Showing posts from July, 2014

Anxiety, Math and Working Memory

Cognitive psychologists theorize that our minds work with something similar to the "working memory" of a computer. This is some sort of a mental scratch pad on which items are placed simultaneously. The capacity of this pad is obviously quite limited. We can probably easily remember three or four things to do on a day, but higher than that, we would probably need a schedule, unless these activities have already been part of a routine. When something is already done out of habit, it becomes automatic, requiring very little from our minds. How a children learns is no different. It is therefore important to keep in mind how much load is placed on a child's working memory when being instructed. The same goes when a child is being asked to solve a problem or answer a question. The significance of the working memory crystallizes clearly in learning math. It is one subject in which there is growing evidence that anxiety alone can dramatically lower the performance of a child or…

Raise Teachers' Pay or Face a Mass Leave

The Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) posted a message on Facebook to send a clear message both to the administration and its members. Here is an English translation of their latest message: "Our message to the Aquino administration is clear. We, teachers and staff, will not be satisfied if we do not receive any salary raise in 2015. We must prepare, if this is not included in the proposed 2015 budget, we will not have second thoughts, we will go on mass leave."

Teachers' pay is intimately related to the quality of education. In a recent study by The New Teacher Project (TNTP) in the United States, how teachers are paid has been tagged as a determining factor on who enters the profession and as important, on who stays. The study, entitled Shortchanged: The Hidden Costs of Lockstep Teacher Pay, emphasizes the significance of the starting salary as well as the dependence of promotions and salary increase only on number of years served or advanced degrees obtained. The s…

Teachers' Assessment of Aquino Administration on Education

In time for this year's state of the nation address, teachers' organizations in the Philippines have voiced their opinion on the performance on education by the Aquino administration: "P-Noy got failing mark from teachers" and "State of Teachers under Aquino: more work, less benefit, and a static salary".

From Teachers' Dignity (Ating Guro):


"The teachers made their assessment of the Aquino administration’s performance thru a “Progress Report Card” using the K-12 grading system in several ‘key result areas’ or actions that were expected from the administration which include the increase in the salaries and benefits of teachers, sufficient education budget, fund allocation for K-12 program and patriotic education. The president got a failing grade B (for beginning), in all of those aspects and was advise to provide the needs of the education sector in his remaining years in office."

From the Alliance of Conc…

Summer Reading:Providing Books Is Not Enough

Schools in both the United States and the Philippines are not in session all year round. Summer breaks often bring a pause to children's academic efforts. The National Summer Learning Association writes in one of its research briefs"Summer’s always been a great time to kick back with a book. But a strong body of research shows that, without practice, students lose reading skills over the summer months and children from low-income families lose the most. With the prevalence of television, computers and other electronic distractions, how can parents, educators and librarians encourage kids to immerse their minds and imaginations in books over the summer months?"

It is not sufficient however just to provide books that children could read over the summer. According to James Kim, a professor of education at Harvard University:
"...In fact, in one study, when we gave books to kids but did nothing else, they did no better than the kids who did nothing over the summer. The…

Ethics Demands Not Only Where DAP Funds Went But, As Important, Where Did These Come From?

The Philippines DepEd was quick to deny allegations that some of the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) funds came from savings realized by denying teachers' bonuses.

It is difficult to decipher who is telling the truth when a member of the Senate, presumably that branch of the government that votes and approves the General Appropriations Act (GAA), said not long ago:
More than a year ago, a member of the Philippines Senate, Francis Escudero, described how various government agencies were able to produce "savings":"He cited as example the budget that Congress had approved in the past for 15,000 new teachers every year but the Department of Education would only hire about 7,000 new teachers. The budget for the remaining 8,000 positions, he said, was then considered savings and re-aligned for bonuses of the department’s employees. (Philippine Daily Inquirer, 17 January 2013) In addition, the Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) maintains its version of how DepEd …

Bonuses, Savings and the Disbursement Acceleration Program

More than a year ago, a member of the Philippines Senate, Francis Escudero, described how various government agencies were able to produce "savings":
"He cited as example the budget that Congress had approved in the past for 15,000 new teachers every year but the Department of Education would only hire about 7,000 new teachers.The budget for the remaining 8,000 positions, he said, was then considered savings and re-aligned for bonuses of the department’s employees. (Philippine Daily Inquirer, 17 January 2013) These are "savings". And if the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP), which has been recently ruled as unconstitutional by the Philippines Supreme Court, has been funded by "savings", this then explains in part where the money comes from. Critics of those who criticize DAP reiterate that "unconstitutional" does not necessarily mean "immoral", especially when this program has been operated in "good faith". The fact…

Innovation in Education

Change is inevitable. Yet there are universal constants. Not all change is good. There are changes that happen beyond our influence or control. And there are changes that we ourselves bring to realization. When we innovate, we look for improvement. This type of change for the most part involves a process, but it cannot be divorced from the outcome. In fact, this type of willful change is only good if it is for the better. In a new report from the OECD, Measuring Innovation in Education:A New Perspective, Educational Research and Innovation, countries have been ranked in terms of changes in schools' practices and policies. Vincent-Lancrin, lead author of the study, has been quoted as saying, "Innovation is a means to an end, we need to think of it not as an indicator of performance itself, but something that will translate into better educational outcomes." Whether an innovation leads to an increase in quality in education deserves to be asked. Assuming innovation is a go…

The Philippines DepEd's Attempt to Help Private School Education

Inside the 309 billion peso 2014 budget for the Department of Education (DepEd) in the Philippines is a 7.45 billion item intended to help families who are sending their children to private schools. In the latest government report, more than 800000 pupils have been assisted by the program formally called Government Assistance for Students and Teachers in Private Education (GASTPE). This subsidy amounts to about 9000 pesos spent by the government per pupil. Back in 2009, using World Bank data, Seth Mydans of the NY Times estimated that the Philippine government spends about 6600 pesos per pupil enrolled in its public schools. There is the question, of course, of why the government needs to run two programs. There are 21 million students currently enrolled in the public schools, a system marked with acute shortages in resources: classrooms, learning materials, and teachers, yet the government still reaches out and helps families who have their children studying in private schools. The i…

Education and the Internet

This research comes from a network of young people based at the University of Warwick. The social and educational network called IGGY recently looked at the role of the internet in basic education. The work is quite a small survey. It certainly does not represent the entire globe although it covers several countries: US, UK, Australia, South Africa, France, Netherlands, Singapore, and Pakistan. Clearly, the survey does not even capture the most populous countries. Nonetheless, the findings may be worthwhile to look at. So, here are some of the results. These figures are copied from the final report without permission.

The first one relates to how frequent the internet is being used in homework.

One might ask the same question in the Philippines. My guess is that the above figure is far from what is going on in the Philippines. What may be closer to the Philippines is the scenario from Pakistan (which is quite an outlier when it comes to the above results). For Pakistann the IGGY resea…

(ITLL B OK) Text Messaging Effects on Literacy and Grammar

LOL, OMG, BRB, ppl instead of people, u in place of you, and 2 for to. These are just examples of what one might see in text messages as well as posts on social media and emails. Typing less characters to express a message of course reduces the burden of punching those keys, especially the very small ones on those smart phones. It is quick. And it is evolving with its own set of rules. There are concerns that these exercises can impair one's literacy and grammar skills. In fact, a press release two years ago from Penn State highlighted a study by Cingel and Sundar that claims a negative relationship between texting and grammar skills:

Unfortunately, this study was not well designed. The above press release noted:
The researchers, who report their findings in the current issue of New Media & Society, then passed out a survey that asked students to detail their texting habits, such as how many texts they send and receive, as well as their opinion on the importance of texting. The…

Yet Another List of Top Universities in the World

This one comes from the Center for World University Rankings, based in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Harvard, Stanford and MIT, from the US, capture the top three spots:

The ranking methodology is claimed to be independent of surveys and university data submissions. It relies solely on the following data:

Publications (5%) - Number of publications in top-tier journals.Influence (5%) - Number of publications in journals that are considered to be most influential (Nature, Science, PNAS are examples).Citations (5%) - Number of highly cited papers.h-index (5%) - Number of papers that are at least cited the same number of times.Patents (5%) - Number of international patent filed.Awards won by faculty (25%) - The list of awards counted is as follows: Nobel Prize and the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences, Abel Prize, Balzan Prize, Charles Stark Draper Prize, Crafoord Prize, Dan David Prize, Fields Medal, Fundamental Physics Prize, Holberg International Memorial Prize, Japan Prize, Kavli Prize…

Why We Should Listen to Teachers

It is a lesson I learned early on from my parents. I need to listen when something important is being said. I need to listen to something that makes sense. Listening is of course one way we truly benefit from those who are much more informed than we are. Here is what Arkansas 2007 Teacher of the Year, Justin Minkel, recently wrote on his blog, "President Obama has often been described as an eloquent speaker. I learned this week that he is an eloquent listener, too."
I guess having a spouse and two daughters can make any father a good listener.

Kidding aside, Minkel was in fact relating a meeting he had with the president together with the Education secretary and three other teachers. The conversation started with Obama asking the following questions:
Why had we stayed in our schools? What could he and the Secretary do to support teachers in high-need schools? What policies could ensure that students who need the strongest teachers receive them? The four teachers who have been…

Should a Teacher Decorate a Classroom?

We decorate the walls of our bedrooms and offices with posters, paintings and photos. Bare walls look like prison cells. Decorations on walls brighten a room, making it more inviting. The town of Paete, Laguna in the Philippines are known for its artistry. Thus, it would be surprising to find undecorated walls inside the homes in this town. Furthermore, the walls inside the classrooms in this town are likewise highly unlikely to be empty. In fact, when I visited Paete ten years ago, it would be impossible not to notice the paintings on the wall:

Even in high school, considerable talent is displayed on the walls.

The Philippines and the English Language

The Philippines is markedly different from the other countries in Asia in terms of language. Its native languages use the Latin alphabet and English is taught in the early years of elementary education. It is also used as a medium of instruction in some schools especially in private elite colleges. Amy Chavez of The Japan Times noted in an article early this year how impressed she was with how fluent Filipinos are in English:

Unfortunately, Chavez, in the above article, is misusing test data. The Educational Testing Service (ETS) specifically mentions in its research reports not to use scores to rank countries:

A View of the Future

The way higher education works has fairly been constant for more than a hundred years. With advances in technology as well as changing demands from society, there is a growing impression that colleges are about to change. Whether universities would indeed change still remains up in the air. Stanford University, for instance, has compiled several possible shifts. The design team has chosen to exhibit four scenarios: Open Loop University, Paced Education, Axis Flip, and Purpose learning. Open Loop means 6 years of study distributed over a lifetime. Paced Education also requires 6 years, but distributed in three different phases. Axis Flip places skills above content knowledge. Lastly, Purpose Learning throws out Majors and embraces Missions instead. Of the four, I personally think Open Loop is likeliest to happen:

What is in store for universities in the future largely depends on our views of what higher education should be. To read more about these various future visions of a universit…

Online Learning: What Will Make It Work

It should be obvious that simply transferring learning materials from print to digital involves only a change in medium. A change in medium does not necessarily affect learning. Whether a teacher in a rural school in the Philippines uses a handwritten visual aid on a piece of cartolina or a projector that shows a PowerPoint slide should have only a minute impact on learning outcomes. Whether a student reads a textbook in print or from an online source displayed on a screen should not really make a big difference except for aesthetic and ergonomic reasons. As long as the content and quality are comparable, the medium of choice should not matter at all. Thus, the transformative effect of technology on learning requires a lot more than just delivery of content from a cloud. Any claim that online learning would revolutionize education is simply wishful thinking if all that technology does is changing the medium.

There are numerous studies that have evaluated online learning. Unfortunately…

Policies to Cure Poverty

The Hamilton Project, named after the first secretary of the Treasury in the United States, "puts forward innovative proposals from leading economic thinkers — based on credible evidence and experience, not ideology or doctrine — to introduce new and effective policy options into the national debate." This past month of June, the project presented a list of fourteen proposals designed to address the poverty problem in the United States. Although in the early section of the volume, it is acknowledged that not all anti-poverty policies have been considered, it is interesting to note that basic education is not present in any of the fourteen proposals. Perhaps, it is just another indication that poverty is a problem in basic education. Solving poverty is required to improve basic education and therefore must be addressed outside of education. Anyway, here are the fourteen proposals which include early childhood education, summer opportunities, building skills, and social safety…

The Issue of Language

It is the fourth of July and America is celebrating its Independence Day. America is the place where my children were born. Across the Pacific is the Philippines, the country of my birth. For over a hundred years, the Philippines remains a country in search of its own identity. America is also a very young nation compared to the countries in Europe and of course, nations in Asia like India, China and Japan. Since these nations are so much older, their education systems have likewise stood for so many more generations. Their schools are much more mature and certainly, the classrooms in these countries are filled with experiences of so many centuries. America may have conquered higher education and research but with basic education, the country is still growing up. It is a bit disconcerting that children in the early grades are expected to master social skills and find creativity in themselves. It is mind boggling that children need to find not just one way, but at least two different w…

It Is Important to Listen to Teachers

There are supposedly groups that represent teachers. There are teachers' unions in the United States and the Philippines has the Alliance of Concerned Teachers as well as the Teachers' Dignity Coalition. The proper scientific way to hear teachers' concerns and conditions is a survey because there remains the question of whether teachers' groups fully represent the profession. Unfortunately, the Philippines does not participate in OECD's Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS 2013). The United States fails to meet the required participation rate but the responses are large enough that the data may actually be worthwhile to report. Nonetheless, taking a look at this survey can still inform us about teachers. For one, the survey provides what questions we may need to ask our teachers. The following captures a summary of the survey for teachers and principals (The data and figures presented here are copied from TALIS 2013):

The TALIS survey covers more than …