Showing posts from August, 2014

How Should One Teach English-Language Learners?

Most Filipinos do not speak English in their homes. Thus, it is safe to assume that a great majority of students in Philippine public schools are English language learners. There should be no argument why it is necessary to learn English. Becoming fluent in English has become a requirement since most human disciplines have embraced English as the global language. Much of academic success now hinges on how well a student comprehends in English as textbooks, learning materials, as well as research papers are now almost exclusively written and published in English. Hence, there is no longer any doubt regarding the importance of learning English. Unfortunately, what program works best for English language learners is still very much debatable. Any claim otherwise only means dismissing or choosing selectively research studies that have attempted to answer this question. It should also be pointed out that this area is marked with poorly done research. The experiments are very difficult to p…

What We Teach Reflects Who We Are

Back in high school, although there were both male and female students, there were specific subjects in which boys are separated from the girls. There was "Home Economics" in which female students were enrolled and there was "Practical Arts" which male pupils took. This was almost four decades ago when gender roles were still prevalent. This was how most Filipino families were set up while I was growing up, the woman was a full time home keeper while the man was the breadwinner.

Schools are indeed reflections of the society since after all, we do choose what we teach our children. Take for instance the various states in the United States. In places like Massachusetts, there is no debate on whether to include "Intelligent Design" as part of the science curriculum while in some "red states", the discussion still goes on. The curriculum, what we want our children to learn is shaped by what we value. It is drawn according to our image.

The objection…

Teaching Science: What Works?

It is quite easy to be impressed by innovations in education. After all, how something should be taught can be a lucrative business venture. Like any advertisement, learning resources and methodologies can be promoted by appealing to some sort of common sense. Take teaching science as an example. Providing students with kits that they could actually touch, see, hear and smell seems like a guaranteed way of learning science. After all, how could "hands-on learning" fail? It must simply work. Right? Well, education must be treated like medicine. There needs to be evidence.

To illustrate why research-based evidence is important in education, we could explore one example: the Full Option Science System.

Global Innovation Index - 2014

A new report is available from Cornell University, INSEAD (The Business School for the World) and the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO). The report ranks 143 economies around the world using 81 indicators that measure human innovation. The productivity and creativity of a nation depends on its citizens. Thus, a major part of this evaluation looks at education. The ranking highlights the dire situation of education in the Philippines especially when compared to its neighbors in south east Asia. With the upcoming integration of these countries into one economic bloc, the data only forebode a grim predicament for the Philippines.

Overall, the Philippines ranks 100th out of 143 economies:
The above table presents only the countries in East Asia and Oceania Region. The Philippines ranks 15th in this region, well below its neighbors, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam and Indonesia. The index uses several indicators grouped under the following seven categories: Institutions, Human Ca…

Additional Years Should Decongest, But DepEd's K+12 Does Not

Adding years to basic education is not necessarily a bad idea except for the fact that it lengthens the time a child must be in primary and secondary school before entering higher education. When the number and scope of subjects covered in basic education are simply too much, it is a must to either eliminate some subjects or add years to schooling. Basic education is obviously congested if a child has to be in school from 7 in the morning till 5 in the afternoon. That is a ten-hour school day. Add two hours of commute, a child can possibly spend 12 hours just for school. This cannot be good since an adolescent needs about 9 hours of sleep to remain healthy. Here is a report from the American Academy of Pediatrics.

The main reason why the American Academy of Pediatrics is focusing on the school start time is because of what happens at puberty:

Decongesting the curriculum can definitely add flexibility allowing for less hours required to be inside a classroom. And certainly, this could …

K+12 and College Readiness

Readiness is a state of being fully prepared for something. Oftentimes, readiness is confused with actually doing the thing one is preparing for. The new DepEd K+12 curriculum is supposed to prepare high school students for higher education through one of the four strands in its academic track: Accountancy, Business and Management (ABM), Humanities and Social Sciences Strand (HUMSS), Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM), and General Academic. Looking at these strands demonstrates that not only should students be choosing whether to prepare oneself for work or college, but also commit to a particular area or discipline. The first question that comes to mind is whether public schools in the Philippines have the teachers qualified to teach these subjects. Looking at the strands in greater detail sparks even greater apprehension. For instance, Fr. Tabora, S.J. has this comment on his blog:
"In fact, in the presentations given by Dr. Tina Padolina on the Science, Te…

Putting Money into Education

Increasing the budget for public schools would improve the quality of basic education. Is this statement correct and true? The answer is "yes" only if the funds are used to provide the necessary resources for learning. For instance, there is no point in building classrooms in places where these are not needed. Classrooms must be built where schools are badly congested that multiple shifts are already employed. Multiple shifts place a severe restraint on any school. Morning and afternoon shifts do not provide enough flexibility and space for extended instructional hours as well as breaks. Anothe example, textbooks must be provided since learning does not only occur inside the classroom. In fact, a lot of times, learning occurs outside the classroom during peer discussions. Most importantly, teachers must be given adequate pay so that they can concentrate and focus on their work. If the basic needs of a learning environment are not met then the quality of schooling is severely…

Filipino Does Not Unite But Only Divide Us

Spending my first year at the Ateneo was somewhat horrible when it came to language. I felt forced to read, reflect and write in a foreign language, English. My high school days were part of an experiment of the Marcos regime during which most subjects except English were taught in a bilingual manner. As a result, I did not have that much opportunity to think, converse and write in English. I felt a fresh breath of air during my last two years in college during which had the option of learning philosophy using my mother tongue. Yet, at that time, I did acknowledge that in order to master chemistry, I must become proficient in English. The reason was very simple. All the textbooks in chemistry were in English. Slowly, I started thinking in English while learning chemistry.

At Georgetown or any other university that has a graduate program and accepts foreign students, proficiency in English is required. Graduate students are required to serve as teaching assistants, thus, they must be a…

Different Parts of the Brain

The brain is indeed a very complex system. The way it functions is likewise intricate. For example, when it comes to attention, neuroscientists consider the brain as having three modes: the task-positive network, the task-negative network, and an alert switch. The task-positive network is used when someone is focused and engaged on a particular activity while the task-negative network is associated with day dreaming. These two networks apparently cannot work simultaneously. A brain is either focused or wandering, but it can switch from one network to the other. The alert-switch prioritizes. This switch can also impede the other two networks. Just imagine sitting in front of a computer, writing a report or balancing a sheet, and a message comes up saying that you have a new message on your email or Facebook.

Inside the classroom, of course, we would want a child's brain to be on a task-positive network. In fact, it would be nice if we are all on task-positive network, fully engage…

Music in the Early Grades

My mother had always regarded me as either tone deaf or severely challenged with pitch. Music, however, is so much more than just hitting the right notes. There is timing, there is rhythm, and hearing is one activity the brain depends on. I really wish I had more music training when I was in elementary school. Music in the early grades in Philippine public schools is currently part of Music, Arts, Physical Education, Health lumped together as MAPEH, so students probably go through some music instruction for thirty minutes once every four days. Unfortunately, thirty minutes a week may not be enough for musical training to be fully beneficial.

Nina Kraus, a professor at Northwestern University, has been working on how training in music affects the brain. In a special issue of Hearing Research, Kraus and her co-editors wrote: "...It is worth pointing out that music is not only deeply linked to the auditory system but that it also engages almost every other neural system and cognitive…

Dropout Rates May Increase : Unintended Consequence of New Curriculum

The forecast of dropout rates in high school doubling has been made with regard to the introduction of a new curriculum. This prediction, however, is with regard to the United States' new Common Core and Next Generation Science Standards. This is about an educational system far more funded and prepared to tackle changes in curriculum. There are new textbooks as well as assessments that are now aligned with the new curriculum. Yet, the forewarning is serious based on a report by the Carnegie Corporation of New York, "Opportunity by Design: New High School Models for Student Success".

Why DepEd's K+12 Must Be Scrapped

Basic education fails miserably when a child drops out of school. The number of school leavers is one important data point that should be emphasized in assessing any educational system. The logic here is really very simple. No curriculum would have an effect if a child is not in school. Before one even thinks of future employment which is one thing education alone really does not determine, one must focus first on school attendance. Basic education must be education for all.

With regard to this metric, school leaving, the Philippines currently does not have a good record. In fact, the Philippines is among the top five countries in East Asia and the Pacific in terms of the percentage of school dropouts at the primary level.

To provide an insightful perspective on where Philippine basic education currently stands, it is useful to look at another country. This time, the comparison is not going to be made against Finland or any of the other Asian countries that currently excel in internat…

Should DepEd's K to 12 Be Suspended?

When it is clear that a direction taken will either lead to nowhere or disaster, it is important to step on the brakes. DepEd's K to 12 must not only be suspended - it must be scrapped. There is in fact a new community page on Facebookthat carries such message:

There are various reasons why the program must be discarded at this point. Any one of these reasons is adequate enough to call for a suspension of the new curriculum.

The Early Years of Learning

It is no secret that problems in basic education in the Philippines are evident already in the primary years. Adding two years at the end of basic education does not address the problems in the early years. Cornelio Reformina of the Emilia Foundation describes this vividly using the following analogy:
"The k-12 program is like adding 2 floors to a rickety 10-story building on a weak foundation."Lack of Resources

Classroom shortages are widely known. Poor facilities and overcrowded classrooms are widespread. Teachers are also…

What Should a 4th Grader Know in Math?

Almost forty years have passed since I took 4th grade math. I remember being asked to calculate how long a light year is in miles but that was already at the beginning of 5th grade. A light year is the distance light has traveled in one year so it requires knowledge of how fast light moves and how much time there is in one year. In this case, it only requires the relationship between speed, distance and time. There is no geometry required. Fourth grade math under the Common Core not only includes measurements and conversions between measurements, but also two-dimensional shapes. Looking at a prototype of a question developed by the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC), the difference between Common Core's 4th grade math and the one I had forty years ago becomes much more obvious:
The above question is indeed quite different from the tests I had when I was in 4th grade. In fact, it looks different from questions in the international standardized T…

Reading Is Fun, Reading Is Essential, Reading Is Personal

At third grade, students are now expected to read in order to learn. It is hoped that the earlier grades and preschool had instilled a love for reading. Reading requires not only vocabulary but also motivation since reading demands both effort and time. Stories cultivate a young mind. From fairy tales to super heroes, from playschool drama to animal characters, a child is exposed to situations, plots and relationships. Some of these are entirely new while some may strike a resemblance to what a child may have already experienced, potentially providing personal connections to what a book unfolds. Reading during the early years therefore emphasizes a very active stance. Children are encouraged to make predictions by just looking at the title or cover page of a book. Children are trained to read aloud with appropriate expression, after all, the reading must take into account the mood underlying each passage in the story. A monotone does not convey the story at all if emotions are not tak…

Bill Gates on Higher Education

As one of the richest persons on this planet and as one of the few who not only had the vision, but also the commitment and drive to create machines that can operate flawlessly, Bill Gates may actually have something worthwhile to hear with regard to the challenges and future of education. Gates did drop out from Harvard and did not finish college but he left formal schooling for a reason. He saw a rare opportunity and perfect timing was key. He knew that the right time was then and no later. He knew of the competition and one thing he was really good at was beating the competition.

To an audience of pupils from a school in Bangalore, this is what Gates said when he was asked by a student named Nengneilam Haokip on why he left Harvard University:

So when Gates delivers an address to the business officers of colleges and universities at the recent annual meeting of the National Association of College and University Business Officers (NACUBO), it is not surprising to see a mixed set of…

Collaborative Learning

When I was an undergraduate student at the Ateneo, the number of chemistry majors is very small that in some upper level courses like physical chemistry, both third and fourth year students attend the same class. The physical chemistry laboratory course was pretty challenging as our professor, Amando Kapauan, simply listed the titles of the experiments we were supposed to perform. The very little guidance provided forced all of us to work together. What the professor could do inside a lecture room is quite limited especially when one objective of the course is for students to learn to become resourceful. Problem solving can surely benefit from a lecturer who could cover a myriad of strategies or approaches, but in the real world, we usually do not have access to an expert who could provide all the right guidance or direction. We usually have to learn from our friends, from our peers.
Collaborative learning not only pools everyone's resources but also promote engagement in the les…