"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

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

An Excellent Teacher for Every Student

Teacher quality is the most important school-based factor affecting student learning. Effective teaching requires mastery of the content to be taught, communication skills, and a keen sense of students' needs. The first requirement alone, content mastery, could be a huge stumbling block in improving Philippine basic education. In a country like the Philippines where thousands of individuals trained in math and science migrate to the United States and other countries, it is difficult, for example, to find a high school teacher competent enough to teach either chemistry or physics.

Public Impact at Chapel Hill, North Carolina, is finding ways to improve learning outcomes in the United States. One of its initiatives called Opportunity Culture aims to reach more students with excellent teachers. The following are various models that can help extend the impact of effective teachers:

In the Philippines, the Bernidos of Jagna, Bohol have been working on a project called Learning Physics as One Nation (LPON) to address the lack of qualified teachers. LPON is quite similar to the models shown previously from Public Impact's Opportunity Culture:
Learning Physics as One Nation (LPON) is an initiative of the Fund for Assistance to Private Education, funded by the Department of Education of the Philippines, and designed to bypass the nation’s severe STEM teacher shortage. Project components include a specially designed Physics Essentials Portfolio of 239 learning activities to be independently accomplished by students during one school year, and associated 18 DVD volumes of video lectures by national educators. The materials are designed such that a command team can monitor student progress, and address questions from the field through e-mail, mobile phone text messages, Skype, and fast courier services. Initial assessment of student performance shows a positive trend. Thus, after field studies in over 200 schools, plans are to produce Learning as One Nation materials for all other STEM subjects following the LPON model.

Initial assessments are promising as shown in the following figure:

Above copied from Achieving School Success by Bernido and Carpio-Bernido
The above chart shows that through LPON, scores are improved across the entire spectrum of students, from poor to superior. With LPON, the percent of students below average have gone down from 73 to 56.

The shortage in qualified teachers is real and extending the reach of excellent teachers may be a good solution, but it should be obvious that such solution remains superficial. The Philippines must work hard to recruit teachers from the best and the brightest. This can only be done by upgrading the teaching profession. This can only be achieved with quality teacher preparation in higher education.

LPON, like any remote teaching, unfortunately can only address two of the three important qualities of a good teacher: content mastery and communication skills. Learning and teaching is a two-way street and an excellent teacher is one who could also hear and see the students especially in the early years. The dismal state shown in the pre-test chart only reflects the poor quality of elementary education in the Philippines. Problems are best solved before they become intractable.

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