"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, March 7, 2016

An Alternative to DepEd's K to 12

I was only six years old when my mother brought me to Centro Escolar University. It was registration day and my older sister was about to enroll in second grade. One teacher noticed me and asked if I was ready for school. I took an application form and completed it myself. Upon seeing that I could print my complete name and home address, the teacher told my mother that she should enroll me in first grade. I therefore skipped kindergarten.

In the early seventies, grade school in the Philippines started at the age seven. The entry age changed to six in 1999. Data on the official entrance age for primary education in various countries are provided by the UNESCO Institute for Statistics. While most countries have moved to a younger entrance age, there are countries like Finland, Russia, Hungary and China which have maintained its entry age at seven.

Starting at age six with the former ten-year basic education program in the Philippines of course leads to high school graduates who are only sixteen years old. Thus, proponents of the DepEd's K to 12 curriculum often cite the young age of high school graduates as a good reason to lengthen the basic education curriculum. In a DepEd Discussion Paper, the following is stated as a reason behind K to 12:
Further, most graduates are too young to enter the labor force. This implies that those who do not pursue higher education would be unproductive or be vulnerable to exploitative labor practices. Those who may be interested to set up business cannot legally enter into contracts. 
This reasoning unfortunately is highly flawed. High school graduates are younger because the government has moved the school entry age to first grade to six years old. Secondly, even during my time, basic education has always been viewed as basic education. After high school, it was expected that we either continue our education in a college or a vocational school.

Addressing the problem of having high school graduates that are too young can be easily addressed without resorting to a dramatic change in basic education curriculum. Returning to seven years as the entrance age to first grade is one solution. A later entrance age can also address some of the challenges and problems of early childhood education.

Research on the effects of entrance age on learning outcomes points clearly that there is no disadvantage in delayed school entry.

A study made by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development Study of Early Child Care in the United States concludes the following:
The results of this inquiry revealed, in the main, that in several respects having to do only with cognitive-academic functioning (and not at all with social-emotional functioning), children who began school at a somewhat older age performed better at the start of school, evinced greater improvement over the course of their first years of schooling, and functioned at a more advanced level in third grade than children who began school at a somewhat younger age.

Studies on entry age are inherently difficult because exceptions to the official age of schooling are rare. These instances often come with special circumstances that can easily bias comparisons. Nonetheless, since one cutoff date can still include classrooms of children with birth dates that theoretically can span an entire year, it is still possible to do a comparison. In Finland where the starting age is seven, it is found that relatively older students perform better than the younger ones up till sixth grade. The study published in Applied Economic Letters also concludes that this advantage disappears by ninth grade. According to a paper published in Economic Record an increase of only six months in starting school age in Australia apparently produces measurable positive effects for several subjects across different grades. Dee and Sievertsen, in a study involving Danish pupils found that "a one-year delay in the start of school dramatically reduces inattention/hyperactivity at age 7 (effect size = -0.7), a measure of self regulation with strong negative links to student achievement".

Nonetheless, in the Philippines where school dropouts happen as early as the primary years, it is important to take advantage of anything that can possibly improve learning outcomes in elementary education. The fact the pupils in Finland who are close to being eight years old when they enter first grade are performing better than younger classmates is noteworthy. Another, perhaps even more important reason for a later starting school entry age is childhood itself. I was browsing through Facebook this morning and I saw this photo of a child posted by a mother.

It does not reflect well on any basic education curriculum when a child is cramming for a test instead of enjoying a meal with a parent.
This blog does advocate for early childhood education but such education must be age-appropriate. Young children should not be denied their childhood. The elementary years must be free from cramming and homework. Science should be introduced as early as kindergarten but not with the mean spirit of high stakes tests or assessments.

Ellen Gamerman wrote in the Wall Street Journal seven years ago the following:
High-school students here rarely get more than a half-hour of homework a night. They have no school uniforms, no honor societies, no valedictorians, no tardy bells and no classes for the gifted. There is little standardized testing, few parents agonize over college and kids don't start school until age 7. 
Yet by one international measure, Finnish teenagers are among the smartest in the world. They earned some of the top scores by 15-year-old students who were tested in 57 countries. American teens finished among the world's C students even as U.S. educators piled on more homework, standards and rules. Finnish youth, like their U.S. counterparts, also waste hours online. They dye their hair, love sarcasm and listen to rap and heavy metal. But by ninth grade they're way ahead in math, science and reading -- on track to keeping Finns among the world's most productive workers.
It's her response to the question, What Makes Finnish Kids So Smart?.

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