"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, September 28, 2013

The Past, Present and Future

These three words are passages in time. However, without change, these three essentially look the same except for their timestamp. Lack of progress frequently happens. For this reason, there is the famous quote from George Santayana, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."
Above copied from
The above photo copied from deviantart illustrates another nugget of wisdom on how one should treat the past, the present, and the future. How does thinking about time relate to basic education? If there is one feature that is great about Diane Ravitch's book Reign of Error, it is the fact that Ravitch is a historian of education. Her deep knowledge of history definitely enriches and guides her vision of public school education in the United States.

Philippine basic education likewise has a lot to learn from its history. Niceto Poblador in "BASIC EDUCATION IN THE PHILIPPINES: Beyond Reform, Beyond Transformation" enumerates the various reforms the Philippine government has attempted over the past two decades, yet, these efforts have shown very little results, if there are any, to show. When Poblador wrote this article, the most current education reform then was the Basic Education Sector Reform Agenda (BESRA). BESRA focuses on decentralization of basic education. It is in fact in line with one of the solutions brought forth by Ravitch in Reign of Error:
SOLUTION NO. 9 Public schools should be controlled by elected school boards or by boards in large cities appointed for a set term by more than one elected official.
Ravitch ends the chapter that talks about this solution with the following sentences:
Because public schools need the support of the public that funds them, they should have the widest possible community support. Community support means democratic governance. School districts should be governed by those who are willing to work diligently to improve them and by those who have the greatest stake in the success of the children and the community.
As noted by Poblador, the above principle is an ideal, but it faces serious obstacles given the current predicament of Philippine politics. Poblador writes:
BESRA will be strongly resisted by the System, and is doomed to failure. Here’s why: It will be strongly resisted by entrenched elements in the bureaucracy and by elements outside the system whose interests firmly lie on the status quo. Implementing a change of such magnitude will jeopardize sinecures and endanger personal (i.e., financial) interests. Effective implementation will require empowering lower-level administrators and stakeholders within the community. While decentralization has many advantages, its downsides are easily overlooked. For one thing, it will exacerbate parochialism and turfism which carry the danger that local issues and concerns will take precedence over the larger interests of society and of the community. Successful implementation requires extensive networking arrangements and joint, multi-sectoral decision making. In the past, consortium arrangements and other forms of collaboration and team effort have failed.
What should not be lost in the above argument is the fact that opposition to a decentralization of education really has nothing to do with any harm decentralization can do to the learning of children. The arguments are really about communities in the Philippines not having what it takes to run a school. The arguments are about insecurity, personal interests, and turfism.

On the other hand, the arguments for decentralization are about commitment and stake. At this point, it maybe helpful to return to Ravitch's last sentence, "School districts should be governed by those who are willing to work diligently to improve them and by those who have the greatest stake in the success of the children and the community." Philippine basic education in its current form can be described by schools being told what to do exactly by an office in Pasig City near Manila. The probability of finding someone who makes decisions in this office and at the same time has a child enrolled in any one of these public schools is very low. Reforms in Philippine basic education is decided by members of Congress and the current residents of the palace in Manila. Likewise, the probability that someone in these decision-making bodies has a child enrolled in any one of these poor public schools is probably zero, not to mention that most of these decision makers know very little about education. Reforms in education that will work cannot come without competence, commitment and stakeholding. Thus, it must come from the ground. Only then would the past may become distinguishable from the present and the future.

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