"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

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Gifted and Talented Students

Returning to my basic education days, I was not really enrolled in a special elementary class. I finished my grade school years in a small parochial school in Quiapo, Manila. In fact, I was a student there when the parish priest was murdered in a robbery of the church's money collections. My high school education was from Manila Science High School. Its campus sits at the corner of Taft and Faura. The school's curriculum had emphasis on math and science. I had a year of calculus and linear algebra, and a couple of years for both physics and chemistry. I was in the sections of "Bohr" and "Einstein", considered as the top sections for third and fourth year students, respectively. Students from these sections during my time won national competitions in mathematics:

My high school classmates in a National Mathematics Competition (photo courtesy of Greg Alva)

My high school classmates winning the competition (photo courtesy of Greg Alva)
They were champions. Me? I simply tagged along, hoping that "genius" was somehow contagious.

When equity is absent, education becomes an opportunity. Future doors that may open depend on which room you are in. More than thirty years ago, as I had just finished my third year in high school, I was given the opportunity to participate in a summer program at the Ateneo de Manila University. The program was supposedly intended for the top high school students across the country. Somehow, I lucked out and was given this special opportunity. Senator Aquilino "Koko" Pimentel III was also in this class. The program introduced us to what college life was at the Ateneo. We took summer classes in math, chemistry, physics and english. It was the Ateneo "college experience" squeezed into two months, complete with extracurricular activities. Below is a link to a blog that talks about this summer program:


Learning outcomes depend on input. The quality of education is influenced by the environment. Resources as well as effective instructors affect the quality of learning. Providing special, either enriched or accelerated, programs for gifted and talented students can exacerbate disparities in learning achievement. Given early as kindergarten, students who get a start ahead can easily end up being at an even bigger advantage over other students. It is an important question, one that poses the choice, "equity versus excellence". Do we view education as a privilege and a means to get ahead in life, or is it a right to which every child is entitled? Basic education can indeed be a useful tool in social engineering. Basic education has a significant impact on a person's success in college, future earnings, and standing in society. This is how it looks on the individual level. On the society level, basic education has an influence on the dynamics and classes within a society. Basic education can enhance social mobility if opportunities are extended to the less privileged. Likewise, basic education can maintain a "caste" system if equity is not addressed.

This issue is described in specific terms in a recent article in the New York Times by Al Baker,

Gifted, Talented and Separated

In One School, Students Are Divided by Gifted Label — and Race




The questions will be quite similar if applied to the Philippines. The only difference is that in the Philippines, it will not be about race. The question is how does the makeup of these classes for gifted students compare with society. If a majority of Philippine society is poor, do these special classes also draw a majority of its enrollment from poor families? Or is the makeup of these classes vastly different from the makeup of society? The questions are similar. In New York City, African Americans and Hispanics combined comprise about 63 percent of the population while the classes for gifted and talented students are only 32 percent Black or Hispanic. In the Philippines, most do not have their own cars, but in that special summer program of the Ateneo, how many of the students actually had their own personal chauffeur?

Finland, the top performing country in basic education, does not have to deal with these questions. There are no private schools, no schools for the privileged. Everyone receives quality basic education. The irony is that when it comes to teachers' colleges, Finland does not shy away from being very selective and elitist in admissions. Nine out of ten aspirants fail. Only ten percent become teachers. Sandra Stotsky, a professor of education reform at the University of Arkansas, chose an appropriate title for an article that describes the Finnish education system:
To read this article, click "In Finland, Students Win When Teachers Compete"
Education reform requires a reexamination of our values, what really matters, what our priorities are....

2 comments:

  1. I am attempting to created a gifted program at a school in Bohol. It is meeting with some doubt from the grade school principal. Could you email me at JHS2.isolutions@gmail.com

    ReplyDelete
  2. @JHS2 I hope you didn't push through with your plan to put up a school without learnig how to speak proper english first?.?

    ReplyDelete