"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

Sunday, May 31, 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 previous typhoon. It is important in our search for what is truly the state of Philippine basic education that we do not allow ourselves to deal with data from which we could freely choose. Statistics can help, but not when we already have our minds already set.

With the start of school, here are some numbers from the Kabataan partylist:

The additional years in high school are not yet scheduled to begin this coming school year, yet the shortages in both classrooms and teachers are huge according to this data compilation. If a parent sends a child to a school that is well-equipped and fully staffed, these numbers may seem phony. But these numbers speak of the larger picture. One should likewise take note that the current pupil:teacher ratio in Philippine schools is much higher than 30. Thus, the number of teachers needed shown above does make sense. The same applies to classrooms especially when one takes into account that classrooms are overcrowded and multiple shifts are still employed in some schools. It does seem that the above numbers are chosen to prove a point. One must keep in mind, however, that the point here is to show what is basically necessary to provide quality basic education.

There is a photo from a Facebook user named Raf M G Santillan:

The message here is clear. This is a picture of a classroom that requires attention and Santillan does hope that this classroom and others get fixed before school starts. It maybe an isolated case but it does not take away the fact that this particular school needs help. Numbers like the ones shown in the previous table as well as the above photograph help inform us. Some may point out that there is also a second purpose - that is, to demonstrate that the Department of Education in the Philippines is once again unprepared to meet the needs of schools in the Philippines. Whether one actually subscribes to that does not matter when facing the plain truth that some schools in the Philippines still require much-needed resources.

While the debate regarding the new curriculum continues, there are numbers that have recently shown up in the news. These numbers are from the Philippine Institute for Development Studies (PIDS). Some newspapers are quick to trumpet an assumed achievement of DepEd K to 12. Rappler, for example, reports with the headline, "Out-of-school kids bolstered by education reforms, CCTs". This conclusion is apparently based on the following data:

Above copied from PIDS report
Across all income groups, it is indeed obvious that attendance rates have jumped up in 2013 compared to 2008. It is important to note, however, that the above are school attendance rates in kindergarten. With the Enhanced Basic Education Act, kindergarten is now compulsory so it should not be surprising that with the new law, parents are now sending their children to kindergarten. The more relevant piece of data to gauge universal education is not the attendance rate by 5-year old children, but the survival rate. This is likewise available in the PIDS report:

Above copied from PIDS report
And here, it is obvious that it is really too early to assess how DepEd's K to 12 is affecting the rate of school leaving in the Philippines. Next year would be important since Grade 11 is going to be offered for the first time. One still has to wait and see, but with available data, one may still make a reasonable projection. Here is one, coming from the Kabataan partylist:

Numbers inform us. Whether the data strengthen our position in the debate on DepEd's K to 12 is really irrelevant especially when the numbers are simply telling us to please pay attention to the needs of Philippine basic education. 

Friday, May 29, 2015

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.

Above copied from the Philippine Star

But there are obviously other equally relevant and significant scenes. The one below is captured from a news video:

Basic education should help children develop the craft of composing narrative, informative and persuasive text. It is only expected then that promoters of DepEd's K to 12 exhibit these skills themselves. Unfortunately, what the president demonstrates is the exact opposite or the mere absence of critical and informed thinking. Perhaps, this is due to the fact that learning to narrate, inform and persuade is really not an easy task.

In a paper published in the Journal of Educational Psychology, Olinghouse, Graham and Gillespie show how several factors influence writing. Among these factors are gender, topic interest, handwriting fluency, spelling accuracy, and text length. Controlling these variables allows the authors then to extract how much knowledge in the topic as well as discourse influences the quality of a student's writing. The results clearly show that both discourse and topic knowledge are important in determining how well a student crafts text that either narrate, inform or persuade. In other words, students need to be taught both how and what to write. Knowledge is important in writing. Otherwise, one simply argues without facts and only with mere conjectures. Discourse knowledge is likewise significant. Mehan in Learning Lessons: Social Organization in the Classroom (Cambridge University Press, 1979) outlines this relationship between topic and discourse knowledge in the following excerpt:

How Aquino responds to critics, whether intended or not, provides a lesson to children and adults. And sadly, it is not a good lesson.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

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 only 16 percent of the 43,183 classrooms targeted by its 2014 budget of P37.67 billion under the Basic Education Facilities Fund for Construction of Classrooms provision." - Representative Antonio Tinio
  • "DepEd expects that the remaining 800,000 or so students will be absorbed by what they call as ‘non-DepEd schools.’ Bulk of such schools are private education institutions that charge high tuition rates" - Representative Terry Ridon
It should not be surprising then to see a third petition to the Supreme Court asking for the suspension of K to 12. Below is a screen capture of BusinessWorldOnline:

As a defense, proponents of K to 12 are asking for what the alternatives are, as if it is not intrinsically good to stop something that is bad. As Gerald Tirozzi, an education leader in the United States, points out, there are two choices: "Stop the School Bus" or "Damn the torpedoes; full speed ahead!". Gerald Tirozzi is a former Assistant Secretary of Elementary and Secondary Education at the U.S. Department of Education and author of the following book:

Similar to Tirozzi, the critics of DepEd's K to 12 have recommendations that go beyond simply suspending the new curriculum. In fact, most critics are imploring for prioritizing instead the basic needs of education: classrooms, learning materials, and working conditions of teachers. Proponents continue to deny that these shortages can be met while implementing the new curriculum. Again, a reality check is a must. 

We could also learn from Tirozzi. There is a site on the web called Five Things - "a collection of personal reflections from education leaders devoted to improving the fortunes of others through learning." Tirozzi's entries are as follows:
  • Teaching must be seen as the center of the educational universe.
  • The role of the federal government in school reform must be substantially reduced.
  • We must move away from a "proficiency for all" mentality.
  • It is a primary focus of education to prepare students for life and not work.
  • Pre-school education should be the foundation for of all school reform.
The salaries and working conditions of teachers in the Philippines must be addressed first otherwise the much needed elevation of the teaching profession would never happen. Opponents of K to 12 have been saying this even before K to 12. The reform must really come from the classrooms, from the teachers. A dictated top-down reform has no chance of being implemented correctly. "Proficiency for all", like any sound bite in education reform, is really meaningless. Proponents should not use a wish list to promote a curriculum. A curriculum can be considered good not because of the promises it makes but because of the promises it delivers. Basic education is really much more than preparing for either employment or college education. Opponents of K to 12 are asking for a curriculum that does not promote labor export but one that advances a productive membership in Philippine society. Kindergarten and the early years need all the attention and resources the government can provide. Failure in these years can not be addressed by additional years in high school. Clearly, there are so many alternatives that directly address the problems Philippine basic education faces. These alternatives are in the right direction and, at the same time, will avoid those damn torpedoes.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

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 develop adaptations and innovations for significant use in local and global communities; communicate with local and global communities with proficiency, orally, in writing and through new technologies of communication; and interact meaningfully in a social setting and contribute to the fulfillment of individual and shared goals, respecting the fundamental humanity of all persons and the diversity of groups and communities."
These are indeed lofty goals not simply because the above statement is wordy.  Ocampo's statement is excessively protracted but in reality, just one simple short phrase could easily make basic education already challenging: teach students to write. In this area, it is easy to see that promoters of DepEd's K to 12 have often been excessively pompous when it comes to proclaiming assumed benefits of the curriculum, but frequently fall short in confronting reality.

An article published in the Hechinger Report starts with the following photo and caption:

In the article, Steve Graham of Arizona State University cites three proven ways of helping students learn to write, but are often not implemented in schools. These are based on a meta-analysis scheduled to be published in the Elementary School Journal. Here are the three:
1. Spend more time writing.
2. Write on a computer.
3. Grammar instruction doesn’t work.
DepEd's K to 12 is designed with short instructional hours in order to accommodate multiple shifts. This, of course, goes against the recommendation of an hour a day dedicated to writing. Writing on a computer, as shown by several research studies, also improves writing. Word processors apparently make it easier for students to draft and edit their work. Of course, this requires providing computers to all pupils. Graham also points out that traditional instructions on how to write sentences do not help improve a student's writing. What works instead is a teacher who models correct usage by applying grammar rules in sentences that students are writing. A teacher needs to evaluate what the students are writing. When the number of pupils inside a classroom starts to exceed twenty, thoughtfully reading the student's written materials becomes prohibitive.

It is quite straightforward to gauge a curriculum by considering the resources and the environment provided. It is easy to gauge if such inputs are indeed positive and supportive. In writing, it is therefore clear that the reality of DepEd K to 12 speaks differently from its expectations. No one should be surprised then with a guaranteed disappointment in the future.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

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:

Above copied from the
Alliance of Concerned Teachers

I am an alumnus of Manila Science High School and to me, it was clear from the very beginning of the phased implementation of DepEd's K to 12 that the curriculum would be drastically different from what I went through. The spiral progression in the math and the sciences alone is incompatible with the old special science curriculum that I took during which I was taking for example full-year courses of chemistry and physics simultaneously as well as linear algebra and calculus. DepEd's K to 12 assigns a spiral approach to earth science, biology, chemistry and physics during the first four years of high school. It is only in the additional two years of high school where a strand especially designed for the sciences becomes available in one of the tracks.

A major part of the misinformation regarding DepEd's K to 12 is its narrowed focus on the two additional years. Even the letter above from the parents illustrates how much the public fails to see that the new curriculum really starts at kindergarten. Drastic changes have already occurred for the past three years. Those changes include a spiral progression in all subjects, short instructional hours, mother-tongue based multilingual education, and discovery-based learning. Children are now taught oral fluency only in the first-grade as noted on a post on this blog a couple of years ago:

And sadly, one can add the following ingredient to this hopeless mix. Those who actually have the influence or power are able to send their own children to schools that do not follow DepEd's K to 12. The following is a book list from a private school in the Philippines for the first grade:

Above copied from Cris Jason Santos
Unlike children enrolled in DepEd's public schools, students in this school are already being taught to read in English. They even have science in first grade.

Philippine basic education would continue to have Hitler and "prophets of doom" if the discussion is not elevated into one that tackles what is really going on inside classrooms. The problems can be solved but not with propaganda or by coaxing teachers, students, and parents to sign a pro-K to 12 document. The problems can only be faced properly by looking at the evidence from the ground while being guided by published research.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

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 Facebook from 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 well as strategies. Teachers need not be told how to assess their students with memos that dictate up to the second decimal place how grades should be assigned. It is the government which takes taxes from its citizens that should be responsible for ensuring that resources are available for education. A government which takes enormous loans from foreign banks or institutions should be the one building classrooms. Yet, in the Philippines, the government seems more preoccupied in dictating how students should be taught instead of making sure that classes could be held. It is indeed heartbreaking. Sadly, it is also mind-boggling that we do not see what is really wrong....

Friday, May 22, 2015

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 those that work is key. A wrong emphasis or preoccupation can thwart even the best innovation. Practices that work often target specific problems. Thus, copying what works can be facilitated by looking at those which address similar challenges.

It is now clearer than ever that poverty is a huge challenge to education. The Philippines with its very high poverty incidence cannot deny this very important challenge in its public school system. It is therefore heartbreaking that instead of looking for practices abroad that specifically address poverty, the country has chosen to adopt spiral progression, learning styles, discovery-based instruction, and other questionable innovations. The government in the Philippines has embraced global competitiveness while ignoring the huge inequity in its society. While aspiring for excellence, the country has failed in providing quality education for all. Poverty is not something that can be addressed by simply adding years to basic education or tinkering with the curriculum.

There is poverty in the United States. It is therefore not surprising to see schools in the United States that serve mostly poor children. Learning outcomes in these schools are often below average, but among these poor schools, there are a few high-performing ones. Thus, it is helpful to look at these high-poverty and yet high-performing schools to get a glance at what works in addressing poverty in basic education. An article recently posted on the ASCD blog nicely summarizes what practices have been proven to be effective in these good schools.

The proven practices are as follows (listed with the challenges addressed):
  • providing students while they are in school access to a dentist, physician, optometrist, and counselors (physical and mental health)
  • addressing and improving the school climate (absenteeism, truancy, bullying)
  • use of advisory periods, small learning environments, and culturally-relevant curricula (lack of engagement)
  • mentorship programs (lack of support outside school)
  • challenging coursework with support (lack of access to quality education)
Of course, one must keep in mind that these are schools in the United States, which are quite different from those in the Philippines. What one can easily copy from the above is the perspective that effective solutions really come from those that address specific problems. The above challenges are not exclusive to the United States. These challenges exist inside Philippine schools. DepEd's K to 12, with its spiral progressionlearning stylesdiscovery-based instruction, and other questionable innovations, does not really address these challenges. Poverty is a huge factor in Philippine basic education. We can learn from other countries. But this will only happen, if we acknowledge what our real problems are.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

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' Dignity Coalition

Teachers' welfare and salaries
Classrooms, facilities, learning materials

Alliance of Concerned Teachers

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 serving only their own interests although it is very clear that teachers are only asking for what is necessary for them to fulfill their obligations to society effectively. 

When basic needs are not met, there is really not much choice on how priorities should be set. But we could imagine for a moment a scenario where the above needs are already met. In fact, we actually do not need to imagine, we could learn from the priorities of the State Teachers of the Year 2015 in the United States. In a recent survey made by Scholastic, the top teachers in the US were asked which areas should education funding go. In the US, basic shortages and teachers' salaries are not on top of the list in the minds of these excellent teachers. Thus, their priorities are quite different.

State Teachers of the Year Survey 2015

Anti-poverty initiatives
Early learning
Reducing barriers to learning (access to wrap-around services, healthcare, etc.)
Professional development/learning.

There is likewise a new curriculum in math and language currently being implemented in most of the states in the US and, but in this case, an overwhelming majority (Ninety six percent) of the top teachers are in favor of the new curriculum, yet when asked where education money should go, their response only shows what is really important in their minds. Since the teachers in the Philippines are burdened with basic needs, it is not appropriate to ask what should come next on their list of priorities. But the survey from the US informs what excellent teachers think are necessary after addressing basic needs. The very first thing in their mind is the poverty of their students. Oftentimes, people think education is a solution to poverty. No, poverty is a serious problem in education. The health of students is crucial for learning. Early childhood education is likewise recognized as well as continuous professional development and learning of teachers. In the Philippines, where poverty is so much more widespread and child health care is often inaccessible, it would not be far-fetched to suggest that these likewise will show up next in the list of priorities of teachers in the Philippines. In fact, some teachers are already sacrificing however little they have to support their poor students. On the other hand, it is actually quite stupid to even suggest that the curriculum would be anywhere found in these priorities.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

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.

Above copied from the Inquirer
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 business enterprise? We conducted a comprehensive review and methodological critique of the empirical research on the outcomes of university-based E-ed. We identified every empirical study conducted over the past decade, and found 12 that minimally met our methodologically “robust” (Storey Steps 4–6) standard. Our systematic critique of the studies' research methods found a variety of methodological weaknesses, undermining confidence in the belief that E-ed can produce entrepreneurship. The implications for both practice and policy are discussed, and recommendations are made for conducting future E-ed outcome research.
This is in higher education where results are clearly inconclusive. Starting a business, of course, requires so many factors beside education. In "Why are some people more likely to become small-businesses owners than others: Entrepreneurship entry and industry-specific barriers", published in the Journal  of Business Venturing, the following table shows one of the important factors, capital:

Table A1.
Mean years of schooling and business equity by industry.

Industry characteristics

Sample mean

Years of schoolingBusiness equity ($)
Low-barrier industries13.131,354
 Repair services12.313,507
 Personal services12.917,691
 Food and child-care services13.03,305
High-barrier industries15.349,562
 Wholesale trade14.156,184
 Business services14.449,934
 Finance, insurance & real estate14.8131,669
 Entertainment services15.110,838
 Professional services16.828,060
Source: 1996 and 2001 SIPP panels.

Finding evidence that entrepreneurship education could be effective at the secondary level is even more difficult. The title alone of a paper published in the International Journal of Management of Education tells us that what we mostly know are failures:

DepEd has been defending its K to 12 curriculum against its critics. The defense is nothing but a misinformation campaign. DepEd secretary Luistro even goes as far as issuing the following challenge:
"We're building the classrooms now. What will we do with the 30,000 classroooms and the other classrooms that private schools have already built? I will ask those who will try to stop it to please solve the problem on how to address the investments that have already been put in."
Actually, these should not be perceived as investments. These are in fact the much needed resources of the old ten-year curriculum. Classrooms are not going to waste even if the new curriculum does not push through. The new modules and various mass training are indeed going to waste. These, however, have long been of no value since the modules are of poor quality and the training is largely ineffective.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

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 private company, and a fourth one is remarkably employed as a financial adviser in an insurance company, earning more than a public school teacher. It is obviously easy to find specific cases that demonstrate success in a program. Unfortunately, anecdotal evidences are totally inadequate in gauging whether a program works or not. On this aspect, similar to DepEd's lack of attention to research on the other parts of its new curriculum, published studies are ignored.

The Philippines can learn quite a lot from its neighbor Indonesia. For the past ten years, Indonesia has been trying to expand its vocational track. Thus, there is now longitudinal data from this country. David Newhouse and Daniel Suryadarma, in an article published in the World Bank Economic Review, provide the following conclusion:
Most importantly, the analysis provides little evidence to support the current expansion of vocational education, especially for men. The results fail to show systematic benefits for public vocational graduates compared to public general graduates, despite reasonably precise estimates. Furthermore, the wage penalty for male vocational graduates, in recent years, has increased dramatically.
The above view is not an exception. A study on Kenya offers the following observation:
Overall we do not find evidence that the program increased the probability of employment. Examining the extensive margin we do not find a significant increase in the probability of “not being idle”. We also do not see a significant decrease in the probability of our broad measure unemployment (which we define as working zero hours in self or wage employment and looking for a job). 
The above are not isolated cases. Erik Hanushek and coworkers have examined an international sample of labor-market outcomes for workers using data from the International Adult Literacy Survey (IALS) and found:
Vocational education has been promoted largely as a way of improving the transition from schooling to work, but it also appears to have an impact on the adaptability of workers to technological and structural change in the economy. As a result, the advantages of vocational training in smoothing entry into the labor market have to be set against disadvantages later in life.
There is opposition to DepEd's K to 12 for other reasons. For example, the following photo demonstrates how some student groups perceive the labor component of the new curriculum.

Above copied from Suspend K-12 Alliance
Nevertheless, what is patently clear is DepEd's lack of thoughtfulness. Such deficiency sadly is not limited to the two additional years. DepEd likewise demonstrates its recklessness in the ten-year curriculum as shown in the following test question:

Above copied from Renato Reyes, Jr.
The above question is asking children to categorize various tasks according to gender. Based on the manner the answers are graded in the photo, DepEd is teaching children that plowing a field and driving a jeep are only for males while cleaning the house, doing laundry, ironing clothes, and grocery shopping are female tasks. It is therefore not surprising to see how little attention DepEd gives to important issues concerning the additional two years when its failure in the first ten years is obvious.

Monday, May 18, 2015

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.

When Teacher Voices Are Heard
The top-down dictated K to 12 curriculum from the Department of Education in the Philippines, on the other hand, exemplifies what exactly should not be done in reforming education. One could only lament while reading the following post on Facebook (COTESCUP group):

With regard to the new curriculum in the Philippines, teachers' voices are apparently muted. Teachers feel afraid to voice out their concerns in fear of retaliation from the administration. With bonuses determined by students staying in school, teachers even feel that mass promotion is now encouraged. The worse part is that teachers are unable to provide the much needed feedback on what is lacking or what is wrong with the new curriculum and its implementation. This is a precarious situation. As noted in When Teacher Voices Are Heard, it is important that feedback is readily available in an education reform:
"Oftentimes, when a "hole" is discovered in the curriculum, teachers will be the first to recognize that, and they are holonomous enough to fill in that hole and make sure others have the updated information they need to properly address the standard."
While the direct consequences of shutting down criticisms are quite obvious, future repercussions on the teaching profession are devastating. An article published in the Harvard Educational Review highlights what happens with educational reforms that are technically and moralistically controlling:
If dissent offers a place for learning, what does this say about the future of teacher professionalism in a climate of instructional control that suppresses dissent? Are the new teachers in our study like the proverbial canaries in the coal mine, giving us early warning signs about threats to the profession?...
...As Ingersoll (2003) keenly observes, “Having little say in the terms, processes, and outcomes of their work may undermine the ability of teachers to feel they are doing worthwhile work — the very reason many of them came into the occupation in the first place — and may end up contributing to turnover among teachers”.... 
The Philippines like other countries is in great need of effective teachers. The silencing of teacher voices only erodes further the teaching profession. Slogans that claim two more free years of basic education are truly empty if the price to pay is the death of the teaching profession.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

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:

  1. We need to know when a piece of information is reliable or not.
  2. We must accept the fact that multitasking is not possible.
  3. We cannot build complex knowledge without information in our working memory.
  4. Stress is bad for learning.
  5. Focus is important so distractions need to be removed.
  6. Testing is good when it helps students to recall what they know and makes them aware of what they do not know.
  7. 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 perhaps lies in another discovery made by educational psychologists. Klemm talks about this in a blog post five years ago:

Receiving 27 likes on Facebook underscores one of the paragraphs in this article:
This may also relate to an observation that has puzzled me ever since I wrote my original book on memory improvement. Students have not been as interested in what the book had to say as I expected. Nor do they show as much interest as I anticipated in attending my lectures on the subject. At one unversity where I recently gave a well-advertised talk on how to improve memory, not one student showed up -- only faculty. Older adults, in general, seem to realize they need to work on their memory. Students tend to think they are either just fine as they are or can't improve.
The study Klemm describes in this post comes from Kornell and Bjork, published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology. The following is one of the figures from this study:

Above copied from
Kornell, N. and Bjork, R. A. 2009. A stability bias in human memory: overestimating remembering and underestimating learning. J. Exp. Psychol. 138 (4): 449-468.
The study participants are college students. Students are shown a set of paired words and are asked to predict how well they would remember the second word when cued with the first word on a later test. Students are likewise given the opportunity to study the paired words between each test. As shown in the above graph, the students are in fact improving in their performance with each study and trial. These are the points labeled "Actual". On the other hand, the graph also shows how poorly students perceive their learning. These are the points labeled "Predicted". At the beginning, there is clearly overconfidence. Students overestimate their ability to recall. This, however, is not the only problematic issue. Students are likewise not giving any credit to repeated studying. Students predict no improvement in their performance yet the test results are showing otherwise. We study to learn. This is a simple statement that is perhaps universally accepted, but when it comes to real practice, as shown in the study of Kornell and Bjork, students do not believe that studying enhances learning.

We are often overconfident in our initial capabilities and worse, we do not see how practice can improve our performance. Our own biases are usually the starting point in our thinking. Obviously, the first step in learning is realizing how unreliable our first source of information, our own self, is.

Friday, May 15, 2015

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.

Above copied from the Division of City Schools, Quezon City
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 Effects of Expert Scaffolding in Elementary Science Professional Development on Teachers’ Beliefs and Motivations, Instructional Practices, and Student Achievement" and authored by German researchers at the Leibniz Institute for Science and Mathematics Education and the University of Muenster describes the results of a training that involves eighteen teachers and takes place over 38 hours (6 days) on a single topic in Grade 3 science, floating and sinking. The training not only involves emphasis on content, but also includes student's possible misconceptions, how students think, and instructional strategies. With active learning in mind, the teachers during the training are likewise given ample opportunity to experience what their students would experience with the new curriculum. The study essentially demonstrates what is needed to help teachers move into a curriculum that is constructivist, one that considers how a child learns by experiencing things and reflecting on those experiences. Constructivism is one of the highlights of DepEd's K+12 curriculum so this particular study which illustrates what is essential in teacher training really warrants attention.

Above copied from Dimaano's presentation
Assessing the effectiveness of a constructivist curriculum is not a straightforward test in which a student is simply required to provide the correct response. The test must take into account students' prior misconceptions and demonstrate a student's adoption of new scientific explanations. Such an assessment measures a student's integrated conceptual understanding (ICU). A student gets a point only if the student shows evidence of adhering to a scientifically acceptable conceptual framework that does not simultaneously include misconceptions. The possible range for a student's ICU scores in this study is 0 to 14. The results of the study are summarized in the following graph of students' ICU scores:

Above figure based on data provided by 
The Effects of Expert Scaffolding in Elementary Science Professional Development on Teachers’ Beliefs and Motivations, Instructional Practices, and Student Achievement.
Kleickmann, Thilo; Tröbst, Steffen; Jonen, Angela; Vehmeyer, Julia; Möller, Kornelia
Journal of Educational Psychology, May 11 , 2015, No Pagination Specified. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/edu0000041
In the above graph, "No Expert Scaffolding" corresponds to students taught by teachers who only received the educative curriculum materials but were not specifically trained by an expert in science teaching. The above difference is significant. It displays an effect size of 0.78 (Students whose teachers are properly trained score on average 0.78 times a standard deviation higher).

One should note that the educative curriculum materials used in this study have been extensively piloted, reviewed and have subsequently gone through iterations or improvements. For a taste of what is usually inside these curriculum materials, a page from Kathleen Roth's "Foods for Plants" is reproduced here:

With the above example, educative curriculum materials are clearly not just plain textbooks or modules. Educative curriculum materials intrinsically need to be based on research and data from classrooms since these materials seriously take into account how students actually learn. With regard to the topic of "sinking and floating" the German researchers specifically mention that "Teachers’ satisfaction with the materials concerning usability, comprehensibility, and congruence to teachers’ learning needs was high."

DepEd's materials, on the other hand, are often unavailable and of course, if available, have never been piloted nor reviewed. The average pre-test score (before being taught) in the study is 3, which is only one standard deviation lower from the score of students taught by teachers who have received the curriculum materials. Add training from a science teaching expert, the scores go up by another standard deviation. Excellent curriculum materials and adequate teacher training therefore are the factors that can contribute to better learning outcomes. Thus, there is really not much to expect from what DepEd does. Lack of materials and inadequate training can only mean a waste of taxpayer's money with no gain in student learning. It is not the curriculum that will improve education, it is only the proper implementation that can.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

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 orange juice, cheaper artichokes, less expensive garlic.

And I just want to suggest that people like Maria Isabel Jimenez... that her net contribution in dying so that you and I can have cheaper grocery bills so that we can spend less, she's given far more to American society than you or I ever will."

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

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.

Above copied from European Trade Union Committee for Education
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 average ratio of youth to adult unemployment is around two to four. There is clearly no correlation between senior secondary vocational enrollment and the rate of youth unemployment across countries. While the above facts are obvious, here is the promise from DepEd.

DepEd: K to 12 to help ease unemployment

MANILA, Philippines - High school  graduates under the K to 12 program can find employment or start their own livelihood because they will be trained in vocational and technical skills, according to the Department of Education (DepEd). 
Education Secretary Armin Luistro said the additional two years in high school are intended to further hone the skills and talents of students for their chosen career path – in arts, sports, technical vocational and entrepreneurship – or tertiary education to help ease unemployment in the country. 
“It is expected to give graduates better choices in the field of work or further education,” Luistro said.

And more recently, lawmakers have the audacity to strike fear by saying that repealing the K-12 law means greater unemployment.

House leaders say repealing K-12 law will increase unemployment

  • Written by   
  • Monday, 11 May 2015 00:00
While some groups, including the Magdalo partylist, have called for the repeal of the law governing the K-12 program, House leaders yesterday said removing the program would mean more unemployment.

The unemployment situation in the Philippines can be easily understood by looking at the country's unemployment data. The numbers from the IBON foundation are quite clear:
Almost half or 47.3% of all unemployed were in the 15-24 year old age-group as of January 2015. Meanwhile, almost a third (31.6%) of all unemployed were in the 25-34 age group during the same period...  
...it should be noted that among the unemployed, almost three out of 10 (33.4%) had a college education, with at least 20.4% actually having graduated. Moreover, 7 of 10 unemployed youth were high-school or college-educated. In 2014, some 553,706 graduated from college yet only 518,000 jobs were created the year before. 
Thus, almost 80 percent of unemployed are in the 15-34 age group and 70 percent are either high-school graduates or college-educated. Being employed requires at least two things: an applicant having the skills or training required, and an actual job that is waiting to be filled. Employment does not come solely from what a prospective employee or worker can offer. Employment requires job opportunities. In this area, there are additional numbers from the IBON Foundation worth mentioning:
The overwhelming part of additional employed in 2014 was in poor quality part-time, low-paying and insecure work. Of the one million in new employment in 2014, nine out of ten (90%) or 918,000 were just in part-time work of which 605,000 was of less than 20 hours per week. Some eight out of ten (77%) of the work were in sectors with average daily basic pay of Php356 or less. Moreover, nearly 700,000 jobs were also in informal sector or unpaid family work which is notorious for low pay and job insecurity.
The main reason behind unemployment is that there are no jobs. In fact, it is no secret that more people from the Philippines are finding work abroad. Here again are numbers from the IBON Foundation:
The country deployed over 4,500 workers per day in 2014 which is much greater than the 2,800 additional employed domestically per day, the group said. Preliminary deployment data from the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) showed 1.7 million deployed overseas Filipino workers in 2014, or an average of 4,508 leaving every day. Earlier data for the first nine months of the year showed over 5,200 leaving every day but this was reduced by the marked drop in reported deployment in the fourth quarter.
How then does one reconcile the above facts with the promises offered by DepEd and the threats made by leaders of Congress. It is simple. These are false promises and empty threats.