Showing posts from March, 2014

When We Miss the Point

It is Lent and every Sunday is packed with very profound readings. Today's gospel reading is about a blind man whose eyes were opened. The story unfortunately turns into something absurd. Not a single soul was happy for the fact that someone had gained sight after living a life in darkness. Instead, everyone was focused on who was right and who was wrong.

Missing the point often happens when deference to the correct authority is ignored. Frequently, doubts have already been planted in someone's mind so the one's task is simply to discredit. With this agenda, we really cannot see even if we look. This also happens in education when we do not respect the teachers, the individuals with whom we have entrusted our children. It is necessary that we see teachers as the educators of our children. Otherwise, we will become completely blind.

There was a parent's rant against the Common Core that went viral on Facebook this week:

The above homework was asking the student to write…

Philippines' DepEd Seriously Lacks Innovation

Facing limitations breeds opportunities for transformative innovations. Unfortunately, "transformative innovations" as well as "21st century learning" have been grossly misused by education reformers and policy makers to pretend that they are actually doing something. Science instruction is challenging because of the costs associated with its practical or laboratory component. With limited funds, equipping schools for science laboratory classes can be totally precluded. However, even with relatively larger budgets, laboratories in schools in the United States are quite different from those several decades ago. Laboratories are now designed with both safety and impact on environment in mind. In the Philippines, with more than 600 million pesos, DepEd plans to equip 2966 high schools to support biology, chemistry, physics, earth science, and mathematics. Using the current exchange rate of 44.84 Philippines pesos per US dollar, this budget translates to about US$4849 …

Exam Questions: Those That Are Pure

Writing questions in an exam is not an easy task. Each question needs to be thoughtfully considered to see whether it is in fact assessing the right thing. When I was looking at practice questions for the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) back in 1987, I did not particularly like a question in the analytical section. It was a series of questions that followed a paragraph introducing and explaining the rules of a baseball game in the United States. Unlike basketball, a game I was more familiar with in the Philippines, substitution in a baseball game is permanent. The questions in the exam exploited this difference highlighting the rules regarding "pinch-hitting", "pinch-running", and "relief pitching". I thought this question was unfair. It was not only assessing one's analytical reasoning skills. Anyone who was familiar with the game clearly had a leg up. Anyone who grew up with America's favorite pastime sport definitely had an advantage.

It is t…

National Achievement Test - Should We Abolish Standardized Testing?

Standardized tests are now favorite targets of complaints here in the United States as well as in the Philippines. In the United States, the title of an article from the blog Curmudgucationsays it all, "Standardized Testing Sucks".

In the Philippines, the Alliance of Concerned Teachers has now called for abolition of the country's standardized exam, the National Achievement Test (NAT):

A coalition of private school educators, the Federation of Associations of Private Schools and Administrators (FAPSA), has joined the call to end NAT:

Rejection Is An Acceptable Choice But Not Misinformation

Evidence is usually provided to support an assertion. The burden of proof always lies on whomever is making a claim. Nowadays, policy makers are quick to use the "evidence-based" phrase to describe their proposals. "Evidence-based" is basically utilized to provide a scientific flavor often associated with having proof. Science, unlike mathematics, is not about proofs. Science primarily aims to arrive at a "well-substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world, based on a body of knowledge that has been repeatedly confirmed through observation and experiment." That well-substantiated explanation is called a theory. The main job of a scientists is not so much about forming an opinion or a guess - it is more about carefully collecting data and making sense of what is observed.

The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) recently issued a report entitled "What We Know: The Reality, Risks and Response to Climate Change"…

STEM Situation

With about 20 million pupils in public schools, to achieve a 30:1 pupil to teacher ratio (which is still quite high), about 670,000 teachers are needed. Depending on who is counting, shortages in teachers in Philippines public schools range from zero (this is from LIARS) to more than 100,000. The numbers really depend on whether one includes volunteers as well as those who are counting those who teach two classes as two teachers. The shortage in teachers is quite different from shortages in classrooms and textbooks. Classrooms can be built with enough construction materials, a lot, and labor. Textbooks can be written and published, requiring only a team of authors, editors, reviewers and publishers. Filling teachers' shortages, however, require so much more. The teaching profession requires individuals who are both motivated and capable.

With the introduction of K+12 and a spiral curriculum in both science and mathematics, the need for teachers in these fields has increases subst…

Teacher Education in the Philippines

There are more than 2,000 higher education institutions that offer teacher education in the Philippines. Statistics from the Commission on Higher Education shows that in a span of eight years (2001-2008), about 3 million have enrolled in these programs. Of the 3 million, only half a million (about 17%) completed a degree. The Philippines requires aspiring teachers to pass an examination. This year, 2014, the passing rates for the licensure exam are 29% (only 11,120 passed out of 38,377 takers) in elementary and 28% (only 12,033 passed out of 42,358 takers). 29 percent of 17 percent is about 5. This means that only 5 out of 100 students enrolled in a teacher education program in the Philippines becomes qualified to teach. Did you know that you are ten times more likely to draw a single pair in a poker game?

It is no wonder then that a group of education reform advocates in the Philippines is urging the government to close down non-performing education schools. The Philippine Business f…

What Should We Teach in Kindergarten?

The Philippines added a compulsory kindergarten year in its basic education. This is a step in the right direction as studies have clearly shown that schooling before the elementary years are beneficial not just for acquiring social skills but also academically. Unfortunately, simply adding a year before grade school is not enough. Quality matters. Perhaps, this is now obvious. But even with quality in preschool and kindergarten, all of these efforts can still go to waste. We can certainly teach kids how to read and recite the alphabet or count from one to ten in kindergarten. But if first grade tries to do the same, then there is really no progress. A forthcoming article in the American Educational Research Journal shows that repeating basic content coverage in the early years of schooling provides no benefit:

To understand better the above research article, it is useful to take note of what the authors consider as basic and advanced contents:
"Given that all children benefit fro…

Multitasking: Nonproductive Yet Lingering Myth

Solving two problems with one action is hitting two birds with one stone. This is certainly productive but this is different from performing two acts at the same time. "No man could serve two masters" is a favorite verse from the Scriptures. No one would be happy to see his or her surgeon texting while performing a surgery. No one should be texting while driving. Yet, we see plenty of examples out there. The following diagram shows why texting and driving severely lengthens the reaction time of a driver:

Texting is in fact worse than being intoxicated. The unexplainable part is that people already know this. The following is a graph from a recent paper in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied:

The above experiment involves two tasks simultaneously performed by a participant: (1) "keeping a mouse cursor within a small target that moved erratically around a circular track" and (2) "performing an auditory task (listening to a series of numbers and react…

Performance-Based Bonus Is Now Cheating-Based Bonus (Public School Education in the Philippines)

Burgess and Ratto in "The Role of Incentives in the Public Sector: Issues and Evidence" enumerated three reasons provided by teachers' unions in the United Kingdom against Performance-Based Pay for public school teachers:

Teaching is multidimensional and aimed at much wider outcomes than exam results or test scores. Teaching involves team-based co-operation that is inconsistent with an individual Performance Related Pay scheme. Teachers are professionals and do not require financial incentives to induce effort. 

William Firestone of Rutgers University has reviewed past and current research in "Teacher Evaluation Policy and Conflicting Theories of Motivation" to determine how such incentives work in the United States. Firestone arrived at the following conclusion:

The benefits from a bonus system that rewards teachers based on students' scores on exams are indeed lacking. Whether one agrees or not with such system, it is clear that money can lead to unintende…

"A Little Knowledge Is A Dangerous Thing"

A little learning is a dangerous thing  Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring  There shallow draughts intoxicate the brain,  And drinking largely sobers us again. -Alexander Pope in An Essay on Criticism
"Little knowledge is a dangerous thing." Bits of information are like pieces of a giant puzzle. Each piece provides a glimpse of the entire picture. Making the correct connections is essential but missing pieces can frustrate the entire process. Having bits of knowledge without the ability to relate and unify can indeed be a product of rote learning. However, pretending to have the critical thinking with only a fraction of the information required is equally precarious. In fact, it may not be possible to develop such skills without the mind absorbing the information first. Daniel Willingham writes, "'Learning to learn' is nebulous because it's domain-specific, and it's domain-specific because the ability to learn new things depends on what you alr…

"Buwisit" in Philippine Education

The website "Tagalog Lang" traces the Tagalog word "buwisit" to the Fukien Chinese phrase "bo ui sit", which means no clothes or food. Food and clothing are among the basic needs of a human. Thus, a word associated with a lack of these necessities is as empty as a promise made by a politician in the Philippines. It is as empty as the reforms in education currently being forced upon schools in the country. It is just appropriate that Pinoy Weekly's Pher Pasion uses the word for the title of a recent article:

The above discusses the shift in the school calendar in most of the campuses of the University of the Philippines. The shift is in preparation for the coming integration among members of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN). As described in a previous article on this blog, "When Should the School Year Begin and End", changing the school calendar year is not necessary. On top of just wasting time and causing aggravation, the…