"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

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

With regard to the quality of learning materials, the news from the ground are likewise opposite to what government leaders are saying. In some schools, there are no learning materials or textbooks, and if there are, these materials are of low quality (in terms of content). School districts that are not too far from the capital Manila have not received learning materials for an entire school year. Muntinlupa, Malabon and Navotas are practically suburbs of Manila and yet schools in these places have yet to receive almost a million peso worth of learning modules.

Above captured from GMA YouTube video
The content in these modules are also of low quality, which is not surprising because the curriculum guide (A specific example discussed in this blog is on chemistry) on which these materials are founded is likewise inferior. A school supervisor has pointed out nearly 2000 errors in Voyages in Communication, a learning material for Grade 8 pupils published by DepEd. Joy Rizal has also shared with us numerous errors that she has found in English and Math learning materials. Some of these are posted on this blog in the article Learning Materials in Philippine Schools, DepEd's K to 12 Written Curriculum.

DepEd says this is simply work in progress. Yet, millions of pupils are being affected by these shortages and low quality learning materials, and millions of pesos are being wasted.

Although the accuracy of a survey depends greatly on how well it samples a population, the fact that it is asking one person at a time means that the response is quite specific. The real picture can be lost quite easily when numbers are aggregated. Take, for example, the following statistics on classrooms in secondary schools in the Philippines:

In an aggregated form, details are lost. For instance, the fact that there are almost 82 pupils per classroom in the National Capital Region(NCR) is already worrisome. But one must remember that this is an average, which means there are schools within NCR that have less than 82 per classroom and there are schools where the number is higher than 82. This year, Batasan Hills National High School has 128 pupils per classroom. Thus, when each teacher is asked questions like the ones below, responses to these are going to be very specific.

And aggregating such data will not hide the fact that there are some teachers who marked "very poor" while some marked "very good". The teachers' conditions are also crucial to education. In the following questions, actual numbers are not asked. Using pesos require knowing the conversion as well as purchasing power. In this case, it is straightforward. Are teachers receiving a living wage? This is a lot simpler.

Those who have been following closely the state of Philippine basic education know very well what the answers to these questions are. Joy Rizal, recently posted an essay Comparing Philippine DepEd to Other Countries Education Systems. In the essay, she makes the following observation:
Unfortunately many of the outside “expert” consultants that are making suggestions about how to make improvements, seem to have only observed limited (government selected) locations for a week or two - Much too short of a time to see the real issues, especially if an agency is intentionally trying to hide anything (or if the group is simply doing, saying and showing what the “visiting guests” need to observe in order to receive grant money, certifications, awards, etc.). The consultants also tend to only review carefully worded reports from various government officials. As a result, if a government report states that issues have been reviewed and satisfactory corrected, usually the consultants simply assume that the reports are true and no longer worry about verifying the issues or asking detailed follow up questions (especially if serious follow up would require going to remote locations). Even if there are a few people trying to report issues, who would you, as the visiting consultant or observer, tend to believe, every government official and government employee that says there is no problem or a hand full of people usually referred to as, troublemakers, malcontents, etc.?
The second observation Joy makes is how engaged people are to schools in other countries where educational systems are in a much better shape. If the current conditions and issues in Philippine schools are to appear in these other countries, people will be up in arms. Joy writes:
How many of the above countries would the parents, the teachers, the school heads, the school boards, other government offices, as well as legal departments and agencies just sit back, tuck their tails between their legs like scared stray dogs, cowering in a corner, hang their heads and say, “there is just nothing we can do about the problem”? How many people from these other countries would be so terrified of upsetting someone in government that they would not ask any questions about the problem, nor insist on serious, honest explanations nor expect any accountability?
Where is the indignation? the outrage? Are the people mostly affected by the current quagmire in Philippine basic education speechless? powerless? Where is everyone?

Foreign consultants may make the excuse that they are not really aware of the conditions on the ground. But what about us? We have no valid excuse. Are we all sitting on the sidelines?

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