Solving the Problems of Philippine Basic Education

Note: Prof. Queena N. Lee-Chua recently commented on an email that I sent her (which contained a draft of this article):
" Last year, I wrote about Finland’s quality teachers (“Finland, Harvard and fun math,” May 23, 2011). Your ideas on the “conservation” element echo the concerns of many people, including former Ateneo president Fr. Bienvenido Nebres, S.J. (“Math mastery comes with balance of why with how,” Sept. 18, 2011). Her comments were published in the Inquirer.


Education policies for raising student learning: the Finnish approach. Pasi Sahlberg* Journal of Education Policy Vol. 22, No. 2, March 2007, pp. 147–171
Sahlberg enumerated seven key elements of education development, following the previous works of Hargreaves and others:
Aho, E., Pitkänen, K. & Sahlberg, P. (2006) Policy development and reform principles of basic and secondary education in Finland since 1968 (Washington, DC, World Bank).
Hargreaves, A. & Fink, D. (2006) Sustainable leadership (San Francisco, Jossey-Bass).
I would like to focus on the last two of these seven elements
(Resourcefulness and Conservation):

“Resourcefulness: Young, talented and creative individuals have been appointed over the past three decades to lead schools, local education offices, and central departments, guided by the belief that competencies often override routine experience. Systematic and research-based ways to prepare and continuously develop leaders and to maintain their knowledge and skills were introduced in the 1980s.

Conservation: Education development has represented a balance between bringing in new innovations and employing existing good practices. The public recognizes that many needed educational innovations already exist somewhere in the system. This was a key acknowledgement of teachers’ wisdom and realization that learning from past experiences is at least as important as introducing totally new and often alien ideas in schools.”


Finland pushed these elements into its educational reform by (pages
“….All basic school teachers must hold a Masters degree to become permanently employed. Primary school teacher preparation was converted from a three-year program at teachers’ colleges to four- or five-year university programs in the late 1970s. Hence, most primary school teachers today possess higher university degrees. Westbury et al. (2005) point out that preparing teachers for a research-based profession has been the central idea of teacher education developments in Finland….”
“….the Masters degree is the basic requirement to be permanently employed as a teacher in Finnish school….”
“Finnish teacher education programs are distinguished by their depth and scope. The balance between the theoretical and practical in these programs helps young teachers master various teaching methods as well as the science of effective teaching and learning. Curriculum reform in the mid-1990s revealed that teachers with high professional competency are quite motivated and easy to engage in school development processes in their own schools as well as in national and international projects.”
“….teachers can diagnose problems in their classrooms and schools, apply evidence-based and often alternative solutions to them and evaluate and analyze the impact of implemented procedures….”

The reforms which were made at the higher education level began in the 70′s. It took several decades, (but one of the seven elements is a longer vision and not instant gratification from reforms), so Finland took its time to do things right. Possibly, there are no shortcuts.


Do we have the teachers?
Preparing teachers for the big reform
By Queena N. Lee-Chua
Philippine Daily Inquirer

Secondary School

“The researchers said, if 75 percent was the benchmark for minimum amount of actual learning, math majors achieved an average mean of 51.59 percent; English, 51.67 percent; and biology, 37.86 percent.”

Elementary School

“….In a 2006 survey by NTC researchers, commissioned by the Math Teachers Association of the Philippines (MTAP), results were no better…. Scores of future elementary teachers ranged from 55 to 73 percent, while their secondary counterparts scored even lower, 53 to 65 percent.”

Teachers of Teachers

“Does the problem lie with the teachers of the teachers?
“Their academic preparation, which is Ed.D. in educational management and leadership, does not entitle them to teach with confidence major courses such as modeling for math, biochemistry for biology and stylistics for English,” the report says.


The test scores of teachers mirror the scores of students in basic education. Higher education faces the same problem and the data above show that mastery of subjects is lacking. Teachers not only need to learn how to teach, but as important,what to teach. Learning new styles of teaching, getting introduced to curricular reforms may be achieved in a series of workshops or seminars. Unfortunately, mastery of the subjects to be taught can not. This takes years and Finland took decades. But this is where a possibly successful reform in basic education should begin. The proposed K to 12 misses the places where reforms should be focused: The early years and higher education. (And not at the end of high school). As Finland has demonstrated, working with primary education to attain education for all, while at the same time, promoting quality in higher education, is much cheaper. Higher education reforms mean doing the best, selecting the capable, and providing a few with excellent training. And this is required to solve the problems in basic education.

Solving problems requires dreams that are based on reality. That dream may be described by "A day in the life of Strömberg School":
Figure taken from Strömberg School,
But this dream requires the following.

"....Teachers' high education level allows them to plan their work and choose their methods independently. The Finnish school system is based on a culture of trust, not control, and teachers are active in developing their own work. On the job they set an example of lifelong learning...." (

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