles Times summarizes one of the studies published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (Margaret A. Sheridan, Nathan A. Fox, Charles H. Zeanah, Katie A. McLaughlin, and Charles A. Nelson III. Variation in neural development as a result of exposure to institutionalization early in childhood. PNAS, July 23, 2012 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1200041109):
...The project is unique because it is the first to randomly assign children either to foster care or to the institutional care of orphanages.

Such randomization — ethically possible because all the children would otherwise have remained in institutions — has allowed the scientists to ensure that other factors, such as physical appearance or personality, did not affect whether children were chosen to join a family or remained in an institution...

...Brains of children who had remained in institutions had less white matter — the type of tissue that connects different regions of the brain — than orphans who were placed in foster care or children living with their own families...

..."The brain needs stimulation to grow and develop, and we know the Romanian orphans are not getting that stimulation," Nelson said....
With these findings, kindergarten seems late. It emphasizes the significance of the  quality of care an infant or toddler receives, and the fact that this has long lasting consequences. In any construction, the foundation is key. Everything else that comes later rely on this first step. The education of a child is no different. 

Kevin Drum of Mother Jones takes the above one step farther:
...Here you go. There are two big things we could do if we really wanted to improve our childrens' future: aggressively get rid of all the remaining lead in our soil and in old houses — all of it — and spend a bunch of money on high-quality early childhood interventions among poor and working-class families. If we don't think we have the money — an argument I'll put off to another day — we should take it out of the K-12 budgets. We'd be better off with 100% more pre-K and 20% less K-12 than we are with our current funding priorities....
DepEd's K to 12, with its introduction of kindergarten, is a step in this direction. However, its lack of focus on the early years, its poor treatment of kindergarten teachers, and its gargantuan yet diffused programs takes us several steps back. 

Friday, July 27, 2012

ICT and DepEd K to 12: Different Angles, Same Conclusion

“My challenge to you is to think about how to place the evolution of learning technologies in comparison with the progress from technology‑aided theater to cinema and beyond. It’s almost inevitable that a new technology would be first used by grafting it onto existing practices. Thus, the computer gives rise to computer‑assisted teaching and the Internet to online teaching. In principle, these concepts are equivalent to technology-aided theater.”
-Seymour Papert

"Seymour Papert is a mathematician and one of the early pioneers of artificial intelligence. In addition, he is internationally recognized as the seminal thinker regarding computers and pedagogy for children. A mathematician by training, his collaboration with Jean Piaget at the University of Geneva led him to consider using mathematics in the service of understanding how children can learn and think"

You will find more of Papert's thoughts in the Daily Papert
I recently read from an email that the Philippines is currently looking for a well-published researcher to advise on design, implementation, and evaluation of information and communications technology (ICT) interventions in public primary education in the country. Rainier A. Ronda also writes in the Philippine Star, "DepEd to Use ICT to Enhance K to 12 Basic Curriculum". The Department of Education (DepEd) in the Philippines has partnered with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) to assess the current state of ICT in the primary and secondary schools. This review supposedly aims to help DepEd integrate ICT into its new K to 12 curriculum. The study begins with an inventory of resources and includes a survey of how these are being used in the schools. ICT is expected to assist in learning and teaching as well as in the school's administrative functions. And counting resources is certainly an important step in evaluating ICT usage in Philippine schools. However, as in other cases, the one important factor in education may be totally taken for granted. 

This topic will surely take us several years back. The dawn of personal computers and the internet was in the early nineties. And as early as the introduction of ICT to schools, critical reviews have been published. Below is an example from the Journal of the Learning Sciences:

Papert ends the article above with the following paragraph (I have made bold the important phrases, in my opinion):
In conclusion, I use a political metaphor to express my most profound points of agreement and of disagreement with Tyack and Cuban. Designing an alternative education is a Soviet-Gosplan-like enterprise whose ultimate fatal flaw is what made the Soviet system impossible. Tyack and Cuban spell out in the case of School reform how centralized social engineering inexorably goes wrong. Complex systems are not made. They evolve. Where I part company from Tyack and Cuban is when they turn from the book's historical theme of showing that reform will not work to give advice to reformers about how to do it better. My own view is that education activists can be effective in fostering radical change by rejecting the concept of a planned reform and concentrating on creating the obvious conditions for Darwinian evolution: Allow rich diversity to play itself out. Of course, neither of us can prove the other is wrong. That's what I mean by diversity.
Taking this discussion to Philippine basic education brings me back to a town in Laguna called Paete.  But before that, it is important to note that Papert's vision is so much loftier. Papert talks about constructing video games that introduce projectile motion, in which a student can correctly visualize that change in the horizontal axis is linear while in the vertical axis, it is acceleration that is constant. This is certainly one way of learning what a parabola is, but it is clear that even in this decade, this is still very much a dream. My excursion to Paete has a much simpler objective, to see how ICT can assist both teachers and students.

Efforts to assist elementary schools in Paete occurred before the following paper of Clark et al.:
Indeed, ICT can serve various roles in basic education. The chapter above arrives at the conclusion that the choice of media does not influence learning or motivation. Media only deliver instruction but do not influence learning. Studies that evaluate the impact of technology in the classroom need to be carefully designed. It is important that assessment zeroes in on the exclusive effects of the choice of medium and as Clark et al. have found, if these careful considerations are made, no contribution on the learning of the students comes solely from the medium chosen.

Nonetheless, my objectives in Paete were to introduce the computer and internet as sources of learning materials. The project started with providing personal computers in the elementary schools. At that time, there was room in DepEd's basic education curriculum that allows for incorporation of instruction on how to use computers. Initially, the computers were used to teach students word processors, spreadsheets, and slides. This, of course, is quite challenging since the above are all tools. These do not provide content, what to write using a word processor, what to tabulate and compute in a spreadsheet, and what to present using slides. In Kindergarten, where a pupil is taught how to write and draw, we start with the letters, we start with colors, we try to improve those fine-motor skills. What do we do with a personal computer? Do we learn to point and click? Do we learn to find and memorize where the numbers and letters are on the keyboard? The number of students enrolled in elementary schools presents an additional challenge. Where would we get enough computers to teach all the students. And similar to other places in the Philippines, we become inclined to deviate from "education for all". The computer classes will then be provided only to the cream of the crop, thereby contributing further to the learning gaps in primary education. Two years after the project was launched, I decided to be directly involved. I spent three weeks in Paete to sway the project into a different direction. DepEd has also changed its curriculum and there is no longer any room in the elementary curriculum to have specific computer instruction.

I found that the computer classrooms in Paete were all well kept. The principals were in fact using them to comply with DepEd's mandated school action plan where each school is made aware of their goals. An example is shown below:


Fitting the above in one table and maintaining a "portrait" orientation could be challenging. And it is quite a feat to place all of the above within one spreadsheet. There is one teacher in each school who seems to have mastered the details and have conquered the mouse. Knowing which part of the menu to click certainly adds a magical aura on the exercise. In a way, the scene reminds me of the "Nick Burns, Your Company's Computer Guy" sketch of Saturday Night Live:

Dowloaded from  http://techhelper.com.au/fun-stuff/nick-burns-your-companys-computer-guy/
Click the link to view some samples.
Each school has a "Nick Burns", who not only is in charge of the computer instruction for the pupils, but also the administrative functions of the school that is attempting to use ICT in their daily functions and reports.

I came to Paete with a different agenda. The availability of computers in schools certainly provides an opportunity to teach pupils and teachers office software packages. But I had additional plans. It is not as lofty as that of Papert, but it touches on using ICT to facilitate learning in the classroom. The computer is a gateway to learning resources all over the world. Each classroom can become a computer classroom with a laptop, wireless internet, and a multimedia projector. And all subjects, except mother tongue and social studies, can benefit from presentations made by other educators in other countries. The National Institutes of Health in the United States alone has compiled a huge resource for health and science education:

Science Education
microscopic image of red blood cells

Microscope Imaging Station External Web Site Policy

Explore a tiny universe. The Microscope Imaging Station at the Exploratorium in San Francisco lets visitors take control of powerful microscopes. Take an up-close look at stem cells, sea urchins, and immune cells bent on destruction. The station is funded in part by an NIH Science Education Partnership Award.
thumbnail image of the Exploring Bioethics curriculum suppliment

Office of Science Education

Free resources for science teachers. NIH’s Office of Science Education coordinates science education activities at NIH and helps to develop programs that serve elementary, secondary, and college students and teachers, as well as the public.
cropped thumbnail image of the living laboratories poster

NIGMS School Resources

Free interactive games, posters for the classroom, and other science education tools are available online for students and teachers. Order full sets of some publications using the Educator Order Form. These fun and informative materials are produced by NIH’s National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS).
a photo of three students standing outside

Environmental Health Science Education

Teachers: Get easy access to an array of classroom activities and curricula. Students: Discover the links between human health and the environment. Scientists: Need to give a presentation to your child's class? Get some ideas and reliable materials from NIH’s National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.
brain power logo

NIDA Goes Back to School

Find free materials geared to K-12 students, plus parents and teachers. Teachers can access colorful curriculum materials, as well as fun and educational games, quizzes, and other activities from NIH’s National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).
an illustration of a robot

Health & Education

This website includes health and educational resources for students, parents, and teachers. From NIH’s National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering.
illustration of Human PapillomaVirus (HPV)

Science Education Partnership Award (SEPA)

From science museums to K-12 classrooms, NIH’s SEPA Program supports exciting and innovative educational programs that boost understanding of health and science research among students and the general public. Sponsored by NIH’s National Center for Research Resources, SEPA projects are created through partnerships among researchers, educators, and community groups.
Reconstructors logo

Science Education Drug Abuse Partnership Award (SEDAPA)

NIH’s National Institute on Drug Abuse funds innovative science education projects to teach varied audiences about neuroscience and the biology of drug abuse. Projects include interactive web games and materials to enhance middle school curricula. SEDAPA projects reflect partnerships between educators, researchers, and community groups.

Internet resources for kindergarten and first grade pupils are likewise available. The following are examples:



The resources are indeed available. And with an equipment grant from the Cisco Product Grant Program, a wireless network has been established connecting all three elementary schools, the high school, the municipal office, and the library:
All the necessary ingredients do seem present. The facilities may not be as extensive as schools in the United States, but the backbone required for delivering learning materials has been made available. A collection of links to educational resources has likewise been compiled. But as hinted near the beginning of this post, there are additional important factors. I spent three weeks in Paete, giving demonstrations to both parents and teachers. For each hour, there are five parents and five teachers, with whom I share ways in which we could use the internet to facilitate learning. I knew that I needed support from both groups to integrate the internet into learning inside the classroom and at home:
Internet for the parents
Internet for the teachers
In 2005, about a year after Facebook started as a social network among Harvard students, teachers and parents of Paete have registered for an online forum for Paetenians worldwide. It was hoped then that we would start sharing pictures, stories and lessons. Years later, Facebook has grown immensely and Filipinos are among its active users, but lessons and resources on the internet still rarely cruise through internet cables and air waves.

What did we miss? As Clark et al. have pointed out, the choice of medium does not influence learning nor motivation. During the time I was inside Paete's classrooms, I wrote: 

With this past week that I spent here in Paete, I am now a bit more aware of the day-to-day life of an elementary school teacher. Each day begins early in the morning with a flag ceremony and a short exercise session. Like the teachers, I also spent talking almost nonstop from morning until late afternoon. And with all the fumes coming from tricycles and motorcycles, my throat had taken a lot of punishment this week. I could only imagine the everyday life of an elementary school teacher in Paete. Unlike the teachers, I am served with a very good breakfast by my host family. During lunch, I also received a nice meal from the school that is hosting me. And in the evening, either the mayor, my host family, or someone from Sangguniang Bayan usually have something ready for my dinner. On the other hand, the teachers after working hard the entire day would still have to worry about the meals of their respective families. Yet, they do their job with such great dedication and sacrifice.
Similar to the other posts in this blog, this article intends to highlight a central theme in addressing problems in Philippine basic education. We must consider the teachers. A teacher can only afford to embrace technology and find innovative ways to teach if given the time and ample support. A teacher whose pay is not adequate to support a family's basic needs will not have the time and energy to explore new learning resources. This is required. Browsing the internet already takes time. But even if links are provided so that only one click is required, we still need the teachers to actually read the material and evaluate how to incorporate it in the classroom. These efforts take time, energy and attention.

How does DepEd K to 12 relate to this discussion? First, it is wrong-headed since it neglects an important factor in basic education, the teacher. Congressman Palatino describes K to 12's treatment of teachers as:
"...Worse, the prefabricated learning materials were designed by ‘experts’ in such a way that the only creative task required of teachers is to unpack them, follow the specific instructions in the kit, and then grade the students. Even the learning guides already contained exact examples and details of course content, teaching methods, and test sheets which teachers are required to use inside the classroom. Under K-12, teachers are subjected to a ruthlessly efficient reskilling and deskilling process...."

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Simple Mathematics

Benjo Basas
Pilipino Mirror

Kamakailan ay inihayag ng ating pangulo ang kanyang ikatlong State of the Nation Address (SONA)- taunang pag-uulat ng pangulo hinggil sa kalalagayan ng bansa. Subalit mas madalas, ito ay pag-uulat ng mga nagawa at mga plano pang gawin ng nakaupong adminstrasyon. Kumbaga sa mag-aaral, ito ang kanyang report card. 

Ayaw ko nang talakayin pa ang hinggil sa ibang sektor, sa edukasyon na lamang tayo magpokus. May ilan ding talata mula sa 8, 000 salitang nilalaman ng SONA ang inilaan ng pangulo sa sektor na ito. Nakatutuwang isiping napakaraming problema sa edukasyon ang iniulat ng pangulo na naresolba at mareresolba sa ilalim ng kanyang administrasyon. Nariyan ang kakulangan sa mga upuan sa public schools, ang kulang na mga libro at ang malaking kakulangan sa silid-aralan. Hindi man ganap na naresolba ay nabawasan naman nang husto ang ating shortages. At inaasahang makakamit ang ‘zero backlog’ sa pagtatapos ng 2013. Kung paano ito gagawin, hindi pa malinaw. 

Subalit kung susuriin ay makikita natin ang tunay na problema sa sistema- budget. Ngunit ayon sa sa pangulo ay may malaking dagdag sa budget sa edukasyon sa ilalim ng kanyang panunungkulan. Ipinagmalaki ng pangulo ang lubhang pagtaas ng budget kumpara sa administrasyong Arroyo. 

Buweno, ayon sa simple mathematics ay talagang pasulong ang mga datos. Nadagdagan ang mga classrooms, nadagdagan ang mga upuan, nadagdagan ang mga aklat at nadgdagan ang budget. Tama ang pangulo at kaming mga guro ay kumikilala sa simple mathematics na ito. Ngunit ayon din sa simple mathematics, may naganap na subtraction- nawala sa ulat ang pinakamahalagang salik sa edukasyon- ang ating mga guro. Hindi nabanggit ng pangulo ang paglobo ng bilang ng guro na kailangan ng sistema sa ngayon. Ayon mismo sa DepEd, sa taong ito’y aabot sa 116,564 ang kulang na mga guro. Hindi rin niya nabanggit na mahigit 45, 000 mga guro ang nagtitiyaga sa kontrakwal na kalagayan- mas mababa ang sahod, mas mabigat ang trabaho at walang seguridad sa hanapbuhay. Na-menos din sa SONA ng pangulo na may karagdagang 23, 000 volunteer teachers na nagtuturo sa kindergarten program at sumasahod lamang ng tatlo hanggang anim na libong piso kada buwan. Hindi rin nabanggit ng pangulo na ang 1.7 milyong enrollees sa kindergarten ay katumbas ng pangangailangan sa 28, 833 bagong mga guro samantalang 3, 741 lamang ang permanent kinder teachers sa Pilipinas. 

Ganito po kalaki ang pagkukulang ng ating estado sa sistema ng edukasyon- lalo na sa mga guro. At lahat ng pagkukulang na iyan ay ang mga guro mismo ang pumupuno. Ang ating DepEd ay laging gumagamit ng division- hinahati-hati sa 530, 370 (yan ang bilang ng mga guro Pilipinas kasama na ang 16, 000 bagong guro ngayong 2012) ang dapat sana ay trabaho ng nawawalang 141, 656 sa kabuuan (kasama ang sa kinder). 

Ganito po ang estado ng mga guro sa Pilipinas. Hindi pa natin pinag-uusapan ang dapat na kompensasyon at mga insentibo sa kanila. Kaya naman ang hamon ng mga guro kay Pangulong Aquino ay simple mathematics din- multiplication. Itumbas sa pangangailangan ng buong istema ng edukasyon ang budget na ilalaan. Kung mayroon tayong pambayad sa utang na hindi pinakinabangan ng mamamayan at ngayon’y may lakas na tayo ng loob magpautang, bakit hindi natin kayang tugunan ang mga tunay na pangangailangan? #

Si Benjo Basas ay isang public school teacher sa Caloocan City at kasalukuyang Pambansang Tagapangulo ng Teachers’ Dignity Coalition (TDC). 

DepEd's K to 12 Misses the Real Difference: Teachers' Salaries

Do we still need to wonder what these students see first in school?
Unfortunately, President Aquino and  DepEd see the curriculum first.
And even with that, they cannot even see things right.
Photo downloaded from  http://joshweinstein.wordpress.com/2010/03/02/the-problem-of-education-in-the-philippines/ 
There are three years left before the United Nations Millennium Develeopment Goal of Education for All. Philippine columnists continue to emphasize how much the country needs to catch up with the world with regard to basic education. DepEd's K to 12 has always been advertised as an effort to meet global standards. There is a rush in addition. In 2015, there is the anticipated free labor market among the members of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN). In this light, DepEd's K to 12 has been heralded as a response to the future union of countries in the region, a product of a comparative study with the country's neighbors.

Soliven writes in a recent column, "Only 3 years left to reach UN Millennium Development Goal 2015":
...Last year 2011, Dr. Ethel Agnes Valenzuela, the senior specialist and current Research Director of SEAMEO-INNOTECH was commissioned by DepEd Secretary Armin Luistro to do a comparative study of the K to 12 Education in Southeast Asia. She studied the structure, content, organization and adequacy of Basic Education in Brunei Darussalam, Malaysia and Singapore as benchmarks against the Philippines. All benchmarked countries have long-term educational development plans geared towards achieving 21st century competence, while the end-goal of Philippine education is to achieve functional literacy for all...

...Given the findings, Dr. Valenzuela suggests some strategies for policymakers to improve Philippine Basic Education. The first task would be to anchor the Philippine educational goals on the development of 21st century competencies. This involves streamlining the content of compulsory subjects, which are overcrowded and too technical in content to provide for more mastery of key skills, knowledge and content. A “spiral” progressive curriculum (one that integrates content across different subjects) should be promoted in the elementary and secondary levels thereby strengthening the link between the two.

The cycle of secondary education should also be extended to enhance the student’s abilities and competencies. Then an end-of-cycle NAT assessment may also be devised to assess the academic qualifications of the fourth year high school students to determine pathways for employment or higher studies. Finally, the upper secondary or Year 11 and 12 should not follow a one-size-fits-all program. The last two years of K to 12 should lead to one of three tracks. Track one leads to taking career-oriented elective subjects (bookkeeping, travel, animation, etc.), track two leads to specialized career-oriented technical or vocational certification, and track three leads to the integration of the general education subjects in college or a pre-baccalaureate course or program for higher education....
The study looked at the number of years. It even caught details of the curriculum. Unfortunately, the most important difference was missed:

(PER MONTH in PESOS not adjusted to purchasing power)

Brunei : 100000
Singapore: 150000
Malaysia: 40000
Philippines: 18000

The number above for the Philippines does not consider the pay given to kindergarten teachers (3000 pesos for teaching one kindergarten class, 6000 for teaching two). One could only imagine what would happen if the free labor movement within ASEAN in 2015 included teachers. 

One can look at a larger list. The figures below are starting annual salaries of teachers in equivalent US dollars (purchasing power parity (PPP) is taken into account). In this scale, a good estimate for Philippine teachers is about 12,000 US dollars PPP per year (Please do not multiply this by 40, PPP already takes into account the purchasing power in the country). 

Education at a Glance 2009: OECD Indicators - OECD © 2009 - ISBN 9789264024755

Australia 32 259
Austria 28 172
Belgium (Fl.) 29 680
Belgium (Fr.) 28 369
Czech Republic 21 481
Denmark 35 691
England 30 172
Finland 28 201
France 23 640
Germany 43 387
Greece 26 326
Hungary 11 216
Iceland 22 443
Ireland 31 977
Italy 24 945
Japan 27 284
Korea 31 717
Luxembourg 49 902
Mexico 14 006
Netherlands 34 272
New Zealand 19 236
Norway 32 148

Portugal 21 304
Scotland 30 366

Spain 34 250
Sweden 27 498
Switzerland 41 998
Turkey 14 063
United States 35 907
OECD average 28 687
EU 19 average 29 518

How could a research specialist miss the glaring item that sets Philippine basic education apart from those of other countries? If there are differences in the curriculum, 10 years versus twelve, the differences here are quite small compared to what the figures above show. A 20% difference in years is highlighted but the obvious 200-300 % difference in teachers' salaries is missed. How could we miss this when PISA results show this in one of its figures:

Teachers' salaries may not perfectly correlate with student's performance and learning outcomes but there must be a threshold. A teacher whose salary is not adequate to support a family's basic needs will have to find additional sources of income. A teacher who has to worry whether his or her family will have something for dinner cannot give the pupils an undivided attention. It is true that at the higher range of salaries the correlation may be weak (although in the figure above, teachers' salaries still correlate strongly among OECD countries, whose average teachers' salary is almost three times higher than those in the Philippines (in PPP terms)) but common sense tells us that at the lower end, the effects on the quality of education can be devastating. When teachers are severely underpaid, the consequences to education are very serious. The above correlation does not include the Philippines. The correlation seen in developed countries between teachers' salaries and student performance can be attributed to how well the teaching profession attracts talent. The situation in the Philippines goes far beyond this. Teachers in the Philippines become victims to loan sharks because they cannot really provide for their own families. If teachers are paid one third to one half of what teachers receive in other countries, students will likewise receive about the same fraction in instruction and guidance. And yet, a research specialist sees years of high school and a spiral curriculum as the major differences. As President Aquino has advised, we may all need to take remedial classes in math.
Whatever we do will not matter
as long as we continue to neglect our teachers.
Such is the simple math of basic education.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

On DepEd's K to 12 Fuzzy Math and Logic

We all probably need to take remedial classes in mathematics. Numbers are indeed intricate pieces of information. What numbers represent is important. What operations are performed is equally significant. The numbers used to describe the current state of Philippine basic education can guide the nation on what needs to be done. With fuzziness, however, numbers can also mislead.

Shortages in the Philippine public school system that are described in numbers and reported in the news can be conflicting. But the shortages, as seen in photographs and as directly experienced by pupils, teachers and parents, are very clear. Somehow, the pictures we see become fuzzy as we apply numbers to describe the situation. Take, for example, the shortage in teachers. Pick a number. Some say 61,000. While others cite 47,000. And there are reports that claim 132,483 (this one is even stated to the ones' place). 74,178, this is another number floating around. Why different numbers? The difference lies in the details. It depends on how the need is counted, whether the counting considers every item as equivalent. There are volunteers. There are contractual teachers. And there are teachers that are not supported by national funds, but by local government school boards.

There are about 21.5 million pupils enrolled in the public school system. Aspiring for a 35:1 pupil to teacher ratio requires about 600,000 teachers. If each teacher gets paid 18,000 pesos per month (Salary Grade -11), 600,000 teachers require an annual budget of 130 billion pesos. This calculation assumes that all teachers are paid at the same grade. This number likewise does not include allowances and benefits. And of course, staffing and administrative salaries are needed to arrive at the total budget just for personnel to run the public school system. At Salary Grade -15, the budget just for the base salary of 600,000 teachers amounts to 180 billion pesos.

The shortages in classrooms, desks, toilets and textbooks also present numbers that are as equally challenging to comprehend. For classrooms, the numbers cited range from 27,000 to 98,000. For desks, 800,000 for kindergarten alone are needed, while Aquino's state of the nation address claims that the gap in school desks will disappear this year. On textbooks, it is difficult to count since at this point, with the new curriculum, I am not sure what a textbook really is. And one should not neglect that there are 150,000 water and sanitation facilities currently needed.

If the counting of teachers is already complicated because of the variety in these positions, counting classrooms, desks, toilets and textbooks is even more difficult. The introduction of multiple (double and triple) shifts in schools makes a proper counting of facilities impossible. The fact that there are 10000 students, for example, in Quezon City, who have been forced to be home-schooled complicates the situation.

But the budget for education will be increased according to President Aquino, from 239 billion pesos in 2012 to 293 billion pesos for 2013. This is an increase of 54 billion pesos. The Alliance of Concerned Teachers have recently calculated the required budget to run kindergarten and their estimate is about 34 billion pesos. This calculation is based on the perceived requirements of the kindergarten program: 34,500 teachers (each teacher has two sessions with 25 pupils in each session), 34,500 classrooms (this assumes double shifts), 860,000 desks (34,500 classrooms times 25 students per classroom), 34,500 water/sanitation facilities. These numbers are consistent with having 1.73 million pupils currently enrolled in kindergarten. Kindergarten is the first year that is being added to the public education system in DepEd's K to 12 curriculum. Subtract 34 billion pesos (required for kindergarten) from 54 billion pesos (the increase in DepEd's budget), and one is left with 20 billion pesos, which could hire about 90,000 teachers at Salary Grade - 11. But that is it, nothing left. President Aquino offers a different itemized view to describe the increase in DepEd's budget:

Basic Education. This year, we mark a milestone in Philippine education with the launch of the K-12 Program that reforms our education curriculum, and will improve the competitiveness of our graduates through a 12-year basic education cycle. This Administration likewise lauds the passage of the Kindergarten Education Act, in line with our belief that education is for all. 
Naninindigan tayo: ang edukasyon ay susi sa pagbukas ng oportunidad upang labanan ang kahirapan. 
To support these reforms, this Administration plans to eliminate all resource gaps—classrooms, teachers, textbooks, among others—by next year. With this in mind, we have once again greatly increased the DepEd budget. We have raised it by 22.6 percent to P292.7 billion, from P238.8 billion this year. 
In particular, we increased funding for the Basic Educational Facilities and the School Building Program by more than 50 percent—from P17.4 billion this year to P26.3 billion in 2013. All in all, we expect 30,789 classrooms to be constructed and rehabilitated next year, which will finally close the classroom gap. To complement the new classrooms, we will procure more than a million seats and construct 90,461 water and sanitation facilities. 
We also aim to fully cover the shortfall in quality public school teachers by allocating P13.4 billion for the creation of 61,510 teaching positions to include the regularization of 7,967 kindergarten volunteer teachers. 
With a P1.5-billion budget, the government will also procure more than 31.1 million textbooks and teachers’ manuals in 2013 to maintain the 1:1 student to textbook ratio. 
To improve access to basic education and to help decongest public high schools, this government increased provisions for the Government Assistance to Students and Teachers in Private Education (GASTPE) to almost P7.0 billion next year, from this year’s P6.3 billion, to accommodate one million grantees. Each grantee in the National Capital Region (NCR) will receive P10,000, while those in other regions will receive P5,500.
The numbers, of course, do not match. The shortages cited above form a new set of numbers. According to the above, there are 30,789 classrooms, 90,461 water and sanitation facilities, and 61,510 teachers needed. (I am no longer paying attention to the textbooks because that will just give me additional headache). Compare this set of shortages to this one: 98,000 classrooms, 154,000 water and sanitation facilities, and 132,000 teachers. This is fuzzy math but in every school opening, one thing is clear, there are shortages. And if the Philippines actually becomes successful in its "education for all" objective, the out-of-school youth, about 10%, will be absorbed by the system, which roughly requires an additional 10% increase in both operational budget and infrastructure. 

President Aquino in his state of the nation address said, "We are ending the backlogs in the education sector, but the potential for shortages remains as our student population continues to increase. Perhaps Responsible Parenthood can help address this...." The basic shortages above (depending on which numbers are used) range from 10% to 20%. The population growth rate for the Philippines in 2005 was 1.9% and in 2011, it was estimated at 1.7%. The shortages in schools clearly do not come solely from an increasing population but more on a continuing neglect of basic education.

One can get really dizzy with the numbers but, in the end, the reality is inescapable. The schools are what they are. The conditions teachers and pupils face are as real as can be. No fuzzy math can change that. But, then again, I may have to take remedial classes in Mathematics.

Congressman Palatino recently wrote on his blog, an article entitled "The Arrogant Obscurantist". Here are excerpts related to the education budget:

On education
Pnoy should not brag the additional funds for the education sector. No president has reduced the nominal budget of education. Furthermore, the Department of Education has always received the highest allocation among all government agencies because it has the biggest bureaucracy. The reported increase in the DepEd budget should be compared with the agency’s budget plan (P338 billion) for the successful implementation of K-12 next school year. If we use this as an indicator, then the government’s proposed budget for DepEd (P297 billion) would still be inadequate to address the needs of the sector.
The P37 billion fund for state colleges is also insufficient to meet the basic needs of public higher education. It is clearly not a modernization budget and it will hardly improve the competitiveness of local universities. It is significant to note that state colleges proposed a budget of P53 billion for next school year.
The reported budget hike won’t easily reverse the decline of tertiary education in the country. Years of underinvestment in the education sector have weakened the capacity of many colleges and a ‘cover up budget’ in 2013 won’t lead to overnight transformations in schools.
Pnoy’s rant against student protesters was unnecessary. The self-declared heir of People Power shouldn’t belittle student opposition to government policies as mere ‘cutting of classes.’ Pnoy, a Martial Law victim and self-professed activist, should know that student activists are informed and educated individuals who sometimes go to the streets because it is effective in raising political issues. Besides, protests against education budget cuts in the past two years were co-organized by teachers, school officials, and other education stakeholders.
It was actually Pnoy, not students, who first revealed the cuts in the budget of state colleges. Below is an excerpt from Pnoy’s 2010 budget message which included a brief explanation as to why he reduced the funds of state colleges:
“We allocated P23.4 billion to 112 State Universities and Colleges (SUCs) in 2011. This is 1.7 percent lower than the P23.8 billion budget for 2010. We are gradually reducing the subsidy to SUCs to push them toward becoming self-sufficient and financially independent.”
Curiously, in his SONA, Pnoy presented a figure of P21.8 billion for the 2010 budget of state universities. It clearly contradicted his budget message. Is Pnoy fudging data? Students should tutor Pnoy on simple mathematics and honesty in presenting government statistics.