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Showing posts from June, 2017

Poverty's Effect on Education Starts Inside the Womb

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Children born in poor families have limited opportunities for learning during the preschool years. This is one reason why economically disadvantaged children are often less prepared for kindergarten and first grade. Poverty, however, harms education long before the toddler years. Poverty's damaging effects are already at work inside the womb. For this reason, economist John Komlos makes the claim that "In America, inequality begins in the womb":
One parameter that higlights the effects of poverty inside the womb is a child's birth weight. Children born in poor families are more likely to have low birth weight (less than 2.5 kilograms or 5.5 pounds). In Korea, the likelihood of a low birth weight is four times greater in poor families. How a low birth rate affects education has also been examined recently in a study in Copenhagen. This recent work published in Pediatrics looks at intelligence at three adult ages (19, 28 and 50 years old) and extracts its dependence on…

"Let Them Eat Cake" Lipstick for "Not-so-underpaid" Teachers

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For 45 Euros, one can buy a pink lipstick inspired by the "opulence of the court of Versailles" and send it to the the Philippines to help teachers in the war-torn region of Mindanao. After all, "teachers in the Philippines are neither underappreciated nor underpaid", according to the secretary of education Leonor Briones. Nikko Dizon of the Inquirer also writes "In times of despair, a clean hijab or a nice shade of lipstick—coupled with basic human kindness — can be one’s source of hope and courage." A paper published in the International Journal of Disaster Risk Reduction, "What is appropriate and relevant assistance after a disaster? Accounting for culture(s) in the response to Typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda", tries almost desperately to make sense of how assistance should be extended to victims of a disaster in the Philippines. It paints a disconnect between the values of international donors and those who are affected, merely deducing it to a disre…

When Fake News May Cause Harm

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Facebook is definitely a place where authenticity is not guaranteed. It is, after all, just one letter different from "Fakebook". "Social media can be dangerous if you think that that's real life", says Seth Stephens-Davidowitz, author of Everybody Lies. He says what people look up with Google is a much better "digital truth serum". And in his analysis, he finds that it is not the politically charged issues that really occupy people's deepest worries or concerns. People care more about their finance and health. This is where fake news can do real great harm. Recent research shows that we are less likely to be skeptical if we think that we are not alone. We are less likely to verify when we are in a social context, somehow feeling secure or "safe in numbers". Combined this with a seemingly "trustworthy" speaker, fake news can indeed be a serious societal problem. There are plenty of examples one can easily find by simply browsin…

Poverty and Higher Education

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There are plenty of factors that can negatively impact the chances that a child born in poverty will graduate with a bachelor's degree.

Those born in affluent families have ample opportunities to visit zoos, museums, and even other countries during their early childhood years. Rich children can afford to spend their days in high quality preschools. They are introduced to a greater number of books in their homes. Their parents, unlike those in poor households who are often forced to work more than forty hours a week just to make ends meet, are able to spend more of their time and money with their young children. Poor children likewise spend their formative years in poor neighborhoods. The environment a child grows in is also strongly correlated with a child's chances of reaching college. Schools that provide basic education to these poor neighborhoods also experience the greatest challenges. Like a domino effect, even if a poor child manages to finish high school, graduating fr…

On Father's Day: Reflecting on My Role in My Child's Basic Education

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One way to gauge the role of a father in a child's basic education is to compare various characteristics of school-age children for those who live with and without a father. A 2008 paper published in Social Indicators Research shows that fatherless children are less likely to be healthy, more likely to have attention problems, more likely to repeat a grade, more likely to be suspended, less likely to receive A's, and less likely to enjoy school. Not having a father seems to correlate with so many negative outcomes. Whether this is a clear proof of the important role a father plays in a child's basic education can still be debated since not having a father often correlates with other factors that are already known to affect a child's education and health. Poverty, for instance, is one important factor and this often correlates with not having a father. Another factor is racism since African American samples represent a significant portion in the studies conducted in the…

Pictures Help Us Learn..., Or Unlearn...

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Reading a science article from a primary source is not that easy. I remember one scientist I worked with at the National Institutes of Health. He often emphasized the importance of figures in an article to his students during group meetings. A well-written piece in a journal is one whose figures allow for a reader to digest the main findings of an article without reading fully the text. For learning materials in basic education, pictures may have other purposes than figures do in a science journal article. Pictures may be present in a child's textbook not only to help explain a text, but also to elicit positive emotions. Figures therefore can be decorative as well as instructive.

Pictures like baby animals can elicit positive emotions.


One can imagine having the above photo accompany a text that discusses endangered species. This picture is both relevant and positive.

In contrast, a photo of maggots does not.

The above photo can be used within a text that describes the life stages…

Learning from Soccer: How to Improve Instruction

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My son belongs to a soccer team that just won first place in their group in the Suburban Friendship League in Northern Virginia. Their team also scored the second highest number of goals, forty six in ten games, in the entire division. Armed only with skills and even talent can only bring a soccer team halfway to winning a game. Good positions and good decisions, and therefore, teamwork is extremely necessary.

The coach of a soccer team needs to see the field in its entirety and so does his or her players. Every play is indeed a learning opportunity. the coach helps assess every move his or her team makes. And between games, the team goes to practice, reviewing their past games, and studying what the team may be able to improve. Focusing on the importance of maintaining good positions, creating opportunities, keeping possession, and thoughtful defending, are obviously key principles. Still, careful planning, keen observations, and thoughtful revisions as a team are still necessary to …

A Gap in Executive Function Correlates with Poverty

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By now, we should all be acquainted with academic achievement gaps that correlate with socioeconomic status. Children from poor families start kindergarten behind their wealthier peers by as much as one standard deviation in both reading and math. A recent analysis of nationwide data on young children in the United States reveals that indigent children are also scoring lower in assessments that measure working memory and the ability to switch gears. These mental functions, the ability to hold onto and work with information, and the flexibility to shift one's attention are part of what we call executive functions of the brain. Children immensely develop executive function skills during ages 3-5. The Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University in its research brief on executive function skills takes note of the following: "Adverse conditions such as abuse, neglect, community violence, and persistent poverty can disrupt brain architecture and place children at a disadva…

Problems Will Only Get Worse with K to 12

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A year ago, Philippine Education secretary Leonor Briones lamented that K to 12 must continue. Otherwise, there might be more problems. One excuse she gave was "with or without K to 12, you will have 50% of those who graduate from elementary who cannot proceed – that is the record." In addition, four years had already been spent preparing for the new curriculum. Fast forward to this week's opening of classes, enrollment and dropout figures are unclear. Anakbayan's Einstein Recedes claims that there are now 2.5 million additional dropouts based on 3.9 million students in grade 10 for the school year 2015-2016 and only 1.4 million students enrolled in grade 11 for 2016-2017. This calculation appears to be incorrect since there are only 1.3 million students enrolled in grade 10 in public schools in 2015-2016. The 3.9 million figure is apparently an upper estimate of how many students will be enrolling in both grades 10 and 11 for this current school year. Nonetheless, t…

How Do Math Teachers in the Philippines Fare?

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Students in the Philippines have not been participating in international standardized exams for over a decade now. In 2003, fourth grade students in the Philippines ranked 23rd out of 25 countries and in 2008, during which only students from science high schools participated, the Philippines ranked last among ten countries participating. Teachers in primary and secondary schools in the Philippines also partook in the Teacher Education and Development Study in Mathematics (TEDS-M). The results of this study have been recently analyzed and in terms of quality assurance, teacher education in the Philippines does not fare well. In terms of both content and pedagogical knowledge, math teachers in the Philippines are near the bottom.

The following graphs summarize the findings.


Quality assurance in teacher education includes:

Recruitment and SelectionAccreditation of ProgramsEntry to Profession The above measure is found to correlate strongly with scores obtained by the teachers on tests tha…

Clinging to One Last Shred of Hope

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Schools have just started in the Philippines. Back to school is supposed to be exciting. It marks the end of the summer brain drain. And for those who are just about to start school for the first time in kindergarten, parents can be as anxious as their children. It is a new world. It is a time to begin becoming independent. It is a time to make new friends. There are indeed a lot of reasons to get excited for there are so many good things to come. So we make sure the backpack is ready. We must have sharpened pencils, brand new notebooks, and crayons. Such excitement does make you wonder how children in Marawi city in the Philippines feel about the start of school this year.
Pictures of despair, however, are not exclusive to war-torn Marawi. In the Philippines, even in places where there is no armed conflict, the start of the school year is void of excitement. Even the Secretary of Education in the Philippines describes the start of this new school year as "boring".

DepEd Se…

Ignoring Evidence

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The Trump administration is clearly on a path of drawing policies and taking actions that simply ignore evidence. Its withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement is one recent example. Defending this decision, Trump cites a study from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) that estimates how much of an effect on global climate full compliance to the Paris agreement would have. Trump stresses that the effects are smal although one of the authors of the study, Erwan Monier, clearly states: “The Paris agreement is certainly a step in the right direction, but it is only a step. It puts us on the right path to keep warming under 3 C, but even under the same level of commitment of the Paris agreement after 2030, our study indicates a 95 percent probability that the world will warm by more than 2 C by 2100.” On basic education, the situation is more or less the same. Trump and his education secretary Devos are likewise championing virtual charter schools. Here, evidence is also very…

Lost Youth Should Be Grieved

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The early years are supposed to be times of unlimited wonder and curiosity. When we are young, we are sometimes infinitely optimistic. We even think that everything is free. Why not, after all, there is air that we freely breathe, there is clean water whenever we are thirsty, and there is food whenever we are hungry. I remember that as a young child, although born in poverty, being indigent has evaded my consciousness. Sadly, for a lot of children in this world, childhood ends quite soon. And for the Philippines, landing on a top ten list is not that common, but when it comes to childhood ending soon, the country unfortunately finds itself near the top. A report from the Save the Children lists the Philippines at number 9 in the list of countries where children (0-5 years old) are malnourished.

About 1 in 3 young children in the Philippines experiences stunted growth. Save the Children writes, "Malnutrition robs children of the future they deserve. A young child who does not get …