DepEd K to 12: "Must Have" versus "Could Do"

In line with the old cliche "First Things First" is the distinction between "Must" and "Could". The adage may be old and worn out, but it still helps in understanding complex systems such as education. While the rest of the world have focused on standards, tests and a massive overhaul of curriculum, successful countries in education like Finland simply worked with seven guiding principles: Depth, Length, Breadth, Justice, Diversity, Resourcefulness and Conservation. This perspective sets Finland apart from other countries. Finland chose to define the "Must Have's" and in the process, its schools were able to realize what they "Could Do."

One can easily contrast this with the Philippines DepEd's K to 12 approach, a glaring example of micromanagement. Sheila Lacanaria writes a comment on this blog:
"In the Science K+12 Curriculum Guide, it is stated: 'Rather than relying solely on textbooks, varied hands-on, minds-on, and hearts-on activities will be used to develop students’ interest and let them become active learners.' Is this the reason why DepEd did not provide Grade 7 students with a science textbook that addresses the new content standards? Are we to assume then that the modules that DepEd has developed will deliver the promised hands-on, minds-on and hearts-on learning? With these modules, DepEd seems hellbent on dictating not only WHAT teachers should teach but also HOW and WHEN to teach them."
Add to the above Congressman Palatino's observation:
"...the prefabricated learning materials were designed by ‘experts’ in such a way that the only creative task required of teachers is to unpack them, follow the specific instructions in the kit, and then grade the students. Even the learning guides already contained exact examples and details of course content, teaching methods, and test sheets which teachers are required to use inside the classroom. Under K-12, teachers are subjected to a ruthlessly efficient reskilling and deskilling process...."
Defining in great detail how basic education should be delivered usually fails for one reason. Education unlike other systems or processes is infinitely diverse. One size cannot fit all. Even when a consideration of diversity in the planned curriculum is made by systematically incorporating these variations in the plan, the program could still fail. Finland's inclusion of diversity in its sets of values simply means allowing each community to arrive at their own creative solutions. With certainty, there are standards. This is where the science part comes in. But with every learner, there needs to be a teacher who is given both the freedom and responsibility to be creative. Education is where the arts meet the sciences:
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Finland clearly defines the "Must Have's" as empowering teachers, that is, by providing them good training and adequate compensation. Admission to teaching schools is highly selective and this seems to be the place where standards are in fact set and strictly applied. Teachers are not only required to master the subject they plan to teach, but are also trained to do research so that in school, these teachers are indeed responsive and capable to address a myriad of conditions and environment. 

The diversity of education makes it quite different from medicine. Diseases can be identified and classified. Proven therapies are then expected to be transferable from one case to the next. Thus, chances are very high that results obtained under controlled conditions inside the laboratory can have wide applicability. Unfortunately, this is often untrue for education. A recognition of this difference is important especially when education is attempting to copy how medicine has successfully incorporated research or evidence based thinking into its field. Education must draw conclusions from scientific studies. Education must be guided by research. But education must be cognizant of the limits.   

Herein lies the wisdom of knowing the difference between "must have" and "could do". Scientific studies are useful since these can identify and impart what is essential. Thus, in the vast set of published works on education, it is important to extract not so much the details but the overarching elements. A central authority like a Department of Education must recognize that it can best serve the schools by focusing on these transferable essentials. DepEd's K to 12 focuses on dictating every single detail. Philippine teachers are therefore conditioned to simply follow to the letter every single memo, no more, no less. Initiative on the part of the teachers is therefore greatly curtailed. On top of this, teachers do not receive adequate support. Teachers still have to worry about their basic needs, depriving them of the opportunity, time and energy to focus on their role as facilitators of learning. Resources are already limited. Stretching these resources farther to draw step-by-step instructions on how a class should be taught is not only a waste but also a mistreatment and a misuse of the front line actors of education. 

Professor of Psychology Daniel Willingham at the University of Virginia arrived at an excellent analogy to describe the teaching profession. Teachers are neither scientists nor artists. Architects are a much closer comparison. An architect knows and follows basic structural elements that will keep a building sound, but an architect still has plenty of room to add a personal touch. Teaching is between art and science. And to explain this point, Willingham has composed the following video, with particular emphasis on the difference between "Must Have's" and the "Could Do's".

Is Teaching an Art or a Science?

A good Department of Education equips its teachers with the "Must Have's" so that a teacher can in fact serve the "Could Do's" inside the classroom. 


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