"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

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....

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