Showing posts from May, 2015

What Do Numbers Really Tell Us?

Mark Twain popularized the statement, "There are three kinds of lies: lies, damn lies, and statistics". In Truth, Damn Truth, and Statistics, Paul Velleman of Cornell University reminds us of a "world outside ourselves". There are facts that sometime do not seem to apply to what we experience. It is at this point that we must realize that each one of us may just be a single point in a larger picture. Statistics does provide a window that helps us see beyond ourselves, but we still need to be vigilant since we often view only what we would like to see. Tomorrow, schools open in the Philippines. Besides what each parent and child might experience, there would be stories, there would be numbers which some of us might be able to relate while some might paint an entirely different universe. There are those who attend elite schools and for these children, the classroom they would see tomorrow could be inviting. Yet, there are also schools that yet have to recover from a …

How We Narrate, Inform and Persuade

Children learn by example and practice. If parents read, their children are more likely to read. When parents demonstrate decision making based on accurate and reliable information, a child acquiring such a skill becomes more probable. In fact, even adults learn by example. It is unfortunate then to read the response of Aquino to critics of K to 12: "Minsan ho talaga 'yung mga kritiko natin, minsan sila lang ang anak ng Diyos at sila lang ang magaling. Kaya bahala na ang Diyos sa kanila." (Our critics seem to think they alone are the children of God and that they are the only ones who are competent, so let God take care of them.) This is from a speech given by the Philippines president who is proudly proclaiming that the government is indeed ready for the new curriculum. Of course, the photo bureau from the palace is quick to provide a picture that depicts a nice classroom.

But there are obviously other equally relevant and significant scenes. The one below is captured f…

DepEd's K to 12: "Stop the School Bus" or "Damn the torpedoes; full speed ahead!"

Education reforms that are not supported by evidence can have serious and negative ramifications on both students and teachers. Wrong measures are unfortunately never innocuous. Proponents of DepEd's K to 12 must go beyond reciting platitudes and making outrageous promises. A reality check is now more than ever imperative. The mere fact that the new curriculum has already been in place for the past three years can never justify a continuation on the same misguided path. Of course, the right time to stop DepEd's K to 12 was three years ago but this does not mean that it is no longer correct to dump a wrong curriculum. Yesterday was better, but today is still a gazillion times more desirable than tomorrow or never.

In addition to the intrinsic weaknesses of the curriculum and the low quality and availability of learning materials, the following only demonstrate how utterly unprepared the government is in implementing the K to 12 curriculum.

"The Department of Education met …

DepEd K to 12: Expectations versus Reality

Back in 2012 at a General Education Conference held in the University of the Philippines, Dina S. Ocampo (currently the DepEd Undersecretary for Programs and Projects) stated the following,
"At the end of 12 grades, they are supposed to develop learners who are integrative, who are savvy with information, have media and technology skills, effective communication and life career skills, produce all forms of texts (e.g. written, oral, visual, digital) based on solid grounding on Philippine experience and culture; an understanding of the self, community and the nation; competency in formulating ideas/arguments logically, scientifically and creatively; and clear appreciation of one’s responsibility as a citizen of a multicultural Philippines and a diverse world, systematically apply knowledge, understanding, theory and skills for the development of the self, local and global communities using prior learning, inquiry and experimentation; work comfortably with relevant technologies and …

From Hitler to Prophets of Doom

The posts I have been seeing on Facebook do not paint a good picture of how we are responding to the nagging challenges of basic education in the Philippines. The Alliance of Concerned Teachers has now likened the management style of DepEd secretary Luistro to that of Hitler while Luistro apparently has been quoted by Radio Veritas as calling critics of the new curriculum "prophets of doom". The issues plaguing Philippine basic education warrant a serious reflection from both sides. The discussion really needs to be elevated to a higher level, one that actually weighs the merits and weaknesses of both arguments.

The lack of seriousness in dealing with the real problems of basic education is unfortunately matched by how clueless most of the public are with regard to the new curriculum. Such is illustrated in the following letter from concerned parents of students enrolled in Manila Science High School:

I am an alumnus of Manila Science High School and to me, it was clear from…

A Perverted Assignment of Roles

Imagine this scenario: A physician spends his time and effort finding funds to support the infrastructure and meet the operating expenses of a hospital that answers to the healthcare needs of poor indigenous people while the government takes the role of determining what medical advice, treatments and procedures should be given. This would be considered absurd in the medical field yet this is the current predicament of basic education in the Philippines.

The following is a post on Facebookfrom a member of Congress in the Philippines:

This is not the spirit of bayanihan (communal unity and cooperation). Instead, this is a demonstration of a perverted assignment of roles. Teachers are supposed to spend their energy and time teaching children. Teachers know their students so they must be the ones deciding what needs to be taught. Teachers need the ability and responsibility to decide how they should teach. Teachers are the ones in a much better position to choose learning materials as wel…

Copying What Works

There is nothing inherently wrong in copying what other countries do to address challenges in basic education. Even Pasi Sahlberg of Finland acknowledges this in an article published in the Washington Post. The following innovations from the United States are mentioned for their effectiveness in other countries: 1) more observation and description in secondary school science lessons; 
2) more individualized reading instruction in primary school classrooms;
 3) more use of answer explanation in primary mathematics;
 4) more relating of primary school lessons to everyday life; and
 5) more text interpretation in primary lessons. Ironically, the United States has not gained so much from these innovations because of its current obsession on accountability and standardized testing.

There are practices that work and there are those that do not. What is obviously important is that one copies only the proven ones. And as important, from the lessons learned in the United States, focusing on th…

K to 12: DepEd's Wrong Priority for Public Basic Education

A very strong argument against DepEd's K to 12 curriculum is its poor quality based on what we know from education research. Another equally strong case against the new curriculum is DepEd's clear lack of competence and capacity to implement the new curriculum. There is a third equally important reason: Focusing on the curriculum sets the wrong priorities for Philippine basic education. When it comes to priorities, who makes the judgment matters. With education, the voices of teachers should matter.
Here are the voices from two teacher groups in the Philippines, Teachers' Dignity Coalition (TDC) and the Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT).
Teachers' welfare and salaries Classrooms, facilities, learning materials
Classrooms, laboratories, books and modules, chairs, and sanitation facilities. Teacher salaries
Both teacher groups are urging the government to address first the basic shortages as well as their salaries. Perhaps, one may accuse teachers of s…

DepEd K to 12 Graduates Could Start Their Own Business, Seriously?

DepEd has been using catchy phrases such as "learner-centered", "holistic development", and "globally competitive" while it promotes its new K to 12 curriculum. Recently, DepEd has framed its advertisement in simpler terms. Jovic Yee of the Daily Inquirer quotes Undersecretary for Governance and Operations Rizalino Rivera as claiming that "students ... could also start their own business after graduating from the senior high school program". Rivera does start with the old lie that the new curriculum would improve employment opportunities but this entrepreneurship assertion is simply outrageous.

Teaching students to become self-employed is definitely not supported by evidence from research. The abstract of a paper published in the Journal of Small Business Management states quite clearly how much we know with regard to the effectiveness of entrepreneurship education in universities:
Does entrepreneurship education (E-ed) really work to create bus…

Cherry-picked Pieces of Evidence Supporting DepEd's K to 12

The public cost of providing two additional years of basic education is not insignificant by any measure. It is in fact a huge investment that requires nothing less than a thorough and thoughtful analysis of costs and benefits. Designing various tracks for these additional years likewise needs to be weighed against providing a general education for all. The largely assumed smoother entry into either the labor market or higher education provided by tracks can be fully canceled by significant disadvantages in later life.  These are questions that need to be addressed especially when such a curriculum is planned to be implemented on a grand scale.

The Philippines' Department of Education (DepEd), however, chooses to focus on examples that the agency has cherry-picked to promote its new curriculum. On its website, DepEd proudly shares stories of four recent graduates of a pilot senior high school program. Two are now currently working in a restaurant, one works as a secretary in a pri…

DepEd's K+12: A Threat to the Teaching Profession

"Teachers must be included in the process of curriculum development, regardless of the group of players who are primary in the process. Teachers are the best source of information about what specifically will and will not work in a science classroom. They bring a strong note of reality to the process, through their familiarity with schools, communities, and the classroom environment." The above is an advice from the National Academy of Sciences in the United States. This advice is often heard, but unfortunately, too frequently ignored.

Elizabeth Birnam and Debora Nary, after following a literacy reform in one school district conclude that "the power to effectuate change must come from the collective, unified voices of the teachers - the boots on the ground". In their book, When Teacher Voices Are Heard, they likewise identify the following as key to a successful education reform: transparency, open-mindedness, and the power of the collective.

The top-down dictated …

How to Think: Where Should We Begin

The myth of learning styles and illusions of competence are manifestations of how little we understand how we actually learn. Both experimental psychology and cognitive neuroscience have already provided important findings but these are often overlooked in education reform. William Klemm, a professor of neuroscience at Texas A&M University, helps remind us of some of the salient points now established by research on how we learn:

We need to know when a piece of information is reliable or not.We must accept the fact that multitasking is not possible.We cannot build complex knowledge without information in our working memory.Stress is bad for learning.Focus is important so distractions need to be removed.Testing is good when it helps students to recall what they know and makes them aware of what they do not know.Working memory can easily get overloaded. Reforms in education need to be guided. Unfortunately, most reforms are not. The reason why reforms are not based on evidence perhap…

What It Takes to Help Teachers Teach Science

There are two types of classrooms in basic education. One type has children as students. The other has teachers as students. In the Philippines, overcrowding and insufficient learning resources continue to hound classrooms where children learn. The travesty is that the same actually holds for rooms where teachers are trained.

Almost a thousand teachers are trained on a new curriculum in two batches, each one covering a period of five days. In addition, five hundred private school teachers are given a one-day orientation on the implementation of the new curriculum in grades 3 and 9. Seeing this piece of news and its accompanying photos makes it quite clear how much (or how little) thoughtfulness and attention DepEd gives toward the implementation of its new curriculum.

To illustrate how inadequate this mass training is, a recent study published in the Journal of Educational Psychology captures what it really takes to help teachers teach a new curriculum. The paper entitled "The Ef…

When an Educational System Fails

Ted Lieu, a representative in the US Congress from California, vividly describes how education often fails society.
"I think it's easy for people like you and me, who wear suits and ties and work in offices, to cast aspersions on those with 10th grade educations. And I certainly hope you're not saying that only those with college degrees or high school degrees should be eligible for federal benefits.

But let's talk about some of these folks with the 10th grade educations, such as Maria Isabel Jimenez. She was a farm worker, 17 years old. She worked for nine hours one day on a farm near Stockton in brutal heat, without shade or water, and then she collapsed. She was taken to the hospital. Her body temperature was 108.4 degrees. She died two days later.
When I was in the California state legislature, I had the opportunity to meet — over many years —many farm workers who've had families die in brutal conditions in the heat, so that you and I can have less expensive oran…

The False Promise and Empty Threat of DepEd's K+12

Part of critical thinking is to consider multiple perspectives. Correctly weighing on an issue requires judiciously examining both sides while being firmly guided by evidence. With regard to DepEd's K+12, it is a helpful exercise to look at what proponents are saying in defense of the new curriculum. Part of the defense is making promises or threats. One promise that DepEd makes is that the new curriculum will ease unemployment. DepEd seems to think that reducing unemployment is as easy as obliterating "un" from the word "unemployed" on a chalkboard.

Arvil Adams writing for the Education for All Global Monitoring Report makes the relationship between education and employment quite clear with a section heading in the paper entitled The Role of Skills Development in OvercomingSocial Disadvantage. It even comes with a graph to prove the point.
Vocational education and training offers no guarantee as a solution to youth unemployment. 
Across various countries, the a…