"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

Monday, June 30, 2014

Keeping Children in School

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 Philippines but all over the world.

Language, however, is not the only thing that can bind a school to one's home. Educators in Milwaukee schools now consider art, music and gym as important ingredients in basic education:

To read the above story, visit NPR

Friday, June 27, 2014

What Works in Teaching Math

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

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.

To view the data please visit UNESCO 
The lack of progress is highlighted in the figure below:

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Accountable and Responsible: Likewise Misunderstood by US Department of Education

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:

Copied from the Washington Post
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 education.

One reaction from this news is from the blog Curmudgucation. It is quite witty:
"Maybe Arne is on to something. Maybe blind students can't see because nobody expects them to."
It is a fact that there are children that have special needs. These needs justify the additional resources required. Students with special needs do not simply have to work harder. These students do not require just the same high expectations to succeed. These students need individualized education plans. This is special education. It requires resources and support, and not a litany of standards nor rounds of standardized exams. Before we can make schools responsible and accountable, we need to make sure that we have made them able first.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Accountable and Responsible: Both Require Being Able

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 pre- and postassessments, providing timely and informative feedback, and reteaching material to students who did not achieve mastery.
  • Demonstrate effectiveness with the full range of student abilities in their classrooms, regardless of the academic diversity of the students.
Clearly, the characteristics of an effective teachers are abilities. Thus, the next important question to ask is whether we have been providing our teachers and future teachers with what they need:

  • A living wage so that they can devote fully their time and attention on teaching
  • A training that enables them to master both content and strategies in teaching as well as professional development to keep them equipped to face new challenges and directions in education
  • A classroom that is manageable for teaching and conducive to learning
  • A complete set of learning resources to enhance instruction

If our answer is a "no" to any one of these, then we are not enabling our teachers. Teachers simply cannot be accountable nor responsible if they are not able. Having teachers who are accountable and responsible would then simply remain a dream....

Above figure copied from The Life of an Educator

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Teachers Can Not Have It Both Ways

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 (Wikimedia Commons)
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' of a university -- to determine for itself on academic grounds who may teach, what may be taught, how it shall be taught, and who may be admitted to study."
Let us recap, academic freedom means a university can determine:
  1. who may teach,
  2. what may be taught,
  3. how it should be taught, and
  4. who may be admitted to study.
Of course, these are not "anything goes freedoms". These rights are within the same frameworks that researchers subject themselves to: rigorous scholarly standards that determine both reliability and accuracy. Rules are set not by courts or legislators. Rules are set by the scholars themselves. And universities exercise this freedom.

How the curriculum is designed for higher education must adhere to the promotion of academic freedom. Without such protection, universities would simply be unable to pursue truth. The Commission on Higher Education (CHED) has recently received criticisms in its new guidelines for general education in colleges. To appease those who are protesting, CHED explains its position:

Above captured from Rappler
It is bad enough that there are courses mandated by law in the Philippines (3 units on the life and works of Jose Rizal). Now, there are sections in society that would like to continue mandating the use of a specific language.

Aurelio Solver Agcaoili comments on this issue on his Facebook page:

Linguistic asymmetry, the Philippine case. 

WHAT IS HAPPENING in the Philippines is this, and let us say it: many people are forced to learn one or two languages, but some other people are not at all required by the educational apparatus of the state to know something beyond what they already know in the language or languages they were born into. 

This is a clear case of linguistic asymmetry.

Every Tomas, Diko, and Hari is made to learn Tagalog/Pilipino/Filipino but no one from the language community of Tagalog/Pilipino/Filipino is ever required to know something in Hiligaynon or Cebuano as mediated by Hiligaynon and Cebuano.

The majority of the educatees of the Philippines go through the same ceremony and rite and ritual of doing the same thing, of knowing others, and never their own.

We call this funny case an education in Tagalog/Pilipino/Filipino nationalism, but never a real case of nationalism that takes into account the diversity of peoples, languages, and cultures in the Philippines.

It is hard to be educated in diversity when all we have known and understood is nationalism in a singular language.

To accept diversity as our approach to the issue of national building and state crafting is to admit with humility that we made a mistake, and this mistake has been going on and on for so long.

To accept that we are multiple is to understand that we can exploit this multiplicity and make this country great, and it will be great because it can afford to show the world that various peoples and communities and cultures, like the variety of things in nature and in the world, can exist together in peace, and they can exist together in peace because that peace is grounded on justice.


The standards of higher education are not the same as those of basic education. Agcaoili talks about a higher education that recognizes the rich diversity of Filipinos. The government should not be dictating what should be taught and how it should be taught in institutions of higher learning. House Resolution No. 1249, submitted by Kabataan Partylist Representative Terry Ridon, is actually asking Congress to destroy academic freedom:
In a statement issued yesterday, CHED Chair Patricia Licuanan clarified that under CMO 20-2013, it is explicitly stated that the courses under the GEC may be taught in either English or Filipino. 
However, Ridon is unimpressed. 
"Teaching the GEC curriculum in the Filipino language is not tantamount to teaching tertiary-level Filipino courses," Ridon said in HR 1249. 
"Congress will also study the possibility of legislating a law that would require at least nine units of Filipino courses for all college students, as prescribed by experts in this field," Ridon disclosed. (From ABS-CBN News)
Educators and students demand freedom. And this is only proper. And teachers must be empowered so that they could actually perform their task. And students should be free to pursue their love for learning. The government must provide the resources but the government must not dictate what should be taught and how it should be taught. This is the job for those who are in academics. Teachers and students cannot ask for greater autonomy and at the same time, demand for the government to prescribe a certain curriculum in higher education.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Can We Not Do Simple Math?

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 supposedly came from the Alliance of Concerned Teachers.

Teachers do need all the support we could give. Teachers perform a major role in raising our children. But we do need them to be accountable. We need teachers to demonstrate that they are capable. Doing horrible math does not help the teacher's case. Continuing to clamor for an imposition of a language in higher education that is not the mother tongue for all Filipinos does not help as well. The objective is to uplift basic education and there is a need to focus on the correct issues. And the need to lay out the issues correctly is equally important. One cannot afford to do bad math if we desire to teach our children good math.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

An Elementary School in Pictures (II)

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

Friday, June 20, 2014

Aiming for Both Equity and Excellence Need Not Be a Compromise

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 providing both equity and excellence to Philippine basic education. The Philippine education system is facing so many issues and challenges. It is true that the current predicament of the teaching force needs to be addressed. However, it is equally true that there is incompetence. It is likewise true that a large number of schools are substandard. The situation in higher education is no different. There are diploma mills. There are courses in colleges that serve no purpose but remediation. Focusing alone on equity without an effort to lift education compromises excellence.

This debate on whether a Filipino language instruction course should remain as a requirement in higher education unfortunately typifies an argument that does not help advance the necessary education reforms in the country.

Members and leaders of Alliance of Concerned Teachers trooped to Commission on Higher Education’s (CHED) Head Office, wearing masks of Jose Rizal and a woven tray of fresh fish to symbolize their aghast over their decision to make Filipino optional in college education. (ACT Phils)

Being raised with Tagalog as a mother tongue, I likewise treasure the language. I am certain that this is equally true for Cebuanos who view Cebuano as their own. This applies to Ilocanos and Bicolanos. In fact, all Filipinos cherish their native tongues. They do not need to be told. It is already incorrect to attribute the saying, "Those who do not love their native language are worse than putrid fish", to Jose Rizal since this is a hoax. Rizal did not author this poem. Teachers should not be miseducating the nation. A bigger error, however, is to attribute "native tongue" to a language that is in fact not the native tongue of other Filipinos. Any claim to the contrary is completely deceitful. And it does not matter if Filipino is advertised as different from Tagalog and as a combination of the various languages in the country. This is one blatant lie. If Filipino is indeed derived from the various languages then it is not clearly a native tongue.

One important point that is easily missed is the careless equating of language to culture. The two are not identical. Culture does manifest in one's native language and one's native language is shaped by one's culture. Our beliefs, our way of life, our values, our intellectual achievements, our arts and music constitute our culture. Culture is what we are. It is not surprising that nationalistic sentiments abound when issues of language are raised. Sadly, in education, differences are highlighted. The disciplines of the natural sciences have indeed been developed in Western cultures. Sometimes, the sciences are even associated with Christian religions. One should not discount however the fact that chemistry, for example, has Islamic origins. These disciplines are really universal, not just Western.

Education reformers even in the United States are trying to learn from other countries especially those who do extremely well in international standardized exams. We may be of different cultures but we learn from each other. It is really ridiculous to suggest that adapting systems from the West is wrong. Emulating a successful education system is in fact correct. As members of one human race, there are standards that apply to everyone.

Arguments against the removal of a course on Filipino language instruction from colleges are framed on a nationalistic sense that is sadly misplaced. On top of this, insisting on requiring instruction of the native tongue in a university goes against quality education. One must keep in mind that there is a difference between "instruction of the native tongue" and "instruction in the native tongue". The former teaches the grammar and vocabulary of the language. The latter uses the language as a medium of academic discourse. What is about to be removed from college is the former because of one good reason: It does not deserve to be in higher education. Even in the absence of a new basic K+12 education curriculum, remedial and non college-level courses should not be taught for credit inside universities. College credit hours should never be used to remedy deficiencies in basic education. College is not for everyone and not everyone goes to college, thus, deficiencies must be addressed within basic education.

The guidelines for General Education from the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) prescribe core courses in eight different areas: (1) Understanding the Self, (2) Readings in Philippine History, (3) The Contemporary World, (4) Mathematics in the Modern World, (5) Purposive Communication, (6) Art Appreciation, (7) Science, Technology and Society, and (8) Ethics. If faculty from universities cannot design or imagine any one of these courses given in the native language then there is really no way the native language can be elevated into an academic level. The study of one's self, globalization, history, arts, mathematics, and communication can be provided in the native language as long as materials and an instructor competent in the language are available. Faculty have about three to four years to prepare. More than twenty years ago, I took 16 credits of Philosophy with Filipino as medium of instruction. It is clearly not impossible if there are competent faculty in universities.

If teachers are clamoring for retaining language instruction in the university, I hope these teachers are aware that they are admitting that they could not teach their students in elementary and high school to read and write in the native tongue. Teachers damage their own credibility. This blog lends support to upgrading teacher salaries, but not on this one. The Commission on Higher Education (CHED) is correct in its reform of general education in colleges. Faculty who do not serve the purpose of higher education should not be in colleges or universities. CHED gives the opportunity to these instructors to retool and innovate. CHED is now providing the right environment for deeper and more critical subjects in college. Going against this means going against excellence, and when the quality of education is compromised, so does equity.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

What Is a College Course?

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 individuals who can consider new ideas and think critically are also more productive. For these reasons, a college education is correlated with better employment opportunities. Still, one must not take this correlation as an objective. A classroom filled with students whose eyes are only focused on future employment is a nightmare. A classroom in higher education is supposed to be filled with students whose eyes are set on learning.

The scholarship level that distinguishes higher education from basic education defines what courses could be offered in college. The courses can be divided into two groups, those that fit the student's concentration or major, and those that provide general education. A concentration is necessary so that a college education can provide both breadth and depth in one field. Courses in the major include both fundamental as well as advanced topics. These courses affect only the students who intend to specialize. These are designed and decided by the experts in the field and are usually not controversial. The other but equally important part of college education is General education. Its purpose is to make college education holistic. Across universities, this is where one may find large variations. College courses under this category may indeed come in different flavors, but all of these courses have one thing in common. These are not supposed to be identical to subjects taken in basic education. After all, in universities, these courses are likewise taught by PhD's. To illustrate this more concretely, here is an example from Georgetown University:

Above captured from BoomBox
Does a rapper like Jay-Z really warrant a college-level course? If the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) in the Philippines is removing Filipino from the required courses in college, a misplaced nationalism may argue that the subject Filipino is far more important than a rapper's music, yet at Georgetown University there is a college course on Jay-Z. At this point, it is important to look at what the course on Jay-Z is really about. First, the course has the following requirement:
Final Research Paper: To cultivate your knowledge of sociological research and to allow you to pursue research in a specific area of interest, each student will be writing a short research paper. The research paper has a page requirement of 10-12 pages and must incorporate 7 traditional academic sources (a combination of journals and academic monographs). Your research paper must include a thesis, and it will be graded on organization, inclusion of academic texts and grammar.
The above requirement carries specific details like incorporating 7 traditional academic sources. The course also comes with a brief description of what grades entail:
One last note on grades: ‘C’ is “Average.” A grade of a ‘C’ indicates that a student has completed the assignment in an ordinary manner. In all likelihood, the assignment probably does not meet all requirements but is not so deficient as to warrant a ‘D’ which is, of course, below average. In contrast, a ‘B’ signifies that the assignment being graded was merely sufficient in its completion. All requirements were fulfilled. (Yes, even though “all requirements were fulfilled,” this does not automatically lead to an A). A grade of an ‘A’ on any assignment means that the student went beyond the requirements to present an interesting sociological insight, or a high level of synthesis of course material, which reflects sophisticated analysis.
Seeing the above example, it may help understand a recent article in Rappler by Lisandro Claudio, a professor from Ateneo de Manila University:

Above copied from Rappler
Language instruction is part of basic education. College courses are beyond language instruction. Colleges are not meant to teach Filipino. Colleges are now supposed to nurture and develop Filipino. This distinction is very important. Languages like Filipino require attention from higher education, but not along the same vein as teachers in elementary or high school. The faculty in colleges are required to push the boundaries of human knowledge. If college courses are no different from those in basic education, then there is no need for university faculty. There is no need for professors. Those in higher education have the obligation to cultivate and nurture culture and language. The obligation to instruct language belongs to basic education teachers. As the country embarks on its K+12 program which includes an ambitious mother tongue based - multilingual ingredient, guidance and direction are so much needed from university faculty. Research and studies on this area are sorely lacking. Colleges should be the one leading the way. This could only happen if colleges in the Philippines start acting as bastions of higher education, and not as mere expensive repeats or copies of high schools.

CHED is not abandoning Filipino as an academic language. The memo at the heart of the current protest describes the new core courses in Filipino:

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Fighting for Filipino in College

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, English, Spanish, Theology and Philosophy. In each of the three summer sessions, I had to enroll in three courses in order to graduate in four years. It was certainly over 70 credit hours of General Education. I did appreciate the fact that in Philosophy and Filipino, unlike in Medieval History, I was allowed to use Filipino. While studying Philippine literature, I had the rare luck of having a substitute teacher for some time who permitted me to use Filipino. The other teacher would not have allowed me to submit essays written in Filipino. These were essays that commented on writings of Bonifacio and Jacinto and I thought it was only appropriate that I wrote them in the same language. Taking 16 credits of Philosophy in Filipino was also a great experience as I saw in my own eyes how the ideas of Kant, Buber, Thomas of Aquinas could be discussed in my mother tongue.

Reading, writing and listening to the mother tongue in higher education definitely provides an avenue for someone to participate actively in elevating one's language to the level of academic discourse. And in those philosophy classes, both students and instructors need to be able to think critically and express ideas in the mother tongue. It is likewise important to note that the mother tongue is a significant aspect of higher education not just as a language but as an integral part of one's identity. Higher education after all is a quest to know oneself better.

With the dramatic changes in Philippine basic education and the fact that these revisions actually target higher education, it is not surprising to see that the new K+12 curriculum carries significant consequences on the college curriculum. Faculty at colleges, for instance, are now voicing their opinion against the exclusion of Filipino in General Education:

News article from GMA News Online
The memorandum from the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) in question is No. 20 series of 2013, which defines the General Education curriculum for 2018 (not 2016, as erroneously reported in the above article). By 2018, students entering college would have gone through the 2 additional years of high school. The academic track of these additional years is included in the memo and is shown below:

Reforms are urgently needed in Philippine colleges. It is unfortunate that it takes an overhaul of basic education to remove subjects deemed undeserving of a place in higher education. Courses in the General Education curriculum of a college are supposed to provide opportunities for scholarly work, not just covering the basics and fundamentals of a discipline. Chemistry majors need to master the fundamentals of general chemistry to prepare them for the advanced courses in the field. The purpose of General Education courses is different. For this reason, a General Chemistry class is expected to be distinct from a science course intended as a General Education course for nonscience majors. Developing General Education courses is challenging for it is to provide a student an overview yet a profound experience of the discipline. CHED therefore correctly defines what General Education should be:

Soon after I finished college, Spanish was no longer a required subject in college. That happened quite late for me. Obviously, when a course in college is dropped, it can have an impact on its instructors. However, the continuing employment of instructors is never a justification for requiring a course in college. The fact that Spanish instructors stand to lose their jobs is irrelevant to the question of whether Spanish must remain as a required General Education subject in higher education. Of course, Spanish can always remain as an optional General Education course.

The same therefore applies to Filipino courses in colleges. Lifting the Filipino language into the academic realm does require its presence in higher education. In fact, this is true for all the languages currently spoken in the Philippines. This, however, does not mean that all languages spoken in the Philippines should be required subjects in colleges. This is not only impossible, but also a huge waste of resources and time. No one would ever finish college.

The job of higher education at least for now is to ensure that such opportunities exist. The truth is that nurturing a language is not something that can come from a decree. Intellectuals choose their medium. They make their choice based on several reasons. Universities must keep this choice free. Scholarly work is required at higher education. Instructors who do not advance their field do not belong to higher education. Keeping them does only great injustice and harm to the language.

Monday, June 16, 2014

To Retain Or Promote: Asking the Right Question

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:

Screen capture from News5 Everywhere
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 failed to attend most of the classes is expected to make up all of the subjects over the summer. Thus, it seems that the teachers are indeed correct in interpreting the DepEd Order. It is mass promotion. After all, retention is not something proponents of the new K+12 curriculum would like to hear or see. On top of this, the performance ratings of a teacher are affected by retention. There is additional incentive.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

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

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 faculty in this light and lent support in the hope of curing the problems currently plaguing university education. In this light, it is mind boggling to see the following headline:

Above captured from Rappler
Colleges should not be providing remedial education. The objective of getting rid of diploma mills, of course, means educators at the college level who are not providing higher education must leave. What is even more perplexing is the reality that problems in higher education could have been addressed without an expensive and highly disruptive shift to a new basic education curriculum. It becomes apparent then that one of the aims of DepEd's K+12 is to simply transfer faculty from colleges who are not serving the goals of higher education to the added two years in basic education, the senior high school. It does seem that people were not paying attention.

DepEd undersecretary Yolanda Aquino was pretty clear in describing what the additional years of K+12 entail:
"In senior high school or Grades 11 and 12, the subjects are Languages, Literature, Math, Science, Contemporary Issues (global issues, politics and governance, society and culture) Social Sciences or Humanities and track-specific subjects. Those who will go to college will take any specialization in academics while students who prefer tech-voc will continue to specialize in the course they took in Grades 9 and 10. At the end of the school year, students will earn a Certificate of Competency (COC) in Grade 9 and a National Certificate 1 or II in Grade 10. 
Students in Grades 11 and 12 will undergo apprenticeship or practicum at companies identified by their schools. Quijano says the TLE courses are according to labor demands and in partnership with the business sector and the community."
And the following statements from a consultation meeting involving the departments of labor and education as well as the commission on higher education should have been crystal clear:
“Redundancy is an authorized cause of termination of employment. Because of economic exigency, employers will be forced to terminate employees. Those who do not have students, are no longer needed,” said Romeo Montefalco, Jr., officer in charge of the Bureau of Labor and Relations of the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE).
Montefalco met with teachers and non-teaching personnel of various institutions from across Mindanao in Davao City recently to discuss the K+12 program of the government. Also present during the consultation were officials from the DepEd and the Commission on Higher Education (CHED).
At the consultation, the fear of the college educators was highlighted. Faced with the gnawing concern, Montefalco said those who will be losing their jobs will be most likely “absorved” by the government to teach in public schools.
He said there will be about 85,000 open posts for teachers as the government will implement the K+12.
Another solution seen is for college professors to teach students in grades 11 and 12.
The plans have been laid out clearly, in my opinion. Of course, these are not necessarily well thought. Transfer of college faculty to senior high schools assumes that the logistics are in place. Are the college faculty in the same place as the high schools that need them? That would be the first question.

K+12 in the Philippines is really different from education systems in other countries. People easily mistake the new curriculum as a simple copy of what is done in the West. It is certainly not the K-12 system of the United States. The two additional years are basically in the middle, between primary and high school. In fact, it is quite difficult to distill what Grades 6, 7, and 8 really are in the US system. Some have algebra during these years while others do not. That is why there is a movement called "The Common Core", to ensure that the topics covered would become uniform across the country:

The Common Core in Math for Grades 6, 7, 8 in US K-12
The additional two years of DepEd's K+12 really have something different in mind. It was not really meant to address problems in basic education. Educators in universities should have known this. That is why it is perplexing to see some of them raise concerns now.

The fact that K+12 is trying to address problems in higher education is one of its greatest weaknesses. Higher education, unlike basic education, is certainly not for everyone. Problems in colleges should have been addressed at a much smaller scale. The problem in basic education centers on learning outcomes and adding two years only skirts around the real issues of poverty in communities, shortages in resources, and lack of support for teachers. K+12 may in fact drive unwanted people away from higher education, but it does not solve the problems of basic education.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Number of Dropouts from Philippine Schools Is Rising

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:

Above copied from the Philippine Star 6/12/2014
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 frequently affected by conflict, our agency cannot control conflict but this is one of the major reasons why they are dropping out,” Mateo said.

“Another point is the recent calamity ‘Yolanda.’ Many dropped out in Region 8 (Eastern Visayas). Others went to NCR (National Capital Region), others went to Region 6 (Western Visayas) or 7 (Central Visayas).” 
Dino said migration or change of residence, malnutrition, sickness and the distance between the school and the students’ homes also play a role.

Right in the middle of "excuses" is a figure. The above figure which shows the map of the Philippines aims to compare dropout rates by region in two time periods, 2002 and 2012. The assigned ranges for the colors are truly arbitrary. Why does the dark green stop at 4.8, for example? Of course, with the above choice, the 2012 map looks more green than the 2002 map. This is obviously a deception because the dropout rates for the entire country are almost identical for the two time periods (6.7 in 2002 versus 6.8 in 2012). Quoting dropout rates in fact already hides the truth since the percentages may look the same, but in terms of absolute numbers, these could in fact be very different. There are about 12 million elementary pupils in 2002. In 2012, the number has increased to 13 million. 6.7 percent of 12 million is 804,000. 6.8 percent of 13 million is 884,000. While the dropout rates hide the increase, by looking at the absolute numbers, the number of dropouts has in fact increased by 10 percent. There are 80,000 more dropouts from elementary in 2012.

Providing the dropout scenario via a geographical map is likewise similar to coloring each state in the United States map according to presidential elections:

Summary of results of the 200020042008, and 2012 presidential elections:   States carried by the Republican in all four elections   States carried by the Republican in three of the four elections   States carried by each party twice in the four elections   States carried by the Democrat in three of the four elections   States carried by the Democrat in all four elections
Map of red states and blue states in the U.S. Red=The Republican candidate carried the state in all four most recent presidential elections (2000, 2004, 2008, 2012). Pink=The Republican candidate carried the state in three of the four most recent elections. Purple=The Republican candidate and the Democratic candidate each carried the state in two of the four most recent elections. Light blue=The Democratic candidate carried the state in three of the four most recent elections. Dark blue=The Democratic candidate carried the state in all four most recent elections. (Source: Wikipedia)
At first glance, the map gives the wrong impression that the United States is overwhelmingly "red", which is very far from the truth. Maps do not do justice to population density. Maps only show land area and not the number of people actually residing in that area.

Similarly, returning to DepEd's map of dropouts, one should not use a map to convey such information since the map does not carry the density dimension. For instance, in 2002, the regions NCR (National Capital Region) and Calabarzon account for 20% of students enrolled in elementary schools. NCR and Calabarzon combined cover only 5% of the land area of the Philippines. The dropout rates in NCR rose significantly from 2.7% in 2002 to 4.8% in 2012. This has also risen in Calabarzon, 3.9 to 4.2.

What is alarming is that in both populous regions, the dropout rates are below the national average. Things could therefore get worse. These are regions that lie very close to the seats of power yet the schools' performance in these areas are deteriorating. These are places where DepEd is closer yet excuses such as distractions, disasters and conflict are given.

Lastly, even the number of dropouts is far from being accurate. The real picture is certainly worse. One needs to keep in mind that these numbers come from the same agency that cannot count classroom and textbook shortages. It is the same administration that likewise insisted on a much lower number of casualties in the aftermath of typhoon Yolanda. We simply cannot solve problems that we deny....

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Teacher and Student: Two Variables of the Learning Equation

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 of North Carolina University recently wrote "The Role of the Intellectual in Eliminating the Effects of Poverty: A Response to Tierney" in the Educational Researcher. Tierney, president of the American Educational Research Association, previously published in the same journal recommendations on what educators could do to eliminate the effects of poverty on education. The following are Tierney's recommendations:

  • Offer Courses and Curricula That Prepare Students for College-Level Work, and Ensure That Students Understand What Constitutes a College-Ready Curriculum by 9th Grade
  • Utilize Assessment Measures throughout High School so That Students Are Aware of How Prepared They Are for College, and Assist Them in Overcoming Deficiencies as They Are Identified
  • Surround Students with Adults and Peers Who Build and Support Their College-Going Aspirations
  • Engage and Assist Students in Completing Critical Steps for College Entry
  • Increase Families’ Financial Awareness, and Help Students Apply for Financial Aid
Scherer acknowledges that the above recommendations are indeed supported by evidence. Unfortunately, according to Scherer, these steps focus only on the resources side of education. What we put into education of course matters but there is another side and that is the learner. It is on this side that poverty creeps in as a truly menacing factor. Scherer therefore points to the "capability" perspective. This reminds me of what Bienvenido Nebres, S.J. said in an interview four years ago at Georgetown University:
...Overall, the really big challenge in the Philippines is how there is such a knowledge and cultural distance between the elites and the poor. If you ask me what our biggest role is, it is a bridge across those gaps. The biggest solutions will only come from our next generation of leaders who will have a better feel for the poverty in the country. People in power have tended to take simplistic approaches to the poverty – consider the businessmen who seek an improvement to our struggling public schools by adding two years to the curriculum. My point is, ‘700 thousand students drop out before grade six, and 1.2 million do not finish the current high school curriculum.’ Solutions like getting more computers or adding years of school won’t work for these student dropouts. Our challenge becomes connecting these leaders with the actual problems the poor have....

Through the student, nonschool factors which are equally powerful as the teacher inside the classroom enter the picture. This is where the socio-economic factors affect learning. This is where capability becomes a factor. "Solutions like getting more computers or adding years of school won't work for these student dropouts." Ensuring that students understand what constitutes a college-ready curriculum by 9th grade would not help those who drop out of school during the primary years. These are just examples that show how reforms on the supply side could miss what is important when it ignores what is on the receiving end. There are interventions that work but all of these require that the student is capable of benefiting from these measures. For this reason, focus on early childhood learning presents the best opportunity. Unfortunately, providing low quality preschool and kindergarten education only exacerbates the situation. Providing support to enhance interest in reading, the sciences and mathematics is crucial in the early years. Losing the students at these early stages preclude any benefit from later interventions.

Addressing what is on the receiving end obviously takes us out of education into a much bigger picture, the society. Problems in education are in fact symptoms of greater ills within society. That is why education is not a solution to poverty. It is the other way around. Solving poverty is part of solving problems in education. Equity is important for an educational system to thrive. Not doing so creates only pockets of excellence, which are mere facades. These pockets only look good when compared against very bad schools. Against universal standards these schools fail likewise. Lastly, equity in schools can only be achieved by an equitable society.

Above photo copied from Rally for Relief
As the Philippines celebrates its 1898 Declaration of Independence, it is perhaps time to reflect on what freedom really entails. It comes with responsibility. It must come with equity, a realization that albeit we are individuals, our interests must remain balanced by social compromises. If the Philippines is indeed a free nation then it must act as one.

"A nation's greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members."
- Mahatma Ghandi

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

A Teacher's Engagement Inside the Classroom

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 where teachers are found to be diligent, the principal is the key factor demonstrating the importance of leadership at the school level. In searching for what factors contribute to a teacher's engagement, it is only natural to find factors that may prevent a teacher's engagement. The following graph shows some of the factors studied and their measured effects on a teacher's engagement:

Factors and Teacher's Engagement
Data from Teachers' Engagement at Work in a Developing Country
The first factor, class size (pupils to teacher ratio), does not have a measurable impact on a teacher's engagement. There is a fixed cost for every class on a teacher's engagement, which does not depend on the number of students. School conditions (availability of resources) likewise do not have much of an effect on how diligently a teacher performs the task of teaching. As mentioned, having an effective principal has a very strong positive effect on a teacher's performance. "Civil service" here differentiates between two types of teachers currently found in the school system of Madagascar. "Civil service" teachers are those recruited and paid by the government. There are teachers in Madagascar who are contractual. These are hired and paid by the local communities as a response to shortages. As shown in the graph above, the "civil service" teachers are more likely to be engaged than the contractual ones.

The factor that affects a teacher's engagement the most is "moonlighting". A teacher taking a second job, of course, comes not only with the expected division in time and energy, but also with a divided attention and plenty of worries. A teacher who is wondering if his or her family would have something to eat for dinner is less likely to be engaged inside the classroom.

How transferable are the above findings? Apparently, the above results are similar to those in the United States of America and in Indonesia. It is very unlikely that the Philippines would be any different. This illustrates that the performance of an educational system may not be directly proportional to how much teachers are paid, but there is a threshold that must be met, a minimum wage which makes it possible for a teacher to devote one's time and attention fully to teaching.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Teachers' Salaries and Learning Outcomes

"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 teacher pay and pupil performance. Economic Policy, 26: 5–55. doi: 10.1111/j.1468-0327.2010.00257.x

I hope I have made the point this time that teachers' salaries are correlated with learning outcomes.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Teaching Our Values, Our Values Are Our Teachers

"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 invested in such measures are wasted when untested schemes are haphazardly implemented in schools. 

Education must follow the rules of science in addressing its current needs and challenges. We all have our own biases, our own impressions of what should go inside a classroom, our own ideas and instincts. Thus, it becomes even more necessary that we take note of these beliefs and not allow these prejudices to decide prematurely what should be done or what the results should be. Science is supposed to be an effort to see the world as it is. This is a very important point. But it is not the complete story. Unlike chemistry and physics, what we are trying to understand in education goes far beyond atoms and molecules, particles and energy. Education probably even goes far beyond medicine. Raising one's child is so much more than any of these disciplines. Who your grandparents are hardly matters in either physics or chemistry. Which place a person was born is probably irrelevant. But with raising a child, these are. Instruction using the most widely used language in academic and science settings is efficient. Learning resources are far more available in English than in any other language. But a child's mother tongue has value. All the human languages in the world are important. These languages form the fiber of the world's diverse culture and heritage. We must therefore carry these values in our schools. This is where education goes one step beyond science. There are values that we must keep for raising a child is so much more than just getting high scores in those standardized exams. Taking a child to a classroom is so much more than just preparing that child for employment in the future. It is about raising a human being.

Photo courtesy of Alliance of Concerned Teachers and Bulatlat.com

Science can guide us in finding more efficient ways of using our limited resources to enhance learning in the schools. Research tells us what works and what does not work. But science is amoral. It does not take sides. It is neutral when it comes to what we cherish. Evidence from education research currently points to two important factors: poverty and teachers. Research tells us quite convincingly what is plaguing our classrooms. Research is also unequivocal in showing us what factor really matters inside the schools. Philippine basic education faces enormous challenges. It is a paradox that the government actually knows what is important. Below is a statement of Benjo Basas, leader of one of the teacher groups in the country:
“It seems that the government conveniently put the burden to us for all its failures especially in terms of resources. Teacher is the only flexible factor in the education sector, thus all the failures of the government to respond to the needs of the sector would be filled out by poor teachers."
The role of the teacher is one intersection between what we value and what science in education research tells us. It is where the world as it is meets the world as it should be. Supporting teachers in the classrooms is a must for quality education. Doing otherwise denies not only the science but also the values we hold dear....

Friday, June 6, 2014

Does the Computer Make Us Dumb?

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.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Too Many Are Sitting on the Sidelines

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

Online survey
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 students could use.

Photo copied from Sigfreid Barros-Sanchez Full Facebook page

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

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

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.
Psychological Science April 23, 2014 0956797614524581
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:

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

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

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 article, "Research on Curriculum and Instruction Implementation", in the journal Review of Educational Research. They began their article with a quote from Charles Francis Adams, Jr., director of the Union Pacific Railway in 1884:
"No matter what sort of bill you have, everything depends upon the men who, so to speak, are inside of it, and who are to make it work. In the hands of the right men, any bill would produce the desired results."
Or maybe, Pope Francis is aware of the McKinsey Report in 2007 authored by Michael Barber and Mona Mourshed, "How the world's best-performing school systems come out on top". That report has quite a catchy Table of Contents:

Number one is teacher. Number two is teaching. And number three is equity. The report provides some sort of a guide in reforming education:

The above report does neglect the contributions to learning outcomes from home, but there are plenty of articles out there that point to the importance of poverty. Still, there is no doubt that the second most important factor in the school is the teacher, followed by resources. 

But Pope Francis is probably simply speaking from the heart. I am sure a lot of people who do not have access to research articles on education would have never thought that teachers are not crucial to solving problems in basic education. Only those who have chosen to be blind are unable to see the truth.