Showing posts from 2018

Servants Make Things Happen

When the situation is not good, change is needed. Oftentimes, we focus too much on changing what is outside and not what is inside ourselves. Energy project CEO Tony Schwartz sums this up in his article on Harvard Business Review: "...the most effective transformation begins with what’s going on inside people — and especially the most senior leaders, given their disproportionate authority and influence.  Their challenge is to deliberately turn attention inward in order to begin noticing the fixed patterns in their thinking, how they’re feeling in any given moment, and how quickly the instinct for self-preservation can overwhelm rationality and a longer term perspective, especially when the stakes are high." I think the following tweet from the Philippine Inquirer illustrates why a change in mindset is important. The tweet has been shared on social media by superintendents and principals. Some even cite it as a prime example of servant leadership. It is indeed a demonstration…

Making Sense Out of Numbers

Numbers like words have meaning. We use numbers to quantify what we see in our world. Their significance is often attached to who we are. A year of kindergarten appears like eternity to a five-year old, but as we age and reach midlife, that one year becomes a small fraction. To a poor family, one thousand is a big number especially if the number is associated with money. To a struggling household, even a hundred is huge. On the other hand, to a well-to-do family in the Philippines that is used to spending daily at least a thousand pesos (20 US dollars), one hundred pesos appear miniscule. Number sense is indeed linked to who we are. Thus, when the vice president of the Philippines makes the mistake of multiplying 40 by 4, it speaks volume not so much about her arithmetic skills but more on who she is.

Leni Robredo, in her attempt to discredit the Duterte administration, is simply trying to make the economic situation in the country appear especially dire. With inflation, prices of bas…

"Nosebleed, Don't English Me, I'm Panic"

It is not easy to be multilingual. While it is important that young children are encouraged to maintain and develop their mother tongue, neglecting the learning of English can have serious ramifications in the future. GetRealPhilippines has several recent posts on this topic of language, all of which are pointing to the current sad state of communication in the Philippines. Competency in English, however, is not just a matter of will. It is now becoming clear that English comprehension, if not attained on time, is extremely challenging to address even with the best interventions.

A research article scheduled to be published in the Journal of Educational Psychology reports that it is exceedingly difficult to improve English reading comprehension among students who spoke a language other than English at home and had underdeveloped vocabulary in English by the time they enter secondary school. A two-year intensive reading intervention designed for adolescents is found not to have any sig…

Lessons in Math for Young Filipinos

A teacher at Diliman preparatory school, Errol John Gumogda, recently wrote an article in the Education Digest of the online resource site Squeeze. The title of the article (translated to English) is "A Shameless K-12 Textbook". It comes with the following picture of a page taken from a textbook called Hiyas ng Lahi (Jewel of a Race) that talks about the past president Benigno Aquino III, citing that he is single, has no children, and therefore has no First Lady. It adds the fact that he is the first one born in the month of February to become president of the Philippines and the only one with the suffix "III" in his name. And he is also the second president who comes from the province of Tarlac. The page is supposedly a part of an "additional knowledge" section. Gumogda raises the question of whether this page responds to the cognitive needs of young Filipinos. Of course, the obvious answer is 'No'.

What is interesting in Gumogda's article is…

Access to Literacy Is a Fundamental Right

Society has laws for five basic reasons: preventing people from harming others, preventing people from harming themselves, promoting morality, granting goods or services to those in need, and protecting the government. Laws are, of course, often imperfect and end up being misinterpreted and even abused. It is therefore quite dangerous to use existing laws to define what is right and what is wrong. The ninth amendment of the United States Constitution recognizes its own limitations: "The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people." A Federal District Court judge in Michigan should probably have taken note of this when deciding whether access to literacy is a fundamental right or not.

Access to literacy is obviously a fundamental right. How can basic education be compulsory if access to basic education is not a right?

Judge Murphy III is correct that the US Constitution does not specifically sta…

"It Is More Important to Be Kind Than to Be Right"

We want our schools to teach our children critical thinking. We also demand that schools promote good manners and right conduct. With all the things we desire, do we clearly understand what we are asking for? Do we simply want critics? Or do we want thinkers? Do we also want blind obedience? One thing I know about learning is that it requires, first of all, an openness. It starts with some degree of trust. And, as with any gift, it is a fruit of kindness. Critical thinking requires if not kindness, at least, respect. In our pursuit for knowledge, our objective is to find the best ideas. It should never be about knocking another person down. Philippines president Duterte recently attached the word "stupid" to Catholic doctrines. Where he comes from actually is logically sound but, unfortunately, the way it has been delivered is a long way from being considerate. The response from the other side is equally laced with abomination.

As discussed in the previous post, character ed…

What Not To Do in Character Education

Back in my grade school years, there was a subject called "Character Education". It was often the subject that had my lowest grade. While my grades in math, language, science and social studies were in the nineties, I usually ended with seventies in "Character Education". Apparently, I did not appear to my teachers as someone who would comply always with rules and demonstrate good manners and right conduct. Perhaps, I was indeed causing trouble. After all, my parents were called once because I exhibited vocal opposition to home economics projects that I thought were simply being used as opportunities to take money from us. I probably did not appreciate the importance of just saying, "I am fine" when asked "How are you?" because I wanted to have a real conversation. While we were being fed with outward signs of politeness, I did not feel acceptance nor even a slight accommodation for being poor and athletically challenged. The current curriculum …

Why Can't We See That Separating Children from Parents Is Simply Wrong

Only 2 out of 3 Americans disapprove of their current administration's policy of separating children from their parents who have crossed the border illegally. What is more appalling to see is that more than half of Republicans are in favor of this policy. Emma Lazarus' sonnet displayed in America's Statue of Liberty has never been so far removed from reality. "Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!" Perhaps, we can stand against illegal immigration. However, we do not need a Statue or an old sonnet to remind us that separating children from their parents is wrong. Even research in basic education tells that this is unsound unequivocally.

"Toxic stress damages developing brain architecture, which can lead to life-long problems in learning, behavior, and physical and mental health." is one …

"Aquino Has No Concern for the Filipino Children and Their Parents"

In the Philippines' Senate Blue Ribbon Committee on the Dengvaxia controvery, officials in the previous administration including former president Noynoy Aquino are labeled as “primary conspirators” and must be held criminally liable for “all the tragedy, damage, and possible deaths” resulting from the Dengvaxia mass vaccination program. Scientists from Sanofi Pasteur, the maker of the vaccine, have recently published a paper in the New England Journal of Medicine, confirming the higher risk of severe dengue in vaccinated persons who had not been exposed to dengue (seronegative individuals).

The results are summarized in the following figure:

For severe dengue, the risk in vaccinated seronegative individuals is six times higher than those who have not been vaccinated. The Manila Standard reports Aquino's continuing adamancy on this issue:
Former President Benigno Aquino III said Monday the benefits of an anti-dengue vaccine that was administered to 830,000 children under his wa…

"Practice Makes Perfect"

It is an old adage but it is true. There is another saying I got from one of my organic chemistry professors in college, "If you do not understand, memorize". My professor's point is that if one is familiar with something that still needs to be understood, there is a greater likelihood for serendipity. When the time is right, one is simply more prepared. It is therefore reasonable to hypothesize that fact learning is intimately related to higher order learning. A recent study scheduled to be published in the Journal of Educational Psychologyattempts to demonstrate that these two are not related, that is, knowledge of facts is not important to develop critical thinking. Here is definitely one instance where one needs to be extra thoughtful with regard to what an experiment is really measuring. Although the title and abstract do suggest that students do not need fact knowledge before higher order learning, examining in detail the experiment and the results does not really …

We Like Marshmallows and We Cannot Wait

Finding relationships between so many factors and a specific outcome is tricky. In the physical sciences, we often have enough control so that we can focus on one element while keeping the other factors constant. In the social sciences, like education, it is generally arduous if not impossible. Thus, we need to be more cautious when presented correlations in this field because more often than not, we can entirely miss the big picture. And with our penchant for silver bullets, we are more than likely to arrive at the wrong conclusion.
A video of physicist Dr. Michio Kaku, interviewed by Tom Bilyeu, has recently gone viral on Facebook. It has been viewed more than 14 million times during the past three weeks. Uploaded by Goalcast, the video comes with this text, "World-renowned physicist Michio Kaku reveals how a simple test using marshmallows can predict how successful you can become." The marshmallow test, first presented by Shoda, Mischel and Peake, measures a young child&#…

What Makes a Good Teacher Happy

More than a decade ago, I met quite a number of elementary school teachers in the Philippines. One of these was a young lady who was also working on her masteral degree. This teacher, Arlene Alegre Inogada, recently posted a photo on Facebook that should be an eye-opener to anyone interested in improving education in the Philippines. The photo, yet so simple, conveyed the happiness felt by a teacher. And to me, the message was clear - if we desire to improve education we must start addressing the needs first. The beginning of this school year was quite special for this teacher because of one simple reason, her students would have textbooks this year.

Focusing on what is important in education is crucial because how we make students learn involves strenuous effort from so many. We require students who are willing to learn, teachers who are committed to their work, parents who are supportive, and a curriculum that makes sense. "But do we really need any more comprehensive, costly …

Are School Vouchers Really Bad?

A study from the United States Department of Education shows that after two years, K-12 students who availed of scholarships under a federal voucher program in the District of Columbia are performing about 10 percentile points lower in a standardized math exam than students who were not in the program. Julian Hellig at Cloaking Inequality uses some humor in relating the above results. He adds famous "fake quotes" inspired by Britney Spears' 'Hit Me Baby One More Time':

“Oh baby, baby, how was I supposed to know” Howard Fuller
“I must confess I still believe (still believe)” Betsy DeVos
“The reason I breathe is you” Mike Petrilli
“There’s nothing that I wouldn’t do” Donald Trump
“It’s not the way I planned it” Matt Chingos
“Don’t you know I still believe” Rick Hess

It is true that students under the voucher program are scoring lower than those who are not, but the correlation between vouchers and poor performance is certainly not generalizable, and the reason behi…

What Schools in the Philippines Really Need

Just before the start of a new school year, communities are again helping out in preparing the classrooms. Of course, some politicians take this as photo opportunities. After all, being photographed while applying fresh paint on a wall may bring the message that something is being done to help basic education in the Philippines. Yes, walls with fresh paint may seem inviting but the challenges faced by students in schools in the Philippines should be addressed with solutions that actually understand and address their problems. The prevalence of poverty, the fact that a significant number of parents are working overseas, and the various tracks now available for senior high school should make it obvious that students in schools need a individual who would offer a listening ear and provide guidance. Students in the Philippines, like students in other countries, need counseling. Yet, the country remains short in the number of guidance counselors. Earlier this year, ABS-CBN News reported, &…

Reading and Visualization

Learning to read is very important in basic education. Reading and listening are ways by which we can receive information and build knowledge. How we process what we hear or read and derive meaning is comprehension. How well an individual can visualize the text is important in both engagement and comprehension especially with children who are just beginning to learn to read. Experiments performed decades ago by Brooks decades ago have shown "a conflict between reading verbal messages and imagining the spatial relations described by those messages." Clearly, connecting reading and imagination does not occur readily. Like other children, my son and daughter like seeing pictures in the books that they read. I likewise enjoy reading cartoon strips. Who doesn't? Illustrations help. With the internet and television, these illustrations can be animated. That makes it even more attractive. Recent research, however, shows that with regard to helping children with language process…

Parents, Turn Off Your Smartphone

We worry a lot about how much kids these days let their time pass by playing a game, posting on instagram, texting, or watching a video on YouTube. We fear that our children may turn into addicts, as they get used to instant gratification while in front of these devices. We are afraid that our young may drop other activities that are good for their social, emotional and physical growth as they start spending every waking hour on social media. Yet, we lose sight of our own addiction to our smart phones. And it is ironic that the technology that is supposed to keep us connected takes us away from those who are actually physically around us. We, as parents, have actually allowed our smartphones to impair our social connection with some of the most important people in our lives.

A study recently published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships shows that parents who use their smartphones while they are with their children feel less meaningful connections with their kids.


A Double Whammy

I am currently a professor in a university in the United States and I am originally from the Philippines. Although I finished my basic education and bachelor of science degree in the Philippines, I did spend eight years as a doctoral and postdoctoral student in Illinois. I know of other Filipinos who have chosen the same career path as I have. Filipinos are likewise found in K-12 classrooms across the US. In the past years, schools in the US have been increasingly hiring teachers from other countries to fill shortages that are often in high poverty and more challenging districts. In the Clark County district alone, eighty one teachers have been recently hired from the Philippines to solve the county's special education teacher shortage.

Public schools are able to recruit these teachers based on a "culture exchange" program. Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, the largest teachers' union in the US, regards this recruitment as an abuse o…

"How Can We Lose When We're So Sincere?"

I had a chemistry professor in Ateneo who taught me not just chemistry but also some nuggets of wisdom. Back then, rallies against the Marcos administration were widespread. This professor reminded me that sincerity was never enough. Competence was equally necessary. Sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity were dangerous. With this reminder, he also cited a strip from Charlie Brown, "How can we lose when we're so sincere?" Aquino obviously had made serious errors during his administration. Without careful vetting, Aquino appointed a Chief Justice to the Supreme Court that later would be ousted by a quo warranto petition. Aquino also rushed a mass vaccination program against Dengue, disregarding the proper protocols and ignoring the advice of experts. And in basic education, Aquino plunged the nation into a new K-12 curriculum without careful preparation and analysis and with total disregard for the resources necessary.

One glaring example of Aquino's incompete…

Helping Students Learn in the Sciences

Students often struggle in the physical sciences. Not only does one have to be proficient in mathematics. A pupil also needs to understand concepts and some of these are quite challenging. There are indeed instances in which a student is clearly capable given his or her aptitude in math and reading and yet, still finds either chemistry or physics as tough subjects in school. It is therefore necessary to look at ways that can help students overcome difficulties. As Susan Carey has pointed out, "All good teachers have always realized that one must start “where the student is”... ...Now we understand that the main barrier to learning the curricular materials we so painstakingly developed is not what the student lacks, but what the student has, namely, alternative conceptual frameworks for understanding the phenomena covered by the theories we are trying to teach."

There is nothing inherently wrong with how young children understand their physical world. After all, scientists al…