"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

Friday, May 3, 2013

Education Reforms: Resistance to Change Or Is It Something Deeper?

Not everything new is good. Simply using the word "reform" does not guarantee an improvement. Resistance to change, on the other hand, cannot be taken simply as stubbornly being tied to old ways. Conservatism has a place in the list of human virtues. After all, why fix something that is not broken? And just because something is broken, it does not mean that any fix will do. Some measures can in fact make matters worse. This is especially true for a system as complex as education. Reforms can look very good on paper but dreaming about it is only one tiny step in the entire process. Implementation is the major consequential part. The mere fact that there are so many education reforms languishing in dust bins demonstrates that a majority of these initiatives are failures. Yet, education reformers and pundits in general often think that solutions are straightforward, frequently reducing what happens inside the classroom into catchy phrases and sound bites.

Developing a textbook in any subject is already a major undertaking. Composing a textbook alone already draws so much from the labor of others. Proofreading and review take time. Even with thoughtful and careful, examinations, errors may still be missed. At this point, students are not yet using the textbook. After the textbook has been finished, this normally does not automatically transfer into a student's brain via osmosis. Usually, when teachers choose a text to use, they are already familiar with the material. New textbooks require time from teachers. Teachers have to evaluate the text and see if it fits in the design of the course. If not, the course may need to be adjusted or a different textbook may be sought. Once the decision is made to adopt a textbook, more work still needs to be done. This is where implementation really begins. Assessment is necessary to check if the change leads to an improvement. During this time, a teacher must consider closely how the new thing is affecting learning, make some adjustments if necessary to make things work better, or in some cases, find fatal flaws so that the change is abandoned before it causes further harm. Imagine, this is only about a textbook.

The Philippines' DepEd's K to 12 reform is a behemoth. Compared to reforms in other countries, the K to 12 reform is gigantic in scope. Adding years, changing the sequence of subjects, dictating what medium of instruction should be used, and defining the standards and curriculum are all combined in one big package. Each one of these is really a major reform. Each one requires careful examination, testing and evaluation. Yet, these are all being implemented in one quick blow. In the United States, there is currently a major reform in education that is being implemented. Forty-five states, the District of Columbia, four territories, and the Department of Defense Education Activity have adopted the Common Core State Standards. This is not yet a curriculum, but only a list of expectations for K-12 education in the United States. A draft of these standards was made public in March 2010. Recognizing that several decades have passed since the United States realized that something must be done with K-12 education and the fact that so many education initiatives have failed to deliver the promised results, the Common Core State Standards have taken more time to brew. Learning from experience is key. One must not make the same mistakes over and over. There are important lessons to be learned. In this light, it is helpful to listen to an inspiring talk given by the president of the American Federation of Teachers, Randu Weingarten:


The following is a good wake-up call to all education policy makers:
"...The fact that the changes are being made nationwide without anything close to the adequate preparation is a failure of leadership. It's a sign of a broken accountability system and worse, it is an abdication  of our moral responsibility to kids particularly poor kids... 
...When students complete only a small fraction of the tasks required of them they get a failing grade. When officials responsible for implementing failed to do what's required of them, its students, its schools, its teachers who pay the price...."










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