"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 20, 2016

What Students Need

Everyone who has something to say about basic education often advocate for the future of our children. At least, that is what they often claim. Unfortunately, people have different ideas regarding what students really need. Take, for instance, the question of curriculum, what appears to be important depends on who you ask. It does seem that way if you listen to people who are quite a distance from a classroom. Apparently, with teachers there is some sort of an agreement on what students really need. Students need content knowledge, conscientiousness, critical thinking, and study skills based on a recent survey of educators in the United States.

Above copied from ACT National Curriculum Survey 2016
In this survey, opinions from the workforce, supervisors and employees, are also included. The results are summarized in the following table.

Above copied from ACT National Curriculum Survey 2016
With the workforce, the common elements people think should be emphasized in the curriculum are reduced to two: Content Knowledge and Conscientiousness. It should not be surprising that five of the seven groups surveyed regard Content Knowledge as very important. It is equally expected that Study Skills fall to the bottom when it comes to the workforce. What is surprising is that for educators at all levels, Collaboration with Peers is taken as not that crucial for success. And except for early elementary educators, Speaking and Listening is not high on the list among most teachers.

The way the question is phrased, what weakness in a given area is most likely to contribute to a poor outcome, probably plays an important role in how the respondents answer. Asking a different question, for example, what makes an individual more competitive, may elicit a different set of answers. For instance, the Global Education Reform Movement or Germ, as Pasi Sahlberg puts it, "is a process where educational policies and ideas are lent and borrowed from business world, often motivated by national hegemony and economic profit, rather than by moral goals of human development". In the Philippines, DepEd's K to 12 is supposedly an answer to the question of what makes students globally competitive. It is clearly not an answer to what students need. Sadly, DepEd's K to 12 is even a poor response to making the basic education more globally competitive as Father Rolando V. de la Rosa points out:

Above copied from the Manila Bulletin
The difference in opinions perhaps comes from being blind, as Fr. de la Rosa says. People are being blind to what students truly need. For this reason, it remains of great importance to listen to teachers. Teachers probably know best where their students really are. Below comes from a Hunstman Awardee for Excellence in Education and an elementary school teacher who just retired, Judy Mahoskey.
"...A few years ago I spent a summer teaching in Kenya. Before going, I had a cerebral understanding of poverty and life in a third world country based on what I'd read/seen on CNN or 60 Minutes. But before actually experiencing it first hand, I couldn't possibly comprehend destitution. Just a couple of months of the sights, sounds and smells taught me that knowing about poverty and understanding poverty are not the same...

...Thinking optimistically, it's not that legislators or administrators don't care or don't want to help. Honestly, funds are limited, there's a lot to do, and people who are several steps removed from teaching make the decisions. They don't know, in a real sense, what it's like to deal with a class of 32 little kids, some who haven't had breakfast, others whose parents are in the middle of a messy divorce, others who are struggling with English, others with disabilities … the list goes on. 
Every field has challenges. In my case, the thing that got to me in the end was the feeling that I had absolutely no voice to improve the system. As a lowly teacher, one who loved my classroom, my students, and my community, I'd become tired of being patted on the head and told to just deal with the status quo. Sadly, the joys of the work were ultimately undermined by the frustrations of the system for me, and, I suspect, for others, as well....
It is profoundly frustrating to see an educational system overhauled by people other than educators. In medicine, opinions from doctors weigh significantly more than others'. In education, it does not seem to be the case.


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