Misdiagnosing Problems in Education

"... If we look at the old education system, a lot of the subjects included are very alien to Filipinos, especially the sciences and math. I think that’s why in the past several years, we have rated very low in those two subjects, science and math. I think the old curriculum was not really enmeshed with essential elements of the Filipino culture. We have to ask the question: How does a Filipino naturally think? That’s why the heart of the reform of the K+12 Program begins in kindergarten and Grade 1...."
-Bro. Armin Luistro, Philippines DepEd Secretary

In medicine, misdiagnosis could be fatal. The error in identifying the problem can lead to a wrong prescription or a wrong procedure. Even without a prescription, missing the real problem leads to failing to take the correct solution. This is true for any exercise that involves tackling a problem. Correct diagnosis relies on good data. Education reforms must be adequately informed and not simply founded on anyone's perception, bias or notion.

With regard to science and math education, studies have shown that motivation and interest correlate with achievement in these fields. Twenty years ago, Richard Felder of North Carolina State University wrote the following (Felder, Richard, "There's Nothing Wrong With the Raw Material." Chem. Engr. Education, 26(2), 76-77 (Spring 1992)):
It was a remarkable experience---I couldn't hold those kids back. Early in the class I divided them into groups of four and gave each group two small closed vials containing colorless liquids, one labeled "H" (which contained water) and one labeled "V" (for vinegar). Before I gave them the vials I told them we would do some experiments to figure out which one was acid and which was just water. As soon as they got the vials, they took off. They shook them, sniffed them, held them up to the light. One child saw that one of the liquids was somewhat thick and bubbly when she shook it and the other behaved more like water, and she guessed that the first one was the acid. Another student in the same group saw the H on the second vial and said "Yeah, that probably stands for H_2O. Someone in another group detected a faint aroma coming from one of the vials, saw the V on it, and said "This one's vinegar---hey, is vinegar an acid?" I hadn't opened my mouth yet! 
The whole class went like that. The children flailed their hands in the air after every question I asked, hoping I would call on them. They debated vigorously about the experiments they were performing and came up with possible interpretations that hadn't occurred to me. They asked questions about acids (including "If I poured some of that on his head, would it go all the way through to his feet?"), and acid rain, and what scientists do. They asked if they could do more experiments. When I finished they swarmed around me, showing me work they had done in class, asking more questions. They told me they wanted to be chemists, physicists, veterinarians. Not one mentioned anything about getting an engineering degree followed by an M.B.A. and starting off at $50,000 a year.
This year, AMGEN and Let's Talk Science published a report, "Spotlight on Science Learning, A Benchmark of Canadian Talent":

To read the report, download
One important finding of the above study is the following.
"Canadian students demonstrate strong abilities in STEM.  Yet their interest in continuing that education in their later high school years and post-secondary isn’t as strong.  We see that by the decisions  they make when they have a choice about science classes.   
Across Canada, compulsory science and technology courses are generally required to grade 10.  After that, most provinces require one additional credit in science or technology to graduate.  
A look at enrollment in math, biology, chemistry and physics in grades 11 and 12 – courses needed as university prerequisites – is telling.  It’s clear that fewer and fewer students take these courses over time, and that the drop off is very pronounced in some cases."
The above observation is supported by the data shown below.
Source: http://stream1.newswire.ca/media/2012/06/05/20120605_C5880_DOC_EN_14615.pdf , page 18
This parallels Richard Felder's observation, that is, problems in math and science learning are occurring in the latter part of basic education. This is the time when interest and motivation in these fields seem to drop dramatically.

This diagnosis prompts Felder to suggest the following prescription:
Meeting this goal requires above all, paying teachers a decent salary, reducing their class sizes, removing their nonteaching responsibilities, and empowering them to take an active role in determining academic policies and procedures. We must also find ways to provide all of our schools with the resources they need to do their job effectively---modern instructional materials, laboratories, computers, multimedia facilities, and in-service training on how to make classrooms exciting centers of learning and creativity. Industry-school and university-school partnerships can play vital roles in these efforts. 
Evidence is required to make the correct diagnosis. If Philippine Basic Education is suffering a similar predicament, it should be quite obvious that DepEd's K to 12 is the wrong prescription.


  1. Elementary teachers are told which science units to cover, which they may or may not be proficient in themselves. I know one elementary teacher who was told to teach machines and work. She started knowing nothing, and after three or four years did quite q good job of it. I taught rocks and basic Earth science, and did quite a good job, improving each year. But I knew nothing about machines and work, for example. I didn't like biology or botany. In addition to not knowing a particular curriculum, all science teachers at ALL levels (but especially at elementary level) have the problem that students are unable to read their textbooks. In nearly every case, when I had most students come into my class hating science (I love it), I found it was a reading comprehension problem where they had not understood and in addition gotten bad grades in science. The best class I ever had in my teacher education (although I was certified for secondary, but taught in elementary) was a course in "Reading in the Content Area." It was all about how content area teachers could help students improve their reading comprehension and get more out of their reading. I took those same strategies and used them in elementary school, with excellent results in science. I also had a lot of hands-on activities such as you have described. But those are often very time consuming and difficult to control students and obtain materials. I got most students loving science, and getting good grades, only to have their interest squashed again by some of the subsequent teachers.

    Lynne Diligent

    Dilemmas of an Expat Tutor

  2. Hello, Lynne, thanks for stopping by and making a thoughtful comment.


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