"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

Monday, June 8, 2015

What Really Influences Learning Outcomes in Basic Education

The Department of Education in the Philippines can now take credit for a new word in the English vocabulary, "multiculturism". The word shows up on the cover of a textbook in English for Grade 10 pupils. The book also comes with more than a thousand errors, according to Antonio Calipjo Go, academic supervisor at Marian School of Quezon City.

Copied from the Daily Inquirer
Low quality textbooks and unavailable learning materials are clearly problematic but not for the reasons most may think. DepEd Secretary Luistro quickly responds to the news of errors in school textbooks by stating that any textbook remains a work in progress. Newspapers as well as posts in social media often highlight inaccuracies or errors in textbooks.  Readers are then left to extrapolate what these findings actually mean. And most may be surprised that textbooks are not really known to impact learning outcomes significantly.

A study in 2011 (NBER working paper 17554) by Paul Glewwe, Eric A. Hanushek, Sarah Humpage, and Renato Ravina is a must-read for anyone interested in finding what factors really influence how students learn in developing countries. Textbooks are not among the factors. Instead, the authors conclude, "The few variables that do have significant effects – e.g. availability of desks, teacher knowledge of the subjects they teach, and teacher absence – are not particularly surprising and thus provide little guidance for future policies and programs." Roofs, walls, floors, desks, tables and chairs are all found to have a positive impact on learning while textbooks and workbooks do not. An effective education reform clearly begins with good carpentry.  A teacher's knowledge of the subject is correlated with good learning outcomes, but teacher in-service training is not. An effective education reform therefore must start at higher education, the place where teachers initially receive training. Obviously, when teachers do not show up in class, pupils suffer, and when teachers extend instruction through tutoring or increased hours, students benefit. What may not be obvious, however, is that when concerns other than learning occupy a teacher's mind, the teacher is essentially missing in class. The findings are really not surprising. What is surprising is how the Philippine government has consistently ignored voices of teacher groups demanding for resources that are in line with the findings from these high quality research studies.

Luistro perhaps misses what the real implications are of erroneous textbooks. It is true that mistakes in textbooks can be easily corrected. In fact, textbooks can be completely overhauled. These revisions however do not erase the fact of haste, irresponsibility and incompetence. Textbooks although insignificant in influencing learning do paint an image for the Philippines' Department of Education. Textbooks full of mistakes as well as missing or unavailable learning materials are simply symptoms of unpreparedness and lack of thoughtful deliberation. DepEd's wrong prioritization and lack of guidance from research manifest in the textbooks. If DepEd cannot provide textbooks that are of good quality, a comparably easier task, how could the same agency perform the much more difficult task of attending to the needs of Philippine schools?

1 comment:

  1. I think that multiculturalism is extremely important in the way that it helps students develop themselves as personalities. At Homework-desk.com, we spend a lot of time on extra-curriculum activities dedicated to this very topic.