"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

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Anxiety, Math and Working Memory

Cognitive psychologists theorize that our minds work with something similar to the "working memory" of a computer. This is some sort of a mental scratch pad on which items are placed simultaneously. The capacity of this pad is obviously quite limited. We can probably easily remember three or four things to do on a day, but higher than that, we would probably need a schedule, unless these activities have already been part of a routine. When something is already done out of habit, it becomes automatic, requiring very little from our minds. How a children learns is no different. It is therefore important to keep in mind how much load is placed on a child's working memory when being instructed. The same goes when a child is being asked to solve a problem or answer a question. The significance of the working memory crystallizes clearly in learning math. It is one subject in which there is growing evidence that anxiety alone can dramatically lower the performance of a child or even an adult.

Beilock and Willingham recently wrote a review on math anxiety in the American Educator:

To read the review, visit the American Educator
Anxiety, without doubt, can occupy one's mind. Worrying takes precious space from our working memory. This explains why children who are nervous about math do not do well in math. With the introduction of new ways of teaching math that encourages pupils to work out problems with more elaborate strategies that highlight what really is going on (instead of just working from memorized addition and multiplication, or from simply counting with one's fingers), it becomes even more important that teachers are made aware of the limits of a child's working memory. As Beilock and Willingham note in their review, the destructive power of anxiety may even be greater for children who are gifted with higher working memory capacity. For instance, students who have been trained to solve "8+4" by employing a strategy such as decomposition (8 + 4 = 8 + 2 + 2 = 10 + 2 = 12) spend more working memory than a student who does the addition straight. The students who employ more advanced strategies are therefore more susceptible to the deleterious effects of anxiety. Children who have mastered the fundamentals of arithmetic, those who can add, subtract, multiply and divide "out of habit" demand much less from their working memory.

The strategies that have been developed to help children appreciate what really goes on in arithmetic are definitely appealing to those who already understand a lot about mathematics. Those among us who know by heart the multiples of nine can easily recognize that the sum of the digits for any of these multiples is nine. We can easily see this because we know that the multiples of nine are 9, 18, 27, 36, 45, 54, 63, 72, 81 and 90. In fact, we could even see that when the multiples are arranged in increasing order (like the one above), as the digit in the tens' place goes up by one, the digits in the ones' place goes down by one. Perhaps, we can even explain why the sum of the digits in any of these multiples is nine. Any one of these multiples can be described by (x - 1) in the tens place and (10 - x) in the ones places, where the multiple is 9x. So when we add the digits, we are in fact adding  (x - 1) to (10 - x), which of course sums up to 9. One reason why this may seem easy and insightful for us is the fact that our minds are no longer bothered by figuring out what the multiples of nine are. Arithmetic have already been permanently stored in our minds therefore neither adding nor multiplying require anything from our working memory. Having these procedures done almost mindlessly, our minds' working memory can therefore be devoted to other higher and more complicated tasks. Teaching math therefore requires that a teacher be tuned to the needs of each and every student. With a changing curriculum that emphasizes higher thinking, parents may need to ensure first that their children already have a strong background in basic mathematics before starting school. Of course, teachers may also need to work on helping their students master arithmetic first before going into a deeper discussion of how arithmetic works.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Raise Teachers' Pay or Face a Mass Leave

The Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) posted a message on Facebook to send a clear message both to the administration and its members. Here is an English translation of their latest message: "Our message to the Aquino administration is clear. We, teachers and staff, will not be satisfied if we do not receive any salary raise in 2015. We must prepare, if this is not included in the proposed 2015 budget, we will not have second thoughts, we will go on mass leave."

Teachers' pay is intimately related to the quality of education. In a recent study by The New Teacher Project (TNTP) in the United States, how teachers are paid has been tagged as a determining factor on who enters the profession and as important, on who stays. The study, entitled Shortchanged: The Hidden Costs of Lockstep Teacher Pay, emphasizes the significance of the starting salary as well as the dependence of promotions and salary increase only on number of years served or advanced degrees obtained. The study proposes a smarter way of deciding how much to pay teachers. Deciding salary rates without paying attention to the needs and challenges of schools is suggested to lead to the following undesirable outcomes:
• It makes it hard to recruit top talent. Even people willing to look past the low starting salaries are turned off by the profession’s low expectations and willingness to reward mediocrity.

• It pushes great teachers out of the classroom—and encourages ineffective teachers to stay. A conservative estimate is that school districts nationwide spend at least $250 million annually on automatic pay increases for their ineffective teachers, draining funds that could be used to offer more competitive salaries to newand early-career teachers and reward high performers at every level. 
• It discourages high performers from teaching in the schools that need them most. Great teachers should be encouraged—and rewarded—for teaching in high-poverty schools, but most compensation systems treat every teaching assignment the same.
To avoid the above problems, the following recommendations are made:
The answer is not modest “merit pay” structures that give teachers a bonus now and then. We’re proposing a fundamental change in the way teachers are paid, a strategy that goes beyond paper credentials and time served to base compensation decisions primarily on how well teachers are helping students learn. Like professionals in countless other fields, teachers’ pay ought to reflect the difficulty of their jobs and how well they perform. 

The recommendations begin with higher starting salaries. This is what ACT is demanding. The next two recommendations go further than this. It requires those who supervise schools to pay closer attention to the challenges and connect these to how salary increases are determined. It entails much more proactive observations of how schools operate. Raises must not be determined solely by numbers or measures that do not really tell the entire story. These must be based on what is actually happening inside a classroom. In addition, salaries must be used to address where the greatest needs are. Thus, in a nutshell, the solution is active and competent leadership. The problem is that the government seems to lack both.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Teachers' Assessment of Aquino Administration on Education

In time for this year's state of the nation address, teachers' organizations in the Philippines have voiced their opinion on the performance on education by the Aquino administration: "P-Noy got failing mark from teachers" and "State of Teachers under Aquino: more work, less benefit, and a static salary".

From Teachers' Dignity (Ating Guro):


"The teachers made their assessment of the Aquino administration’s performance thru a “Progress Report Card” using the K-12 grading system in several ‘key result areas’ or actions that were expected from the administration which include the increase in the salaries and benefits of teachers, sufficient education budget, fund allocation for K-12 program and patriotic education. The president got a failing grade B (for beginning), in all of those aspects and was advise to provide the needs of the education sector in his remaining years in office."

From the Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT)

JULY 27, 2014 
State of Teachers under Aquino: more work, less benefit, and a static salary


“After class, we are bringing home our students’ academic outputs for us to evaluate and assess. We are also doing class preparations at home. It is ironic that we have no time to teach our own children.” – France Castro, Alliance of Concerned Teachers

MANILA – Denied of their rightful wages and benefits, public school teachers are now restless and frustrated. Benjie Valbuena, national chairman of the Alliance of Concerned Teachers, said they have been neglected under the administration of President Benigno S. Aquino III.

“In four years of Aquino’s presidency, teachers did not receive any salary increase. Our benefits are being taken away if not reduced,” Valbuena said in a press conference held Tuesday, July 22.

Valbuena also decried the implementation by the Department of Education (DepEd) of the Results-based Performance Management System (RPMS), where teachers would be individually evaluated based on the DepEd’s criteria. “If teachers fail the evaluation for two consecutive years, they can be terminated.”

Taking away funds for DAP

According to Valbuena, funds allotted for hiring substitute teachers were taken away as part of the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) which was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.

April Val Montes, secretary general of ACT Teachers’ Partylist, said there is an allocated fund for the hiring of substitute teachers every year. But because the funds were taken away for DAP, public schools can no longer hire substitute teachers when a temporary shortage arises, such as when a teacher is on sick or maternity/paternity leave. Instead, the teaching load is given as additional work for other teachers without additional pay.

“The system is like this: when a teacher is on leave, his or her class will be distributed to other classes. We see that as a problem because what if that class already has a big number of students? The students will have to be squeezed into what will be an even bigger class,” said Montes.

In an interview with Bulatlat.com, Joselyn Martinez, secretary of ACT-NCR Union, said an official from DepEd told them that P11 billion ($253 million) allocated for DepEd was removed and transferred to DAP for fiscal year 2012-2013.

“It was like stealing the children’s future. That money was allocated for students, for their chairs and other facilities, for the substitute teachers, but the government took it away,” she told Bulatlat.com in an interview.

Backbreaking work

Teachers were supposed to receive their 2013 Performance-based Bonus (PBB) last March. But Valbuena said they still have not yet received any bonus because of the RPMS, which the government set as another prerequisite.
The RPMS policy is pursuant to Administrative Order (AO) No. 25 entitled “Creating an Inter-Agency Task Force on the Harmonization of the National Government Performance, Monitoring , Information and Reporting Systems” issued by the President on Dec. 21, 2011.

DepEd Order No. 33 provides that under AO 25, the RPMS is to be implemented in all government agencies within the Executive Branch using a common set of performance scorecard.

To be eligible for PBB, the performance of each agency shall be measured using indicators based on the pillars of the RPMS.

Martinez said under the RPMS, teachers are required to reach their target output to have a 130 percent or Very Satisfactory rating.

“We call it quota-based. Teachers must reach the criteria set by the DepEd. For example, in the test results of students, if you reached 80 percent, you will only get 100 percent or Satisfactory rating. If you reached the target of 90 percent or higher you will get a very satisfactory rating. The teachers should also target more than four parent-teacher’s meetings to get the 130 percent or very satisfactory rating. So the teachers are forced to do more than what they can do,” Martinez explained.

“That is the reason why there is still no PBB up to now because we have to accomplish this RPMS first. And that means another year without bonus,” said Martinez.

“The RPMS is designed to squeeze us beyond our limits by obliging us to have an output of 130 percent. Where in the world can you see a system wherein an employee is asked to have an output that is beyond 100 percent? This is something very inhumane and is in violation of our right to be treated rightfully. As a matter of fact, the present system already requires too much from us,” said France Castro, ACT secretary general.

Castro lamented that teachers have been doing their work even beyond working hours. “After class, we are bringing home our students’ academic outputs for us to evaluate and assess. We are also doing class preparations at home. It is ironic that we have no time to teach our own children because we bring home a lot of work,” said Castro.

The teachers also slammed the additional work load they had to do for the Learners Information System (LIS), a data base where the education profile of students can be accessed in the DepEd website.

“Each teacher with an advisory class has to encode their student’s information and upload it in the DepEd Central’s website. But the uploading takes almost a century because all other information from different parts of the country is also being uploaded in the website,” said a stressed Valbuena. He added that teachers are forced to upload files in the wee hours of the night, which is way beyond their working hours.

Montes said that they have nothing against the data base, but it adds on more work load to overstrained teachers. “This is supposed to be clerical work, it would be ideal if the DepEd hires an employee dedicated to this job only. But because of the rationalization plan where non-teaching personnel were laid-off from work, the teachers are left with more work to do.”

Reduced benefits

The teachers have not only been suffering from low wages, said Valbuena. Their legally-mandated benefits are also being reduced, all because of DAP. “They are saying that the money in DAP is from savings? This is not true. The truth is that they reduced our benefits and put it to DAP.

He said their Performance Enhancement Incentive worth of P10,000 ($230.84) was reduced to P5,000 ($115.42). Their annual Productivity Incentive Bonus (PIB) worth P2,000 ($46.17) would be removed.

“These bonuses are a big help for teachers. This is one way to augment our salary. And then the government under Aquino’s administration will just take it away,” said Montes.

He also said that because of DAP, the Commission on Audit has been questioning the legalities of the incentive that teachers have been receiving.

Valbuena said bonuses and incentives from local governments are also affected by the DAP controversy. He cited that the incentives for Manila teachers and non-teaching personnel have been abolished.

Louie Zabala, president of the Manila Public School Teachers Association (MPSTA), said teachers used to receive P2,500 ($57.14) in incentives. Of this, P2,000 ($45.71) come from the Special Education Fund (SEF) and P500 ($11.43) as local financial assistance. In 2012, then Manila City Mayor Alfredo Lim abolished the $11.43 local financial assistance because the Commission on Audit (COA) questioned the legality of the allowance. The Manila government, according to Zabala, also plans to abolish the $57.14 incentive. Some schools have reported that they have not received their incentives since January.

In Quezon City, more than 2,000 teachers protested the Quezon City Commission on Audit’s issuance of Audit Observation Memorandum against the continued implementation of the rice allowance for Quezon City public school teachers. “Because of their action, Mayor Herbert Bautista gave his commitment that the teachers’ rice allowance will not be abolished.” Montes said.

No salary increase

Valbuena lamented that the salaries of teachers cannot cope with the continuing spike in the prices of basic commodities and utilities. He said they have long been demanding for a salary increase, not only for teachers but also for non-teaching personnel.

But the Aquino government remains deaf to the clamor, not just from teachers, but from other sectors.
Castro said ACT Teachers Partylist Rep. Antonio Tinio has filed House Bill 254, which will provides for a salary upgrade of teachers, and was signed by 117 co-authors in the lower house. Aside from these, she said, there have been eight other House Bills filed by different legislators all for the salary increase of teachers and academic employees. Four other similar bills were also filed in the Senate.

Valbuena said on July 28, thousands of teachers will gather on the streets to protest. “With these anomalies involving billions of public funds and Aquino’s insensitive and indifferent attitude toward our call for salary increase and additional funding for public education, we are ready to take to the streets on the day of Aquino’s State of the Nation Address.”

“We will not simply sit down and listen to his rhetoric and excuses. We will join the broad masses on the streets and we will continue to fight for our right to a decent and living wage. We will join the call for the immediate prosecution of the people involved and who benefited in the PDAF (Priority Development Assistance Fund) scam and the illegal DAP,” he said.

“Return the money and re-channel these to funding social services like education and health programs,” Valbuena said.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Summer Reading:Providing Books Is Not Enough

Schools in both the United States and the Philippines are not in session all year round. Summer breaks often bring a pause to children's academic efforts. The National Summer Learning Association writes in one of its research briefs"Summer’s always been a great time to kick back with a book. But a strong body of research shows that, without practice, students lose reading skills over the summer months and children from low-income families lose the most. With the prevalence of television, computers and other electronic distractions, how can parents, educators and librarians encourage kids to immerse their minds and imaginations in books over the summer months?"

It is not sufficient however just to provide books that children could read over the summer. According to James Kim, a professor of education at Harvard University:
"...In fact, in one study, when we gave books to kids but did nothing else, they did no better than the kids who did nothing over the summer. There was no difference...
...Our research indicates that it’s about more than access, especially with younger kids who are still learning to read. Reading is most effective when parents or family members can provide reading guidance and make sure that kids understand what they’re reading. Reading can be both a solitary activity and a social activity that fosters learning and recreation."
At Mason Crest Elementary School in Virginia, there is a summer reading program. My children and I participated in one session and the results of Kim's research described above is seen in action in this library program.

Of course, there is access to books, in fact a lot of books. My son and daughter both spent quite some time scanning through books they could borrow from the library:

Both found books they wanted to read:

Indeed, supporting summer reading goes beyond providing books. During the session, a reading resource teacher, Jacquie Heller, was also there. She reminded the children of three important things by which one can get really immersed in reading:

Expression, Connection, Visualize (making reading more effective)
Heller used the book, "Dragons Love Tacos" to illustrate what expression, connection and visualize mean while reading.

Dragons Love Tacos
Young children very much need a scaffold. By reading a book with the proper expression, moods and tones are set appropriately. Making connections is equally important as a child begins to see the book through his or her experiences. Visualizing dramatizes what the child reads and when a child has a picture, the child remembers what he or she reads a lot easier. What is likewise clear is that these three things facilitate a love for reading. It is that love that makes comprehension a bit easier, and young children still need adults to show the way.

Giving a book is a good start, but it should not end there. We still need a parent or teacher to guide.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Ethics Demands Not Only Where DAP Funds Went But, As Important, Where Did These Come From?

The Philippines DepEd was quick to deny allegations that some of the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) funds came from savings realized by denying teachers' bonuses.

It is difficult to decipher who is telling the truth when a member of the Senate, presumably that branch of the government that votes and approves the General Appropriations Act (GAA), said not long ago:
More than a year ago, a member of the Philippines Senate, Francis Escudero, described how various government agencies were able to produce "savings": 
"He cited as example the budget that Congress had approved in the past for 15,000 new teachers every year but the Department of Education would only hire about 7,000 new teachers. 
The budget for the remaining 8,000 positions, he said, was then considered savings and re-aligned for bonuses of the department’s employees. (Philippine Daily Inquirer, 17 January 2013)
In addition, the Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) maintains its version of how DepEd has realigned its budget. In the Manila Standard Today, ACT National Chairman says:

Valbuena said the 528,000 teachers and 72,000 non-teaching personnel from 42,000 elementary and high schools used to get P10,000 each annually in Performance Enhancement Incentive. 
However, the amount was cut in half because the Palace impounded P3 billion from the Department of Education’s allocation in 2012 and another P3 billion in 2013, he said.
“For two years now under the Aquino administration, we have been deprived of our rightful P10,000 performance bonus,” he said. 
The Palace, he said, justified the realignment for DAP and replaced the PEI with Productivity Incentive Bonus or merit system where the teachers had to earn two “outstanding” evaluations to obtain a “two-step increment.” 
“Every outstanding performance, which is very difficult to achieve under horrible teaching conditions such as depressed salaries, lack of classrooms and school supplies, overloading of work, will merit a step-increment equivalent to only P200,” Valbuena said. 
“So our P10,000 benefit was replaced with P200. Does the President believe this is fair and just?” Valbuena said.
Valbuena's arithmetic is correct. Denying about 600,000 personnel of 5000 pesos each amounts to 3 billion pesos. Replacing 10,000 pesos with 200 pesos is, however, incorrect. An across the board incentive of 5000 pesos has remained.

The lack of transparency contributes significantly to the confusion. However, there are truths that do not require a close examination of numbers. Shortages in resources (classrooms and learning materials) are widely known for so many years now. The fact that teachers' salaries have been stagnant for years is also undeniable. The Philippine Congress has the responsibility to approve the budget of the government. The Executive has the responsibility of submitting to Congress what it needs. The needs are obvious yet the budget seems to be wrong every year that it provides so much savings that the Executive can freely transfer and spend these funds for something else. If the public schools in the Philippines are so transparently in need of aid, it is amazing that both branches of the government seem incapable of drawing the budget basic education needs. Unfortunately, this does not apply only to education. Health care and infrastructure are likewise severely neglected. Yet, there are savings that allow the Executive to hand pick projects that it deems necessary to stimulate the economy, the justification for DAP. There are no savings when there are clearly unmet needs, only irresponsible budgeting.

France Castro, Secretary General of the Alliance of Concerned Teachers

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Bonuses, Savings and the Disbursement Acceleration Program

More than a year ago, a member of the Philippines Senate, Francis Escudero, described how various government agencies were able to produce "savings":
"He cited as example the budget that Congress had approved in the past for 15,000 new teachers every year but the Department of Education would only hire about 7,000 new teachers. 
The budget for the remaining 8,000 positions, he said, was then considered savings and re-aligned for bonuses of the department’s employees. (Philippine Daily Inquirer, 17 January 2013)
These are "savings". And if the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP), which has been recently ruled as unconstitutional by the Philippines Supreme Court, has been funded by "savings", this then explains in part where the money comes from. Critics of those who criticize DAP reiterate that "unconstitutional" does not necessarily mean "immoral", especially when this program has been operated in "good faith". The fact, however, of where some of the funding for DAP came from could raise serious ethical questions.  The Alliance of Concerned Teachers recently posted the following on Facebook:
Some Important Facts on DAP and its Impact in Education especially Teachers: 
In the public education for instance, funds for teachers’ benefits and allocation for substitute teachers were taken away as part of his DAP. This in turn resulted to the further decrease of the already meager benefits given to us. The P10, 000 yearly Performance Enhancement Incentive (PEI) that we used to receive were systematically reduced by half because of the illegal centralization of savings by mid-term. These “savings” constitute a large portion of funds for DAP.
Also, since the allocation for substitute teachers were also taken away, public schools can no longer hire substitute teachers whenever a teacher gets sick or is in maternity/paternity leave, putting his/her teaching load as an additional work for the teachers without additional pay. It is an established fact already that the public education needs more allocation from the government to address the meager salary and benefits of the teaching and non-teaching personnel and to address the shortages in personnel, classrooms and facilities.”
If the above information is accurate, DAP actually abuses public school teachers. Given Senator Escudero's explanation of how agencies create "savings", the above is likely to be true. There is no "good faith" in DAP especially when the well being of Philippine basic education is concerned.
A photo posted on Twitter by the Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) showing teachers protesting the government's new Results-based Performance Management System (RPMS) and Learners’ Information System (LIS), which adds to how teachers are presently assessed on which rewards and incentives would be based.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Innovation in Education

Change is inevitable. Yet there are universal constants. Not all change is good. There are changes that happen beyond our influence or control. And there are changes that we ourselves bring to realization. When we innovate, we look for improvement. This type of change for the most part involves a process, but it cannot be divorced from the outcome. In fact, this type of willful change is only good if it is for the better. In a new report from the OECD, Measuring Innovation in Education: A New Perspective, Educational Research and Innovation, countries have been ranked in terms of changes in schools' practices and policies. Vincent-Lancrin, lead author of the study, has been quoted as saying, "Innovation is a means to an end, we need to think of it not as an indicator of performance itself, but something that will translate into better educational outcomes." Whether an innovation leads to an increase in quality in education deserves to be asked. Assuming innovation is a good in itself is dangerous. Such thinking reduces education to something similar to business where innovation is a must to survive. In education, not all changes are good and not all changes are justified.

The full report can be accessed here.

Monday, July 21, 2014

The Philippines DepEd's Attempt to Help Private School Education

Inside the 309 billion peso 2014 budget for the Department of Education (DepEd) in the Philippines is a 7.45 billion item intended to help families who are sending their children to private schools. In the latest government report, more than 800000 pupils have been assisted by the program formally called Government Assistance for Students and Teachers in Private Education (GASTPE). This subsidy amounts to about 9000 pesos spent by the government per pupil. Back in 2009, using World Bank data, Seth Mydans of the NY Times estimated that the Philippine government spends about 6600 pesos per pupil enrolled in its public schools. There is the question, of course, of why the government needs to run two programs. There are 21 million students currently enrolled in the public schools, a system marked with acute shortages in resources: classrooms, learning materials, and teachers, yet the government still reaches out and helps families who have their children studying in private schools. The idea of having a public school system is to provide education for all yet there are programs that do not apply to all.

The country of Chile provides plenty of evidence on how these programs actually work. Unfortunately, the evidence merely points to even greater inequality. Here is a recent peer-reviewed article from the Education Policy Analysis Archives:

Why a government would provide funds for families to send their children to private schools is really a question that needs to be addressed by education policy makers. In Chile, there was the expectation that competition between private and public schools may lead to increasing quality in all schools. Unfortunately, this does not really happen in education. Schools are not factories. Schools, unlike factories, could and should not really choose their starting material. If competition becomes the underlying principle, quality is in fact compromised. It is easy to make a school look good by simply being selective in its enrollment. Another point is that the government must really focus on the system that it has especially when it is not even able to address all the needs of its own system.

One last point specific for the Philippine program is the fact that the subsidy does not really cover all of the tuition fees. It covers only a fraction. It is clear therefore that the program benefits only those families who can afford to pay at least partly private school tuition. It is not meant for the poor, but for the middle class and the wealthy. Thus, right at the very beginning, it is a program that is really meant for higher-income families.

Pasi Sahlberg of Finland talked a couple of months ago at the First Parish Church in Massachusetts. During his presentation, Sahlberg said:
There are three unique aspects of Finnish system. One: We have a school system that is based on 9 years of compulsory and comprehensive schooling that is the same for all children. There is no other system in the world where all kids have the same school experience in their own neighborhood. We don’t have charters, independent schools, etc. We have a few specialty schools such as Waldorf, etc., but very few. Most schools in Finland are part of the public school system. It was created about 40 years ago. All private schools were abolished. We insisted that every school must be a good school.
Education for all means only one thing. It is not education only for some, it is for all. When will we ever learn?

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Education and the Internet

This research comes from a network of young people based at the University of Warwick. The social and educational network called IGGY recently looked at the role of the internet in basic education. The work is quite a small survey. It certainly does not represent the entire globe although it covers several countries: US, UK, Australia, South Africa, France, Netherlands, Singapore, and Pakistan. Clearly, the survey does not even capture the most populous countries. Nonetheless, the findings may be worthwhile to look at. So, here are some of the results. These figures are copied from the final report without permission.

The first one relates to how frequent the internet is being used in homework.

One might ask the same question in the Philippines. My guess is that the above figure is far from what is going on in the Philippines. What may be closer to the Philippines is the scenario from Pakistan (which is quite an outlier when it comes to the above results). For Pakistann the IGGY researchers write:


  • A number of children are not going to school at all
  • Quality of education and access to the internet still seems impossible for many children living in Pakistan
  • The internet is being used for education only at private and elite schools.

    • None of the government schools have the facility of internet, whilst only the private and elite schools provide internet facilities
    • The schools which do provide the internet provide it mostly to the administration staff who use it for their own communication and research purposes

The next figure is quite telling. The survey suggests that students with learning difficulties are more likely to benefit from the internet:

The report has the following summary and recommendations:

• The internet in Education facilitates certain areas of skill development (e.g., independent learning more than others (e.g., communication).
• The internet has a positive influence on pupils with learning difficulties and thus online learning platforms should be used more frequently with these pupils to aid development.
• The skills acquired from gamification and coding are beneficial for school pupils and should be more widely incorporated into the curriculum.
• Online learning platforms should be widely and freely available to all pupils across the globe.
• The incorporation of flipped classrooms and MOOCs will shift the way in pupils study allowing for more flexibility and personalisation in how they work.
• The internet should be introduced as a learning tool much earlier in schools then it is currently, e.g., 11 years and below.
• Online safety should be taught more rigorously and consistently across the curriculum.
• Teachers need to be at the forefront of integrating internet into education, i.e., ‘digital ambassadors’ – to achieve this, teachers need to receive on-going training and support from the government and educational organisations.
• Advance pupil development through teacher training by 2020
• By 2020 for the internet to be more widely available to school pupils aged 11
• Increase global access to online learning environments
• Pupils with learning difficulties to benefit from technological advancements
• Emphasise online safety, cultivate digital citizenship and responsibility
• By 2020 all schools should be using blended learning programmes in their curriculum
This report comes from a junior commission (These are high school students) that has ten members: 2 are from UK, 2 are from Pakistan, and from each of the following countries: South Africa, Singapore, Netherlands, Canada, France, and Australia. This group of young researchers is very much aware of the limitations of their study. In the report, he commission writes:

Firstly, the participants (i.e., teachers and pupils) who completed the questionnaires were not representative of the world's entire population and only reflect a small sample size. In total, we contacted participants in 14 different countries receiving over 200 responses. Thus generalising the findings for application to other countries not included in the study would be difficult. This said, countries identified to take part in the study were selected to be diverse, representing different social and cultural norms, to help overcome this issue. Therefore, overall considering the timescale (i.e., two-week data collection) and resources available, the research is far-reaching in terms of participant recruitment. A related issue is that many of the participants were our friends, classmates, or teachers and so were therefore more likely to share similar viewpoints. Again this latter point is a difficult criticism to overcome considering the availability of participants was always going to be dependent on existing contacts. 
Moreover, an internet connection was necessary to complete the questionnaire. This means demographically deprived areas may not have taken part in the study due to a lack of resources. The sample of participants is not random; they were all interested in filling out a questionnaire on the subject of Education and the Internet which may mean that responses were more ‘pro-technology’ then a baseline group would be. However, this is an issue for any piece of research; people who take part are more likely to be interested in the topic under investigation and this may affect the viewpoints identified. 
In conclusion, these limitations should not in any way deflect from our project findings and recommendations. Instead, by providing transparent information about how the research process was completed, the context in which the research should be understood is more appropriately communicated.
These limitations do point out to which types of school systems and students their findings really apply. The fact that this survey was done over the internet means only those who had access to the internet were able to participate. Thus, even with internet access and presumably, schools that are better equipped, the impact of the internet is not really that overwhelming.

Education and the internet share quite a bit in common. Both potentially can improve our living. Both have a promise of benefiting mankind. Sadly, this hope may just be an illusion. Both education and the internet may be falling short. Because right now, both are just magnifying and crystallizing the difference between the rich and the poor.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

(ITLL B OK) Text Messaging Effects on Literacy and Grammar

LOL, OMG, BRB, ppl instead of people, u in place of you, and 2 for to. These are just examples of what one might see in text messages as well as posts on social media and emails. Typing less characters to express a message of course reduces the burden of punching those keys, especially the very small ones on those smart phones. It is quick. And it is evolving with its own set of rules. There are concerns that these exercises can impair one's literacy and grammar skills. In fact, a press release two years ago from Penn State highlighted a study by Cingel and Sundar that claims a negative relationship between texting and grammar skills:

Unfortunately, this study was not well designed. The above press release noted:
The researchers, who report their findings in the current issue of New Media & Society, then passed out a survey that asked students to detail their texting habits, such as how many texts they send and receive, as well as their opinion on the importance of texting. The researchers also asked participants to note the number of adaptations in their last three sent and received text messages. Of the 542 surveys distributed, students completed and returned 228, or 42.1 percent.
The data collected on how students were using texting relied solely on the students' own reporting. There was likewise no baseline testing. Good studies require reliable data collection. There is a recent study published in the British Journal of Developmental Psychology that shows otherwise: Text messaging styles do not impair one's literacy and grammar skills.

In this study, text messages of students are recorded and saved over a time period. These text messages are then analyzed and categorized according to the following types of grammatical violations:

This recent study was over a twelve month period. A battery of standardized tests were administered at the beginning and at the end of the study. Participants are from three levels of education: primary, secondary and college. The results show that at all levels, there is no correlation between a student's performance on the grammar and literacy tests and text messaging. In fact, for secondary pupils, greater use of word reduction is correlated with better performance in spelling. Those who type messages with words like "tryna", "hafta", "wanna" and "gonna", can in fact spell better than those who do not.

This instance illustrates why it is very important to have a well designed experiment. Our opinions, biases and limited observations can not be used as valid evidence to draw general conclusions. Text messaging does not impair a student's literacy and grammar. In fact, text messaging provides a route for creativity....

Above copied from Personalized License Plate (photos.al.com)
It will be okay.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Yet Another List of Top Universities in the World

This one comes from the Center for World University Rankings, based in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Harvard, Stanford and MIT, from the US, capture the top three spots:

The ranking methodology is claimed to be independent of surveys and university data submissions. It relies solely on the following data:

  1. Publications (5%) - Number of publications in top-tier journals.
  2. Influence (5%) - Number of publications in journals that are considered to be most influential (Nature, Science, PNAS are examples).
  3. Citations (5%) - Number of highly cited papers.
  4. h-index (5%) - Number of papers that are at least cited the same number of times.
  5. Patents (5%) - Number of international patent filed.
  6. Awards won by faculty (25%) - The list of awards counted is as follows: Nobel Prize and the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences, Abel Prize, Balzan Prize, Charles Stark Draper Prize, Crafoord Prize, Dan David Prize, Fields Medal, Fundamental Physics Prize, Holberg International Memorial Prize, Japan Prize, Kavli Prize, Kluge Prize, Kyoto Prize, Millennium Technology Prize, Praemium Imperiale, Pritzker Prize, Shaw Prize, Schock Prize, Templeton Prize, Turing Award, Wolf Prize, and World Food Prize.
  7. Awards won by students/alumni (25%) - Same awards as above are considered.
  8. Alumni employment (25%) - Number of alumni who are CEOs at the world's top 2000 public companies.
With this methodology, the University of Tokyo in Japan captures #13, the highest spot for Asia. In the list of the top 1000 universities, about 100 are from China, while Japan has 74. South Korea has 34, Taiwan has 26, India has 15, Iran has 8, Singapore has 2. Both Thailand and Malaysia have 3. Hong Kong has 6. There are no universities in the Philippines that made the list. The following are the countries that have universities on the list:

The complete list is available from this link

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Why We Should Listen to Teachers

It is a lesson I learned early on from my parents. I need to listen when something important is being said. I need to listen to something that makes sense. Listening is of course one way we truly benefit from those who are much more informed than we are. Here is what Arkansas 2007 Teacher of the Year, Justin Minkel, recently wrote on his blog, "President Obama has often been described as an eloquent speaker. I learned this week that he is an eloquent listener, too."
President Obama's Family Picture (Wikipedia)
I guess having a spouse and two daughters can make any father a good listener.

Kidding aside, Minkel was in fact relating a meeting he had with the president together with the Education secretary and three other teachers. The conversation started with Obama asking the following questions:
  • Why had we stayed in our schools? 
  • What could he and the Secretary do to support teachers in high-need schools? 
  • What policies could ensure that students who need the strongest teachers receive them?
The four teachers who have been asked to address these questions have been teaching in high=poverty schools for over a decade. And the responses are as follows:
  • "There’s nothing wrong with the kids." These teachers find students with challenges as motivation. 
  • "Responsibility and delight could coexist", but only if such responsibility comes with freedom, creativity and autonomy.
  • "It’s not about good and bad teachers. It’s about good and bad teaching." Teachers become effective when they collaborate and work together. It is purposeful professional development that is necessary: reflection, collaboration and mentoring.
  • "If we want students to innovate, collaborate, and solve real-world problems, we need to make it possible for teachers to do those same things." This sounds similar to the second response above, perhaps, indicating why autonomy really matters to teachers.
Minkel ends his article with the following sentence, "The last thing the president said to us was, “You all make me feel hopeful.” President Obama, you left us hopeful, too." Of course, Minkel is quite quick to state that one meeting with the President will not solve all the challenges public school education in the US faces. But as Minkel says, "...it’s a damn good place to start."

Teachers in the Philippines are no different. They are equally caring and committed to their pupils. I went through public school and majority of my teachers treated me as if I was their own child. Sadly, the Philippines relates an opposite story. The country is now ruled by a president who in his last message to the public seems to be making a claim of infallibility.
President Aquino has been quoted recently asking people to wear a yellow ribbon to show support for his leadership. This is amid a coming typhoon threatening to hit parts of Luzon (Above photo copied from Allvoices.com).
The Supreme Court in the Philippines ruled unanimously (13-0) that Philippine president Aquino's Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) is unconstitutional. Conrado de Quiros wrote recently on the Inquirer:
...There are in fact two issues here, which government either cannot see or refuse to see. The first is the unconstitutionality of the DAP, the second is the criminality of the DAP. The second is debatable, the first is not...

...The unconstitutionality of things is not something we may treat lightly or dismiss as a minor thing, a “lapse in judgment,” or in this case as the unfortunate product of “good faith.” Giving the president the power to juggle funds is a wrong, it is an iniquity, it is a crime. You may not turn the country from a democracy into a “fiscal dictatorship” to stimulate the economy and benefit the people.

Lest we forget, Marcos himself justified declaring martial law to arrest anarchy and scuttle the oligarchy. Which he did at first, only to spark a more anarchic despotism and to mount an even more oligarchic crony system. Which shows why taking a patently wrong means for a presumably right end is wrong. An extreme example, doubtless, but it partakes of the same principle....

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Should a Teacher Decorate a Classroom?

We decorate the walls of our bedrooms and offices with posters, paintings and photos. Bare walls look like prison cells. Decorations on walls brighten a room, making it more inviting. The town of Paete, Laguna in the Philippines are known for its artistry. Thus, it would be surprising to find undecorated walls inside the homes in this town. Furthermore, the walls inside the classrooms in this town are likewise highly unlikely to be empty. In fact, when I visited Paete ten years ago, it would be impossible not to notice the paintings on the wall:

Even in high school, considerable talent is displayed on the walls.

Photo credit (Imelda Avino)

Thursday, July 10, 2014

The Philippines and the English Language

The Philippines is markedly different from the other countries in Asia in terms of language. Its native languages use the Latin alphabet and English is taught in the early years of elementary education. It is also used as a medium of instruction in some schools especially in private elite colleges. Amy Chavez of The Japan Times noted in an article early this year how impressed she was with how fluent Filipinos are in English:

Above copied from Huffington Post
Unfortunately, Chavez, in the above article, is misusing test data. The Educational Testing Service (ETS) specifically mentions in its research reports not to use scores to rank countries:

Above copied from Test and Score Data Summary for TOEFL iBT Tests

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

A View of the Future

The way higher education works has fairly been constant for more than a hundred years. With advances in technology as well as changing demands from society, there is a growing impression that colleges are about to change. Whether universities would indeed change still remains up in the air. Stanford University, for instance, has compiled several possible shifts. The design team has chosen to exhibit four scenarios: Open Loop University, Paced Education, Axis Flip, and Purpose learning. Open Loop means 6 years of study distributed over a lifetime. Paced Education also requires 6 years, but distributed in three different phases. Axis Flip places skills above content knowledge. Lastly, Purpose Learning throws out Majors and embraces Missions instead. Of the four, I personally think Open Loop is likeliest to happen:

Copied from Stanford 2025 - Open Loop University
What is in store for universities in the future largely depends on our views of what higher education should be. To read more about these various future visions of a university, visit Stanford 2025

Monday, July 7, 2014

Online Learning: What Will Make It Work

It should be obvious that simply transferring learning materials from print to digital involves only a change in medium. A change in medium does not necessarily affect learning. Whether a teacher in a rural school in the Philippines uses a handwritten visual aid on a piece of cartolina or a projector that shows a PowerPoint slide should have only a minute impact on learning outcomes. Whether a student reads a textbook in print or from an online source displayed on a screen should not really make a big difference except for aesthetic and ergonomic reasons. As long as the content and quality are comparable, the medium of choice should not matter at all. Thus, the transformative effect of technology on learning requires a lot more than just delivery of content from a cloud. Any claim that online learning would revolutionize education is simply wishful thinking if all that technology does is changing the medium.

There are numerous studies that have evaluated online learning. Unfortunately, most of these studies are poorly designed making the conclusions drawn invalid. There are quite a few that have attempted to do the studies properly but even in these cases, there are clearly remaining limitations. One aspect that makes such studies difficult is decoupling the instructor from the study. A comparison between a traditional lecture and an online one requires a random assignment of instructors. Ideally, the instructors in both groups must be practically equivalent. It is quite difficult to make this happen. In the real world, instructors have preferences. Some instructors who deliver lectures effectively prefer to teach in the traditional way. Some instructors who are eager to try an online medium are usually the ones most tuned to the technology right at the onset. Thus, studies become tainted. Teachers who are trying out the new medium are also the ones who are eager. That means motivation and engagement. One example is a recent study published in the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management:

The above is in fact one of the very few reliable evaluations of online learning. One should take note that this is not a simple "put in a cloud learning materials" change. First, it is a hybrid. There is still an hour of face-to-face instruction. Second, "machine-guided instruction" means that the software actually maps, tracks and assesses student learning. This type of online learning begins with a large amount of data that describe how students learn the material. It is research-based. The software therefore tries to mimic a seasoned lecturer (one who has taught for so many years and have seen and interacted with so many students). With this background information, the software is then able to provide instruction customized to each individual student. The software also tracks each student so that a teacher can monitor each student's progress and provide targeted guidance during the face-to-face instruction. In other words, this is not a simple software. Yet, the conclusion from this study is that the results are the same. At least, online learning does not harm the students. One also must keep in mind that this study is not fully randomized. The instructors' characteristics differ as shown in the following table:

Online learning has potential, but it still has a long way to go. Technology can indeed provide routes to concept mapping, student monitoring, and tailoring of instruction. These are the ingredients that can make online learning a step ahead of the traditional lecture. One top of all of these, the instructor still matters. An instructor not adept with the new technology is a sure prescription for failure.

Unfortunately, many are quick to embrace technology just because it is a new medium. There are already some important lessons out there like Educomp in India:

Above copied from Forbes India
EdSurge wraps nicely what happened with Educomp with the following:
One analyst who has watched Educomp closely believes the Smart Class strategy “was built on a very hairy concept that simply putting multimedia hardware in front of teachers and students would work.”
There is great potential for technology to aid education, but it is not to provide simply an alternative medium or hub of resources. It must capture and enhance the magic that happens between a student and an effective instructor.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Policies to Cure Poverty

The Hamilton Project, named after the first secretary of the Treasury in the United States, "puts forward innovative proposals from leading economic thinkers — based on credible evidence and experience, not ideology or doctrine — to introduce new and effective policy options into the national debate." This past month of June, the project presented a list of fourteen proposals designed to address the poverty problem in the United States. Although in the early section of the volume, it is acknowledged that not all anti-poverty policies have been considered, it is interesting to note that basic education is not present in any of the fourteen proposals. Perhaps, it is just another indication that poverty is a problem in basic education. Solving poverty is required to improve basic education and therefore must be addressed outside of education. Anyway, here are the fourteen proposals which include early childhood education, summer opportunities, building skills, and social safety nets:

Friday, July 4, 2014

The Issue of Language

It is the fourth of July and America is celebrating its Independence Day. America is the place where my children were born. Across the Pacific is the Philippines, the country of my birth. For over a hundred years, the Philippines remains a country in search of its own identity. America is also a very young nation compared to the countries in Europe and of course, nations in Asia like India, China and Japan. Since these nations are so much older, their education systems have likewise stood for so many more generations. Their schools are much more mature and certainly, the classrooms in these countries are filled with experiences of so many centuries. America may have conquered higher education and research but with basic education, the country is still growing up. It is a bit disconcerting that children in the early grades are expected to master social skills and find creativity in themselves. It is mind boggling that children need to find not just one way, but at least two different ways to answer simple arithmetic questions. While in the Orient, children simply have to commit these to memory so that their minds can in fact do something else with math later. America does have its strengths when one considers how independent children could be even at a tender young age. Unfortunately, the Philippines remains torn between the East and the West. While other countries are breaking into new frontiers oi human knowledge, we are still arguing about what language to use. Amazingly, there are even more than two sides to this issue.

Above copied from Decolonization of the Philippines

On one hand, there are those who equate one language to a sense of nationalism. Filipino, which is really a dialect of Tagalog, a language spoken in Manila and its surrounding provinces, is imposed as a national language. Growing up in Manila, it is easy to see the world through a very narrow scope. Philippine history was all about Tagalogs. I did not hear any lessons in history regarding people from the Visayas and Mindanao. Although I spent more than twenty years of my life in the Philippines, I did not really get to see the Philippines. Most of those twenty years were spent in Metro Manila. The rest of the Philippines simply did not exist and was as foreign as the United States of America. It is therefore understandable why some would still equate being Filipino with being Tagalog. It is difficult for a Tagalog to see such equating as degrading and offensive to other Filipinos who are not Tagalogs. Requiring Tagalog courses in college does not register as unjust acts simply because Tagalogs had been indoctrinated for so long that their language and history sum up the Philippine nation. Nothing could be further than the truth yet one finds national artists and even professors from universities espousing such a disgraceful position.

The other regions of the Philippines speak other languages that are distinct and different from Tagalog. Unlike Tagalog, these languages have not received due attention from institutions of higher learning. Yet, the ambitious DepEd K+12 curriculum is now implementing a mother tongue based multilingual education in the early elementary years. There is a lot to be done in terms of bringing the various Philippine languages into the academic realm. It is a lot of work, yet people seem to be more preoccupied in imposing requirements on schools. What is needed are not requirements, but enablers. These languages certainly must be part of higher education in the Philippines if we are to preserve and nurture them. And students must be able to choose. Students, however, cannot choose something that still has to exist first.

Science has embraced a language and it is English. There are scientists from the Orient who are still working hard to translate science textbooks into their native tongues. In the Philippines, there is no such effort. Perhaps, there is no worth in even trying. Independence means one thing - one should be able to make choices. One should be able to make decisions.

Not all choices made are necessarily the good ones to make. There is of course room for error, but one must learn through the decades and not keep repeating the same mistakes.  One also must avoid getting trapped in indecision. The Philippines lies near the bottom when it comes to basic education. Its institutions of higher learning are likewise being left behind, and yet, here we are, still arguing about what language to use and instruct. Here we are, remaining completely clueless about academic freedom and what genuine nationalism entails.

It Is Important to Listen to Teachers

There are supposedly groups that represent teachers. There are teachers' unions in the United States and the Philippines has the Alliance of Concerned Teachers as well as the Teachers' Dignity Coalition. The proper scientific way to hear teachers' concerns and conditions is a survey because there remains the question of whether teachers' groups fully represent the profession. Unfortunately, the Philippines does not participate in OECD's Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS 2013). The United States fails to meet the required participation rate but the responses are large enough that the data may actually be worthwhile to report. Nonetheless, taking a look at this survey can still inform us about teachers. For one, the survey provides what questions we may need to ask our teachers. The following captures a summary of the survey for teachers and principals (The data and figures presented here are copied from TALIS 2013):

The TALIS survey covers more than thirty countries (Malaysia and Singapore are included).

With regard to teachers, it appears that the majority is female and the average age is around 40 (which means most teachers have 15 years of experience). From the UNESCO data, teachers of secondary schools in the Philippines are no different. One big difference, however, lies in the number of pupils per teacher. While TALIS has an average of 24 pupils per teacher, the number for the Philippines is much higher, 35. The data for principals are equally interesting. It is clear that the United States differs from other countries with regard to a large number of principals (93%) not having teaching obligations.

The training a high school teacher receives is also worth a look:

It does seem that at least one in five teachers has not received specific training on the subject that they teach. This question is important to ask of Philippine teachers especially with the introduction of the new K+12 curriculum. How many of the teachers have actually been trained on the subjects that they are asked to teach is important in assessing the capacity of an educational system. Teachers also need continuing education to keep themselves updated. The United States seems to be leading here compared to the average of TALIS:

More than 80 percent of US teachers participate in at least 8 days of courses and workshops. In terms of working hours, US teachers spend an average of 45 hours per week (27 hours are spent in teaching):

A high school teacher in the Philippines spends about 22.5 hours per week on classroom instruction, which is less than those of US teachers (27), but more than the hours spent on average across the TALIS countries (19). Now, the above are just background information. TALIS actually asks questions that go to the heart of a teacher's impression of the profession. The following are sample questions:

Based on the responses of US teachers, about 90% are actually satisfied with their job. A similar percentage also believes that they are capable. However, when asked whether they are feel valued, only 34 percent think so. These are of course questions that likewise need to be asked of teachers in the Philippines....