Education for All versus Individualized Learning

Boy holding an electric fan as Joseph Wee speaks
The picture showed  the Master of Ceremonies, who was later identified as Joseph Wee, standing behind the podium. Behind him was a student holding a desk electric fan. He was made a stand of the electric fan! (
As a society, we need to stop and reflect regularly on what we have accepted as norms. Circumstances can blind us and make us accept what we see. Ellen Tordesillas wrote in the commentary regarding the photo above:
"...The photo reminded us of scenes in movies based on Biblical stories showing the Pharaoh or the Queen always followed by Nubian slaves holding a giant fan made of ostrich feathers.
Closer to home, it reminded me of seƱoras being fanned by a uniformed maid.
What happened in Zamboanga City High School last Sunday was sort of a modern version because instead of an ostrich or anahaw fan, they were using an electric fan. But it was still a master-slave setup.
Two of those who served as human stand for the desk fan were Boys Scouts, proudly wearing their uniform.
Julie said she found out  later that the not- so- bright idea to make the young boys  hold the electric fan to cool the guests was that of  a teacher, Jesus Francisco.
Didn't Mr. Francisco or any of the guests think of getting a small table or a chair to put that electric fan?
Didn't Bro. Armin, Mayor Lobregat and other officials notice the disturbing assignment of the boys in that event?  The boys were just a few feet away from them on the same stage.
Surely, they saw the boys fanning them. Was it normal to them?..."
This photo elicited comments because there was a child made to hold a fan for a speaker on the podium. Some realized that there was something wrong in the picture while those who were in the scene did not.

Although the picture above does illustrate what society may be taking for granted, this article does not intend to discuss the above photo any further. Instead, we begin with the table below:

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It shows and compares what American students have chosen to take in college against those taken by foreign students. College is indeed the place where specific paths are chosen. The question is when does this choosing actually begin. There is nothing wrong with a child having preferences at an early age. What requires our reflection is whether society has a right to group students and place them on specific tracks at an early age. Education for all is a value included in the Millenium Development Goals. And educators all over the world have also embraced the value of learner-centered schools. In pursuing both goals, it is important to keep in mind what these really entail. There are challenges associated with these goals and without care, a combination of individualized learning and education for all can, in fact, simply mimic current economic disparities in society and transfer these into the educational system. Here are various excerpts that may help introduce this thought. The first one takes us back to the past, an outline of a 1955 research report provided in preparation for a Conference on Education.


How Public Schools can make universal education more effective, despite differences among individual children, is a basic problem that will underlie wide-ranging discussions at the White House Conference on Education, Nov. 28-Dec. 1. Public school authorities currently are under strong pressure to fit educational offerings to the considerable variations in intelligence levels, and in other qualifications, that are found in today's expanded school enrollments. The pressure comes from both educational leaders and parents. Such a shift in the direction of popular education is supported by the nation's need for highly trained manpower and by a growing feeling that schooling should be made more fruitful for the masses of pupils.

On the one hand, schools are expected to provide a rich, intellectually stimulating education for the brightest pupils, who are destined to become professional specialists. At the same time, they must offer programs that will do as much as possible for indifferent pupils who resist educational advancement. For all children, it is the mission of the schools to lead the way toward a useful and well-adjusted adulthood.

Universal vs. Tailor-Made Education

These varied functions cannot be assigned to separate institutions, because it is a democratic ideal to provide for the education of all children through a universal system that will teach them to deal with and respect all kinds of individuals. Nor may the schools simplify the problem by offering merely the dual alternative of an academic education for bright pupils and non-academic training for others. The demand is for education tailor-made to suit each individual's particular needs.


Fast forward to recent times, here is a comment written by a teacher in the United States, who answered a question in Yahoo! that asked, "How to handle slow and fast learners?"

It's very difficult, but increasingly required of teachers because of financial and legal issues in schools. As a teacher I had to come up with a management style that would address this problem. It's not ideal, and there are problems, but it's the best I could come up with.

I always taught the basics of a new unit to the entire class. Then I would test on the basics and use those grades to determine how to proceed. As we delved deeper into the unit, all students would begin with identical assignments. As the faster students mastered each new skill, I would have enrichment assignments and group assignments prepared for them to work on independently or in groups. This accomplished two things: it would keep the faster students engaged and learning and would give me time to remediate the slower students. At the end of the unit, I would bring them all back together in carefully selected groups to review specific material for the final test. Then the entire class would be tested on the unit. If you do this, it's important to make sure that the remediation students have as many assignments as the fast group. That way there can be no complaints about extra work.


And, of course, this article will not be complete without reference to the education system in Finland. Here is a comment submitted to a blog that was discussing "gifted education"

The real life lesson to be learned from Finland, Comment by Brenda

...Finns didn't start out to remake their education system as the best in the world. Their aim was to provide an equal-opportunity education system, which then became the best in the world.

They began with an end in mind that most in the world overlooked - the opportunity for the child to have a basic learning; not the philosophy of pushing the child to their best academically only. While the rest of the world aimed for the highest academic accolades, the Finns only wanted to ensure that no child's need was left behind. In order to make education as accessible as possible, they did away with the whole idea of streaming - which removed the whole idea of special gifted and talented (G&T) students, and focussed on a collaborative learning model which ensured that everyone participated in the classroom.

"Since the 1980s, the main driver of Finnish education policy has been the idea that every child should have exactly the same opportunity to learn, regardless of family background, income, or geographic location. Education has been seen first and foremost not as a way to produce star performers, but as an instrument to even out social inequality.

In the Finnish view, as Sahlberg describes it, this means that schools should be healthy, safe environments for children. This starts with the basics. Finland offers all pupils free school meals, easy access to health care, psychological counseling, and individualized student guidance.

In fact, since academic excellence wasn't a particular priority on the Finnish to-do list, when Finland's students scored so high on the first PISA survey in 2001, many Finns thought the results must be a mistake. But subsequent PISA tests confirmed that Finland -- unlike, say, very similar countries such as Norway -- was producing academic excellence through its particular policy focus on equity."

Other readings:

If any country were to only focus its lenses on the G&T, or stratify its children by how well they test, then they really miss the point of Finland's success. It's not a method, so much as a philosophy.


Rich Couch has his take on how Finland achieves quality education for all on his blog:
"Finland provides free universal daycare to children between the ages of eight months and five years of age. This daycare is not mandatory but 98% of children participate. A year of kindergarten-like preschool is provided to all at age six. Formal schooling begins at age seven. 
These preschool years are critical in the development of a child. Think what it would mean if every child in this country could begin school with this shared experience. Each child would have grown up well-nourished, would have been introduced to the same rich learning and social experiences, and would have had the same preparation required for learning to read. The educational disparities caused by poverty, as we have defined it, would have been greatly eliminated.
Children develop and mature at different rates. Studies in Europe indicate that, independent of language, it isn’t until about age six that the majority of children have advanced to the point where they are ready to begin learning to read. These same studies show that trying to teach reading before the age of seven can be counterproductive. This approach is another means by which equality of opportunity is sought. Waiting this extra year to begin diminishes the ill-effects felt by slow developers. 
Finland’s schools also avoid binning students into high performers and low performers as another means of protecting slow developers from what can become a lifetime of educational bias in our system. The egalitarian Finns instead encourage the fast learners to spend time helping the slower learners. 
At age 16 or 17 there is a transition to a higher level of education that is equivalent to the final two years of high school and two years at a community college. In a manner reminiscent of the vaunted German system, there is a bifurcation into a "vocational" path and a pre-university path. Students have a choice, but they must be able to demonstrate capability to follow the university path. The Finnish system appears a bit less rigid than the German, making it easier to switch paths if desired. 
The Finns recognize that a college degree is not for everyone. Unlike in our country, where vocational training is rare, Finland tries to provide options to fit everyone’s needs. And higher education in Finland is tuition free.
It is not practical, nor is it necessary, to try to reproduce the system in Finland. However, we should have it within our means to produce a daycare system for preschool children that would be available to all who chose to use it. That would be a critical step in preparing all of our children to enter and develop in our existing school system. This does not require the elimination of poverty, but it would eliminate many of the effects of poverty on our children and on our educational system."

Lastly, we have the following excerpts:

The Practice of Tracking in Schools
By David Miller Sadker, PhD |Karen R. Zittleman, PhD
McGraw-Hill Higher Education
Excerpt from: Teachers, Schools, and Society: A Brief Introduction to Education p. 80-84

...In the 1960s, sociologist Talcott Parsons analyzed school as a social system and concluded that the college selection process begins in elementary school and is virtually sealed by the time students finish junior high.'Parsons's analysis has significant implications, for he is suggesting that future roles in adult life are determined by student achievement in elementary school. The labeling system, beginning at an early age, determines who will wear a stethoscope, who will carry a laptop computer, and who will become a low-wage laborer....
..."True," tracking advocates argue, "it would appear more democratic to put everyone in the same class, but such idealism is destined to fail." They contend that it is unrealistic to think everyone can or should master the same material or learn it at the same pace. Without tracking we have heterogeneous, or mixed ability classes. Tracking advocates are quick to point out that mixed ability classes have their own set of problems: In heterogeneous classes, bright students get bored, while slower students have trouble keeping up, and we lose our most talented and our most needy students. Teachers find themselves grading the brighter students on the quality of their work, and the weaker ones on their "effort," which is a big problem (especially with parents!). Teachers get frustrated trying to meet each student's needs, and hardly ever hitting the mark. Putting everyone in the same class simply doesn't work.
Detracking advocates, as you might imagine, offer a different take on the issue. "No sorting system is consistent with equality of opportunity. Worse yet, the tracking system is not based on individual ability. It is badly biased in favor of white middle-class America. We must face the reality that poor children, often children of color, come to school far from being ready to learn. And the school, whose job it is to educate all our children, does little to help. The built-in bias in instruction, counseling, curricular materials, and testing must be overcome. Students get shoveled into second-rate courses that pre-pare them for fourth-rate jobs. Their track becomes 'a great training robbery,' and the students who are robbed may be ones with great abilities."

The above are thoughts. And we should look at DepEd's K to 12 with the above thoughts as lenses. When we give exams to six-year olds to assess whether they are ready to learn in special science classes, what are we really doing? When DepEd's K to 12 offers various tracks for basic education, are these meant to facilitate individualized learning, help the slow learners and keep the fast learners interested? Or... Are we actually deciding the future of the children by the time they reach the age of six?  These are important questions that we must address when we look at K to 12. 
"Education for All" envisions a society in which everyone is a contributing individual. Special tracks in basic education in the Philippines must be examined closely to check if these indeed contribute to the progress of Philippine society. Where are the students in the past special tracks now? And what has happened to the general mass of pupils?

Only with these conscious efforts could we keep our eyes on the ball and see more from the picture.
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