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Showing posts from December, 2016

Financially Disadvantaged but Academically Able

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“Yet, as with all new programs, there is a need to safeguard the proper implementation of the provision of free tuition fee. It is important to underscore that we must give priority to financially disadvantaged but academically able students,”  said Philippines president Duterte as he signed the budget for 2017. This change is certainly a step in the right direction, but it still misses the fact that financial disadvantage is a primary factor in weaker learning outcomes in basic education. A significant number of poor children are academically challenged. Basic education gets a boost in next year's budget in terms of chalk allowances for teachers, but the Philippines still lacks measures similar to those of the United States that provide special funding to schools attended mostly by poor children.


Basic education can benefit from programs in higher education if resources to train teachers especially in math and the sciences are provided. Focusing the additional funds to these areas…

Free College Does Not Mean More Graduates

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Providing access to higher education is a popular idea. Unfortunately, the true benefits and more importantly, the costs of college with no tuition are seldom examined in depth. People from countries that do not provide college education free of tuition often cite European countries that do. They are quick to point out that these countries are able. But most fail to consider how stringent admissions in these colleges are as well as the rates of income tax in these countries. Furthermore, countries that do not charge tuition for college lag those that do charge in terms of the percentage of college graduates:

In the above graph, countries with no college tuition are highlighted. Countries that do charge tuition are among those that have the highest percentage of its population with a tertiary education. The Philippines should learn from this data. The country cannot afford to pay for the college education for everyone. Its institutions of higher education are sorely lacking in quality.…

A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year

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Christmas is for children.  Quality basic education should be for all.  A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all.

Condoms in School

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Providing condoms in schools is controversial. Opposition is often cast in terms of the right of parents to educate their children about moral and religious values. Of course, there is really no school program that takes this right away from parents and giving out condoms in schools certainly does not take a parent's right to educate his or her child about sexual abstinence. Thus, the real opposition seems rooted in a perception that making condoms available in schools encourage sexual promiscuity. In the Philippines, plans to distribute condoms in public high schools are currently underway.

The move is prompted by rising cases in AIDS in the country. Close to ninety percent of these cases involve males having sex with males. A majority of the cases suggests that the rising cases involve individuals who are not in high school (25 years of age or older). If the purpose of making condoms available in school is to curb the rising number of cases of sexually transmitted diseases, the …

When Stakes Are High, We Need to Deliberate

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Deliberation in legislature is an intellectual process through which information is both gathered and weighed, costs of implementation are taken into account, other options are identified, and benefits, harms, as well as unintended consequences are examined. In a manner that is almost completely whimsical, the Philippines legislature has decided to pay for the college tuition in all state universities and colleges (SUCs) for the year 2017. Eight billion pesos have been added to the higher education budget for 2017, solely earmarked to subsidize the tuition of almost one and a half million students of SUCs. Whether this goes beyond one year is unclear since this is a one time funding provided by an appropriations bill. What is crystal clear, however, is that the Philippine lawmakers can decide where billions of pesos will go, seemingly without any thoughtful deliberation.

Those who question the wisdom behind the decision to provide free college for a year are thought to be criticizing …

Why Free Tuition for All State Universities and Colleges Is Bad for the Philippines

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"Free college education is not free", a previous post on this blog, argues why free tuition in state universities and colleges is bad for the Philippines. It is not for the poor. "Poor students are already failing in basic education. It is then very highly unlikely for these students to even apply for college admissions. There are indeed some poor students who are able to beat the odds, and it is a lot more prudent to ensure that these students receive full scholarships and living allowances than to offer free college education to all." There is currently a huge inequity in basic education, which then guarantees that most beneficiaries of free college are not coming from families who most need assistance from the government. In effect, children from wealthy and middle-class families will be able to go to college for free on the back of tax-paying poor families who cannot even afford to have their children finish high school. Worse, to implement this at the tail of …

Are the Poor Left Behind Or Are the Rich Simply Pulling Ahead? Part 2

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A post in this blog more than three years ago bears the same title, "Are the Poor Left Behind Or Are the Rich Simply Pulling Ahead?" It shows a correlation between income and achievement gaps. Children from poor families struggle academically. A recent study by Kalil and coworkers suggests that this is so much more than just a simple correlation. It is very likely a "cause and effect" relationship. Affluent families are simply providing more engaging and enriching activities to their young children. Consequently, these children enter kindergarten much more prepared than those coming from poor families.

The previous post talks about Reardon's "The widening academic achievement gap between the rich and the poor: New evidence and possible explanations". Figures from this paper that tell the story are as follows:


These figures demonstrate that scores in these standardized scores correlate with family income. Second, although the achievement gap between c…

We Must Go Beyond Buzz Words

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Yesterday, I overheard my son arguing with his younger sister. He said, "You need a growth mindset". My son was apparently using a buzz phrase he heard from school but it turned out that he was applying it to flexibility. My daughter was apparently fixed on something, and my son was trying to coax her to consider other options. Buzz words or phrases although often technical could indeed lose their original meaning. Most frequently, the total meaning can be easily lost. One specific example, also from education, is "grit".

Claire Robertson-Kraft and Angela Lee Duckworth define grit as "a disposition toward perseverance and passion for long-term goals". What often drops in this total meaning is "passion" and most people then focus on perseverance. In "Grit is the buzzword among parents today. But are we focusing on the wrong thing?", Erica Reischer writes: ...grit “can be expected to be most important for goals where individuals have sub…

A Positive School Climate

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My son was not that enthusiastic to go to school when he was in first grade. There was even a slight hint of separation anxiety during the first few weeks that I dropped him off at school. My son is now in fifth grade and a few days ago, I received the following note from his principal, Brian Butler:
"I just wanted to share something truly special from my point of view that happened today.  I was in Alex's class and saw him working with some classmates so I asked them what they were doing. Alex explained the math game that they were  playing and the others chimed in and then he went about in the most appropriate manner, organizing how it would be played. He also worked with his classmates to roll the dice 🎲 to see who would begin. Someone else got a closer number to what was rolled than what Alex had, and he was so polite and said, "You go first."  Then they played the game and it was so heartwarming to see how the boys played together and in this particular situat…

What Is Wrong with Philippine Education

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There is nothing inherently wrong in the additional years of DepEd's K to 12. What is harmful is its ill-conceived solutions to the problems education in the Philippines is facing. DepEd's K to 12 fails to recognize that the major problems lie in the early years and in higher education. Thus, it wrongly focuses on the latter years of high school, completely missing the roots of the problem, college and the elementary years. The impact of DepEd's K to 12 on learning outcomes in higher education, of course, still remains to be seen since the senior years in high school just started this year. Understanding the problem is key to solving the problem so it is really disconcerting to see a professor in the Philippines sharing a statement on social media that DepEd's K to 12 has harmed higher education.


Higher education in the Philippines is indeed facing a crisis, as shown by Jobers Bersales in the Cebu Daily News. This crisis, however, has been present long before DepEd'…

What Is the Difference Between a Compound and a Molecule?

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My son brings home every Tuesday a folder. It often contains a newsletter from his teachers. This week's newsletter comes with a list of questions that the teachers suggest that I ask my son. One of the questions is: "What Is the difference between a compound and a molecule?" My son's response is that a molecule is composed of two or more atoms joined together while a compound consists of at least two different elements. As a chemist, I could have been excruciatingly fastidious with this question, but I simply reminded myself that my son was just being introduced to chemistry. Actually, my son's answer is not too far from what the Jefferson Lab says in its science education site:
A molecule is formed when two or more atoms join together chemically. A compound is a molecule that contains at least two different elements. All compounds are molecules but not all molecules are compounds. The meaning of both terms, compound and molecule, needs to be learned and memoriz…

Equity and Excellence: PISA 2015 Says These Two Can Coexist

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Middle School Math teacher Barry Garelick writes in an article, "How Attempts To Force Equity In Math Classes Can Protect Kids From Learning", that current attempts to reduce achievement gaps, for instance, between poor and rich children, are eliminating achievement. The idea that equity and excellence can not coexist is a notion quite attractive to a number of people. This notion, however, is not supported by evidence. In fact, the latest results from the OECD Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) demonstrate that school systems can achieve excellence without sacrificing equity.

This is shown convincingly in the following graph:

The x-axis in the above graph represents equity in education. A value closer to zero corresponds to school systems in which the scores of a pupil are not correlated with how poor or rich the student is. The y-axis is the score in the Science section of the test. The proof that equity and excellence can coexist in a school system is h…

What We Could Learn from Placards

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Young people need to be positively engaged in society. Their voices when pointed at a pathway forward can send a strong message to elected officials and lead to a fruitful dialogue. The placards the youth bring to a protest rally represent the views of the next generation. The signs they display however speak not only of their aspirations, but also reflect the quality of education they have received. After all, young minds on social issues are shaped either at home or school.
Presently, protests are being held against the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline in the United States. The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe is leading the protest with a lawsuit filed in court citing that the construction "will damage and destroy sites of great historic, religious, and cultural significance to the Tribe". In addition, there is concern that construction as well as future oil spills can harm the Tribe's drinking water. This past Sunday, the permit for the pipeline project has been …

Nutribun Versus DepEd's K to 12

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I was in second grade when Martial Law was declared in the Philippines. Although my parents tried their best to shield me from some of the protests held prior to that declaration, going to school near Mendiola did not prevent me from witnessing rocks being hurled during some of the demonstrations. Martial Law lasted for about nine years. It was lifted by the time I finished high school. Most of my ten years of basic education were therefore under Martial Rule. In 1972, with the serious peace and order problem the country was facing, millions of young children were also found to be malnourished. Marcos' government was already working with researchers from Virginia to address the food problem and during the floods that devastated Central Luzon, the Nutribun, a ready-to-eat complete meal proved to be a convenient relief commodity. Nutribun contained high quality protein from soy but it could not be easily hoarded due to its high propensity to become moldy in a few days. During Martia…

Talent or Effort?

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My mother came from a town known as the "Carving Capital" in the Philippines. One of her brothers won an award from the Art Association of the Philippines for a wood sculpture called "Orasyon". The town also had a good number of musicians. My mother never thought I had any talent in music and the arts. At one point, she even had the notion that I was tone deaf and that my fingers were not nimble enough to do either painting or sculpture. Needless to say, there were really no musical instruments nor art supplies made available to me when I was young. Perhaps, my mother was correct. After all, when I had my hands on one of my uncle's tools, I ended carving my sister's elbow instead of the wood. Growing up, some of my friends were actually confused since they had the impression that I was good at math and they had this idea that if someone had a talent in math, that someone would also be good in music.

My son's principal recently shared a photo he took. In…