Does DepEd Need PAGASA? A Tale of Two Visions

Forecasting is difficult. There are so many variables necessary to predict the future. While the United States has the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the Philippines has the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA). One acronym sounds like a character from Genesis while the other is the Tagalog word for hope. This maybe appropriate since, for some, hope is actually a readiness to whatever may happen in the future. 
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Reforming education is in a way similar to the challenges faced by climate and weather forecasters. The phrase "21st Century Learning" connotes tailoring the schools to meet the anticipated needs of the new century. Education is indeed very much about the future. Reforming education thus requires a vision. DepEd's K to 12 is advertised as a response to what other countries have done with their basic education. The claim of being left behind by other countries forms the very first rationale for adding two more years at the end of high school. When I was preparing my first commentary on DepEd's K to 12, one of my former graduate students, who is now a postdoctoral fellow at the Weizmann Institute in Israel, cautioned me when I was about to use the phrase "a mile wide but only an inch deep", saying that this phrase might not be familiar to people in the Philippines. I wanted to use the phrase since it had been used to describe in general terms one of the biggest problems of K-12 education in the United States. Seeing the initial framework of DepEd's K to 12 made me think that the Philippines might just be jumping into the same problem. There is indeed something that is in the past and the present that helps in seeing the future. Similar to constructing homes, the past and the present tell us where the danger zones are and we should therefore not build in those areas.

Another instrument in forecasting is seeing a trend. In education reform, the question is what are other countries doing. John Merrow, an education reporter for the National Public Radio in the United States, maintains a blog called "Taking Note, Thoughts on Education from John Merrow". Much of the remaining points in this post are from his recent article entitled, "Schools Do Need a Weatherman" (of course, the title of his article also inspired the title of this post), where he introduced four programs that might describe the future of basic education in the United States. Each of the four programs describe an important vision. Each one is a possible road map, each one is expressing a value. Thus, it is useful to enumerate these programs and describe each one briefly:

A New Learning Objective for Basic Education.  John Merrow cites the works of Dr. James P. Comer of Yale University on school development, which has the following core beliefs:
  • Child rearing, child development and learning are inextricably linked;
  • Development starts early and must be a continuous process;
  • Children's most meaningful learning occurs through positive and supportive relationships with caring and nurturing adults;
  • Parents are children's first teachers;
  • All parents, staff and community members, regardless of social or economic status, have an important contribution to make in improving students' education and their preparation for life; therefore
  • Adults must interact collaboratively and sensitively with one another in order to bring out the best in children
Dr. James P. Comer on Student-Centered High School

A Comer's school is therefore designed not only to address pupils but the society in general. A Comer's school is actively engaged in helping the society by preparing its members for a family that is supportive of a child's growth, development and learning. This indeed sounds more like "responsible parenthood". 

Core Knowledge.  With this philosophy, developed by E.D. Hirsch, Jr., "Education for All" means recognizing that education has fundamentals, which all students should be given an opportunity to learn. This is the core, which is roughly half of the current K-12 curriculum of the United States. Core Knowledge is therefore described as the content and skills that should be addressed from kindergarten to grade 8:
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Core Knowledge does address the problem of having a curriculum that is a "mile wide but only an inch deep". And in distilling the curriculum while adding depth and mastery, basic education can be achieved in nine years. 

Quality PreSchool. As a previous post, "Focus on the Early Years", pointed out, the United States is very much aware of the importance of early childhood education. And to reiterate, here is that quote from Kevin Drum of Mother Jones:
...Here you go. There are two big things we could do if we really wanted to improve our childrens' future: aggressively get rid of all the remaining lead in our soil and in old houses — all of it — and spend a bunch of money on high-quality early childhood interventions among poor and working-class families. If we don't think we have the money — an argument I'll put off to another day — we should take it out of the K-12 budgets. We'd be better off with 100% more pre-K and 20% less K-12 than we are with our current funding priorities....
The rationale is simple. One problem that basic education clearly faces is the gap that is already present among children on their first day of school. Such gap only widens with each grade level. Quality preschool addresses this initial gap. It is solving the problem before it gets bigger.

Removing the Last Two Years of High School. This is the punch line. John Merrow takes Kevin Drum's suggestion one step further. To provide the necessary funding for quality preschool, two years may be removed from high school. Merrow writes:

About 10% of high school students are taking college courses in Minnesota, New York and elsewhere. I would open up “early college” to anyone who’s motivated, because it’s a win-win all around. 
Eventually, in this approach, senior year will disappear, and perhaps junior year as well, as education becomes seamless. The savings should be used for pre-school programs.
And to support this, a special school in Texas is cited:
Learning Matters, Early College HS in South Texas Part 1

Learning Matters, Early College HS in South Texas Part 2

Contrast the above four visions against DepEd's K to 12. Congressman Palatino recently shared in his blog some contents of one of the new teaching modules. 

Under the household service TLE subject, children will learn about the professional code of conduct or ethics of a household worker. They will be taught how to ‘maintain a professional image’ as household workers. Other topics include ‘Desirable Traits of a Household Worker’ and ‘Duties and Responsibilities of a Household Worker.’ At the end of the semester, students will be able to identify and operate a vacuum cleaner, floor polisher, and other cleaning materials. The teaching module also gives valuable tips to K-12 students and future supermaids:

Household workers should not sexually harass clients. Sexual harassment includes sexual advances, sexual solicitation, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature. 
Household workers should not use derogatory language in their written or verbal communications to or about clients. 
When setting fees, Household workers should receive fee that are fair, reasonable, and commensurate with the services performed. Consideration should be given to clients’ ability to pay. 
Household workers should make reasonable efforts to ensure continuity of services in the event that services are interrupted by factors such as unavailability, relocation, illness, disability, or death. 
They should take reasonable steps to avoid abandoning clients who are still in need of services.
-From Congressman Palatino's  K-12: TESDA IN HIGH  SCHOOL

Another major difference is the Department's introduction of a perfunctory kindergarten program. And of course, the fact that DepEd's K to 12 vision is adding two years to basic education while those in the United States are beginning to think of removing two years. DepEd does need a "PAGASA" to help it determine which direction the wind is really blowing.