"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, October 20, 2015

Worst of Both Worlds

There is no perfect basic education system in the world. Each one has weaknesses and strengths. Transplanting an education system from one country to another is also not straightforward, as there are things outside the curriculum, learning materials, and pedagogical methods that can also shape basic education. Our culture, what we value, and how we basically treat each other can affect profoundly our schools. Worse, if we are not thoughtful enough, we just might copy from other countries what is wrong.

To strive for what seems to be unattainable, it is important that we choose one value as a cornerstone. For basic education, I believe this value is equity. It is not enough to set high standards, what is more important is to provide every child an opportunity to reach such high standards. This does not happen by solely wishing. This can only happen with an unwavering commitment to funding schools adequately, promoting the well-being of every child, and recognizing that basic education is a right. And this is just the starting point.

Having the best intentions is likewise not enough. Even before a child formally enters school, there are already existing differences and sadly, schools often only magnify such differences. How this occurs is often traced on how abilities are assessed, and consequently, how a curriculum is designed based on these assessments.

Marc Tucker recently wrote an opinion article in Education Week. The article, "Student Tracking vs. Academic Pathways: Different...or the Same?", looks at how basic education in the United States fails to provide social mobility.

Above copied from Marc Tucker's "Student Tracking vs. Academic Pathways: Different...or the Same?"
There are countries in Europe that are known for offering different tracks in secondary school. Germany, for instance, has the following: (1) Gymnasium for kids headed for college, (2) Realschule for kids headed for white-collar jobs, and (3) Hauptschule, for kids headed for blue-collar jobs. Tucker notes that many American educators frown at this type of tracking. Tucker however points out that albeit not obvious, sorting does occur in American schools and it happens in the early years of basic education. Tucker writes,
"Here you see that unlike the Europeans, we sort kids into Bluebirds, Robins and other avian tribes when they first enter school. Before fourth grade is over, a large fraction thought to have low learning potential are almost certain to have the judgment verified, not because they could not learn, but because they were never given a curriculum challenging enough to learn anything. By the time they are in high school, if they have not yet dropped out—and many of these kids do, because they cannot read—they have been sorted into bins labeled selective college, college, vocational-technical and general. None of these kids, of course, have been formally labeled in this way, but they might as well have been. Because they know the kids on the underside of the sorting machine will get another chance, they just keep passing them up the system, unchallenged and uneducated."
In the Philippines, the K to 12 toolkit mentions the following:
To measure the child’s readiness for Grade 1, DepEd will use the School Readiness Assessment Examination (SReA). SReA is aligned with the standards and competencies for five-year-old children. It is an assessment prior to entry to Grade 1 of basic education The language of the SReA will be the mother tongue. Through SReA, Grade 1 teachers have an accurate and reliable view of the child’s concepts and skills when they begin school. This is helpful in planning appropriate lessons, activities, and instructional materials.
This is first grade and yet, the curriculum is already being defined by a teacher's perception of a child's abilities. The teacher is not tailoring the level of support, instead, what is being adjusted is the curriculum. Three years ago, I wrote the following in DepEd K to 12 vs. Education for All:
"Education for All" is a goal of basic education. Basic education is compulsory in developed countries. With these in mind, it is clear that society views basic education as necessary. Basic education is therefore viewed as a right, not as a privilege. Basic education is regarded as a duty, an obligation. Yet, in elementary schools, pupils who are just entering Grade 1 are taking an exam called "School Readiness Assessment". There are 45 questions in the exam and the passing score is 36 correctly answered. The students who passed are then taken to the next test, a qualifying exam administered by the education program supervisor in science. And only if 35 pupils pass these exams, would the school have a special science class for these selected students. This is not "Education for All". Why are we doing this to our six year old children? It goes straight against what basic education is. Equity is key in basic education. Can we imagine doing this for character education? That is, requiring students to pass a qualifying exam at the beginning to see if they can be taught right from wrong. How about mathematics? The answer, of course, is no. It is then clear that science is not viewed as a basic field of education. On the other hand, as Catholics, we are quick to tell our children about the mystery of three persons in one God. Children need not take a qualifying exam to hear this lesson.
In the later years of elementary schooling in DepEd's K to 12, the situation becomes only worse. Both spiral progression and learner-centered characteristics of K to 12 are only expected to exacerbate achievement gaps in the early years of basic education. To top all of these, the later years of grades 7 through 10 are adulterated with "Career Pathways". And in the senior years, 11 and 12, tracking is firmly established. DepEd's K to 12 is indeed a hybrid of education systems. Unfortunately, it is the worst of both worlds.

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