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Showing posts from June, 2014

Keeping Children in School

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When a child leaves school, basic education comes to a halt. There are alternative means of education, but for most out-of-school youth, leaving school is equivalent to no education. Reducing the number of school leavers is therefore an important objective for any basic education system. Improving attendance in schools is the first step in reaching out to school children. After all, basic education inside a classroom does not occur without the children being there.

Mother tongue based - multilingual education is one way of making a school more welcoming to young children. Using the language children have known before they enter school adds a sense of familiarity. This is no different from starting a conversation by finding an initial spark, an entry point of interest between pupils and teacher. It makes the school feel like a second home. Keeping children in school must be placed right there on top in thinking of ways to alleviate the problems of basic education not just in the Philip…

What Works in Teaching Math

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There are manipulatives. There are student-centered strategies. There are cooperative activities. There are student-led discussions and peer learning. There is music and sometimes, there are even movements employed to teach math. And of course, there are the old fashioned teacher-directed practices: The teacher first demonstrates, and then provides opportunities for students to practice (worksheets and drills). When it comes to learning basic math, evidence shows that direct instruction still works best and the other learner-centered methods may actually be harming especially children who have initial difficulties in math. This is the result of a longitudinal study involving more than 13,000 children in the United States:



Some of the methods we have now may sound more "fun" than the traditional ways of teaching. What actually works, however, is the old-fashioned explicit teacher-directed approach.









No Progress in Reducing the Number of Out-of-School Children

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Recent news from UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS) is not good. It is now almost guaranteed that a number of countries would not meet the 2015 goal of achieving universal primary education.

The lack of progress is highlighted in the figure below:



Accountable and Responsible: Likewise Misunderstood by US Department of Education

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The previous article on this blog, Accountable and Responsible: Both Require Being Able, highlights the undeniable fact that we cannot expect something out of nothing. The fruits of education depend on the care and support we give to educators. That is Education 101. It seems that we usually forget the fact that we usually get what we pay for. This forgetfulness affects not only politicians and policy makers in the Philippines, but also those in the United States. Here is a piece of news from the Department of Education in the US:

In this piece of news, US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is quoted:
“We know that when students with disabilities are held to high expectations and have access to the general curriculum in the regular classroom, they excel.” The new policy announced by Duncan essentially requires states to produce evidence showing students with special needs are indeed making academic progress. Without such proof, states stand to lose federal funding earmarked for special…

Accountable and Responsible: Both Require Being Able

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We all want our teachers to be effective educators. We all want our teachers to be accountable and responsible. How do we make this dream a reality? Obviously, we need to understand first clearly what this dream is all about. It starts with what characterizes an effective teacher. ASCD provides the following list. This is partly based on Linda Darling-Hammond's work.
Have formal teacher preparation training.Hold certification of some kind (standard, alternative, or provisional) and are certified within their fields.Have taught for at least three years.Are caring, fair, and respectful.Hold high expectations for themselves and their students.Dedicate extra time to instructional preparation and reflection.Maximize instructional time via effective classroom management and organization.Enhance instruction by varying instructional strategies, activities, and assignments.Present content to students in a meaningful way that fosters understanding.Monitor students' learning by utilizing …

Teachers Can Not Have It Both Ways

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Right in front of the administration building at the West entrance of the University of the Philippines (UP) is a statue of a man facing upward with outstretched arms. It is the oblation. In an unveiling ceremony of a bronze replica, UP president Vicente Sinco said, "...we rededicate this center of education, for which this landmark stands, to a more determined pursuit of truth in whatever shape and form, to the promotion of academic freedom, and to a tireless cultivation of love for all men regardless of race, rank, and religion. May this figure be forever stand to move those who come to this University to brighter visions of service and loyalty...."

The oblation is a symbol of academic freedom. In simple terms, the primary objective of a higher education institution is to provide a specific atmosphere. This atmosphere was described by the United States Supreme Court in Sweezy v. New Hampshire:
"It is an atmosphere in which there prevail 'the four essential freedoms…

Can We Not Do Simple Math?

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Conrado de Quiros wrote recently an editorial in the Philippine Daily Inquirer. It is entitled "It Can Be Done". Sadly, while the editorial supports teachers' demands for a raise in their salaries, it demonstrates poor math. The placement of zeroes is quite important. Each one is an order of magnitude. There is a big difference between 10 and 1. 10 is ten times bigger than 1. The following is an excerpt.


3 billion pesos a year do seem small compared to 10 billion. Unfortunately, there is gross miscalculation. There are more than 500,000 teachers. An increase to a monthly salary of 25,000 from 18,000 pesos means an increase of 7,000 pesos per month. This is per month. A 7,000 peso increase for each of the 500,000 teachers equals 3.5 billion pesos. Again, this is per month. Multiply this by 12, the required annual amount is 42 billion pesos. This is more than ten times the number Conrado de Quiros writes in his column shown above.

What is disconcerting is that this number …

An Elementary School in Pictures (II)

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Pictures do speak louder than words. Here are some photographs shared by Ibaba Elementary School, a school in the town of Paete, Laguna, Philippines. These are photos shared with the public in the Facebook page of the school. These are projects made by students in a Grade V class.


Project in A.P., Grade V-Rizal


Aiming for Both Equity and Excellence Need Not Be a Compromise

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There is ample evidence that it is possible to achieve equity without compromising excellence. In fact, addressing issues on equity can greatly aid in lifting the quality of any educational system. Teachers need to be provided support so that they can perform their tasks well. This support includes adequate training, professional development, and living wages. Poor children need special attention. Without addressing important factors outside school, learning is difficult to achieve inside the classroom. One must keep in mind that these measures are necessary for one reason, quality education. Raising teachers' salaries and providing poor children additional resources should be viewed as measures taken for one specific goal, improving education.

Uplifting basic education supports the demands of Philippine public school teachers for better working conditions, higher salaries, autonomy, and professional development. These specific demands are clearly in line with the goal of providi…

What Is a College Course?

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A college education can mean a lot of different things to people. The most common impression out there is that a college education can lead to a better job and higher pay. Thus, people look at college education as an investment. With a utilitarian perspective, higher education gets weighted against economic measures. It is, of course, not a myth that college graduates do have better employment opportunities. But one must not confuse this outcome as the primary goal of higher education. Higher education is a place where a person is not only free, but oftentimes forced to think critically. It is a place where new ideas are introduced and considered. It is a place to meet people. A university is a place where scholars and researchers converge. It is a place where human knowledge is pushed beyond its frontiers. It is a place where a student can fulfill a love for learning. It turns out that individuals who have learn to love learning are also good problem solvers. It turns out that indivi…

Fighting for Filipino in College

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I was a first year student at the Ateneo de Manila, enrolled in a class on Western Medieval History, and Jose S. Arcilla, S.J. was the instructor. Right at the beginning, the Jesuit warned us against using Filipino in the class. Arcilla in fact exclaimed, "I am proud to be a Bicolano." There were indeed dim moments when I was studying at the Ateneo and Arcilla's class was definitely one of the worse. Arcilla spent almost half of each lecture reciting corrections to the textbook that he authored. He spent the other half proselytising. History was part of the general education required of all students. After all, who would want a chemist who did not have the opportunity to hear and learn about Visigoths from someone who was so proud to be a Bicolano?

The next three years at the Ateneo were much more positive. During my time, a chemistry major would be required to take courses in History, Psychology, Sociology/Anthropology, Economics, Philippine Constitution, Filipino, Eng…

To Retain Or Promote: Asking the Right Question

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Retention versus promotion, according to the National Association of School Psychologists, is a wrong way of looking at education. Educators must instead focus on providing all students access to effective and equitable education. A student failing to learn inside a classroom strikes deep at the heart of an educational system. Mass promotion, on the other hand, allows children to be passed to the next level with no accountability. The issue of retention versus promotion has been the subject of a recent news item in the Philippines:

DepEd Order No. 73. S. 2012 defines promotion and retention by subject and not grade level. It is not surprising then that there is confusion. Students who fail in a subject are expected to erase these deficiencies over the summer. Right at the beginning, there is the question of how a student who failed because of truancy would fit in this procedure. Absenteeism is one of the most common causes of a child failing in an elementary class. A student who has f…

Did Educators in Universities in the Philippines Miss the Big Picture?

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Posing this question probably sounds disrespectful. Contempt, however, is the last thing this blog is about. This question is more of a bewilderment bordering into frustration. Some of the ills the new DepEd K+12 curriculum is addressing are problems currently plaguing the higher education system in the country. The main reason why diplomas from the Philippines do not compare favorably from those abroad is not really about what students have been taught in elementary or high school. It is the typical college curriculum that has not kept with the demands and opportunities of this world. Philippine institutions of higher learning have become cradles of remedial education and for this reason, university faculty have not been using their knowledge to teach courses with substantial content. Diploma mills have become widespread and courses offered in college are truly no different from those provided in decent high schools. The new DepEd K+12 curriculum was in fact seen by some university f…

Number of Dropouts from Philippine Schools Is Rising

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Nyhan and Reifler showed through psychological research that information presented in graphical form is much more compelling than textual delivery. Obviously, misinformation can likewise be better achieved by using misleading graphs. Graphs can deliver much more than text. "A picture is worth a thousand words" is certainly an old adage. Still, images are truly powerful. These can inform but slanted in a certain way, these could also misinform.

Recently, the Philippine Star had the following news article:
The dropout rate is certainly one measure used to assess an educational system. In fact, proponents of the new DepEd K+12 curriculum have claimed that by decongesting the old 10-year curriculum and spreading what needs to be taught over 12 years, there would be less students feeling behind or unable to keep up with the learning. Seeing that the dropout rates are increasing is therefore not good news for DepEd. Thus, here is the spin: “In Mindanao, especially in areas frequent…

Teacher and Student: Two Variables of the Learning Equation

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Factors that decide learning outcomes can be divided into two: resources and the receiver. Resources such as classrooms, technology, textbooks and teachers are at the front end, and at the back end is the student. Research on education has shown two important conclusions. On the input side, teacher quality is a dominant factor. On the receiving end, poverty is. The worse combination is having ineffective teachers assigned to poor children. For an education reform to be successful, it must address both ends: teachers and poverty. The teaching profession must be elevated so that it attracts and retains effective teachers. Teachers must receive the support and professional development they need to perform their teaching tasks more effectively. These are challenging. Unfortunately, this is only one side. Much more challenging is addressing poverty. That is why if you hear someone that he or she has what it takes to solve problems in basic education, take it with a grain of salt.

Scherer o…

A Teacher's Engagement Inside the Classroom

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My son thinks about Angry Birds a lot. He also likes the Star Wars versions of the game. My son and I would try to do an inventory of the characters in the game later tonight, place them nicely on a table, and count how many pigs and birds there are in the game. Hopefully, this would also be an exercise on writing, spelling and math. A student who is much more willing to participate in a lesson or activity is much more easier to teach. It is expected that the same applies on the other side of the learning equation, the teacher. A teacher's engagement inside the classroom is without doubt as important.

French researcher GĂ©rard Lassibille studied school teachers in the developing country of Madagascar. The study, "Teachers' Engagement at Work in a Developing Country", published in the Journal of African Economies, found that only in a small fraction of schools (15 percent) do the teachers consistently perform the roles deemed essential for pedagogy. And in the schools …

Teachers' Salaries and Learning Outcomes

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"You're wrong" combined with hard evidence is apparently not enough to convince people. Human nature does not respond kindly to threats. And being mistaken is perceived as a threat. The fear of acknowledging one may have been in error is perhaps an unintended outgrowth of our formal schooling where mistakes are unfortunately equated to one's worth and even identity. Nyhan and Reifler have studied how and why a large number of Americans believe in misinformation. Here is an abstract of their paper:
So, learning from the above, here it goes. First, although some of us may not have realized yet how important teachers' salaries are to the quality of education, this does not make us lesser human beings. Second, since graphs are much more effective, here is one which I have modified a bit (I included the Philippines). This graph is originally from Dolton, P. and Marcenaro-Gutierrez, O. D. (2011), If you pay peanuts do you get monkeys? A cross-country analysis of teache…

Teaching Our Values, Our Values Are Our Teachers

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"Beauty is truth, truth beauty; that is all  Ye know on Earth and all ye need to know." - John Keats in "Ode on a Grecian Urn
Addressing the needs and challenges of basic education requires careful attention to data and evidence. As in any endeavor that attempts to improve the human condition, it is necessary to design schemes that are proven or more likely to succeed. Science provides a useful route to test assumptions and arrive at findings that are transferable. As in medicine, clinical trials are employed to demonstrate that a new therapy is effective. These experiments are imperative to find out if indeed a new drug brings cure and not harm. With adequate control of variables, science does have predictive power. By understanding what each factor brings to an event, science can provide knowledge of what counts. Education can therefore benefit using a science perspective. Reforms that are not based on good studies often fail. The effort, time and money investe…

Does the Computer Make Us Dumb?

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I worked with a professor in physical chemistry at Chicago who was pretty much convinced that calculators made students dumb. Sydney Harris, back in 1977, wrote the following in the Lakeland Ledger:

"We have become a gadget-happy generation, but the gadgets make us dumber, not smarter. You had to know something about math and logarithms to use the old slide-rule, anybody can use the new pocket calculator."


Presently, anyone who has access to the internet either through a personal computer, laptop, android, or smart phone can easily post "bits of wisdom", quotes, memes on Facebook for everyone to see and read. Some can easily go viral with hundreds of likes and shares in less than an hour. If calculators of decades ago affected our math skills, are the gadgets of this age affecting our ability to write, read and think? An article by Michael S. Rosenwald in the Washington Post raises this issue.

Too Many Are Sitting on the Sidelines

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Education International, a voice of teachers across the globe, is currently conducting an online survey to assess teaching and learning conditions worldwide:

It is odd that a survey like this one seems necessary just to get the right information from the ground. The survey consists of several questions. Here are some of the questions in this survey that are very much relevant to finding the actual teaching and learning conditions inside schools.

Answers to questions such as the ones shown above are crucial to fully grasp what conditions pupils and teachers have to deal with inside their classrooms. In the Philippines, accurate answers to these questions seem quite difficult to obtain. The president continues to insist that there are no shortages but news articles as well as images from the ground are telling a different story. The classroom below for example is not one where the teacher has decided not to use desks. There are simply no desks in this particular classroom that the stude…

Technology Makes the Brain Work Less: Laptops Are Detrimental to Learning

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With a mouse, one can highlight, copy, and then paste. Is it almost mindless? Well, it is. Social media like Facebook illustrate how easy it is for people to click "like" and "share". Oftentimes, snippets are even provided automatically. An important question to ask is whether people even read what they post.

Distraction is one reason why devices like smartphones, laptops and tablets are not good for classrooms. Now, there is a study that shows that these devices are bad for another reason.
Similar to calculators which can impair a student's ability to do arithmetic and make sense out of numbers, smartphones, laptops and tablets can hurt a student's ability to process information. Mueller and Oppenheimer performed three studies with students from Princeton University and University of California, Los Angeles. Students viewed a lecture and after some finite time were asked to answer both factual and conceptual questions. An example is shown  below:

Right at the Very Beginning, the Philippines' DepEd Misses What Really Counts in Education

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If we do not understand the problem, we can never solve it. If we keep denying what the real problem is, we likewise can not find the appropriate solution. This applies for example to solving problems at the end of the chapter in a chemistry textbook. In fact, the error is glaringly clear when the mistake is committed right at the very first step. It is obvious when a student fails to understand the problem. Problems in Philippine basic education are no different. These need to be understood first. Unfortunately, the head of the education department Armin Luistro makes a gross mistake about education. And it happened right at the very beginning:


It is amazing that just hours ago, Pope Francis tweeted the following:

Perhaps, Pope Francis does know something about what is really important in education. After all, research is quite clear on what reforms are behind the successful educational systems in the world. Perhaps, Pope Francis is aware of how Fullan and Pomfret started their artic…