Duterte on Education, Politicians and Schools

Basic education is complex. Even those who are deep in education research readily acknowledge that multitude of factors affect education. A school principal is perhaps the administrator closest to the front line of learning. Richard DuFour and Mike Mattos write in "How Do Principals Really Improve Schools":
Today’s schools don’t need “instructional leaders” who attempt to ensure that teachers use the right moves. Instead, schools need learning leaders who create a schoolwide focus on learning both for students and the adults who serve them.
Principals are obviously not equipped with all the knowledge necessary to improve learning outcomes in schools. Principals also do not have the time and expertise to upgrade student learning. The best effort a principal can therefore make is to help create an environment that is conducive to learning.

The above likewise applies to politicians. Politicians are even less qualified to design a curriculum, prescribe how teaching should be done, and decide how and what subjects should be taught in schools. Similar to a principal, a politician could only help in setting up a culture that embraces learning.

A recent quip made by a presidential candidate in the Philippines has attracted so much vitriol. Rodrigo Duterte has suggested removing algebra from the basic education curriculum. Such suggestion, however, is not something new coming from Duterte. As shown in a news article from SunStar half a year ago, Duterte already "jested that Algebra subject should be taken out of the prospectus".

Above copied from SunStar
Taken out of context, Duterte's statement on algebra does seem ridiculous. Within the proper context, Duterte is really criticizing the government's imposition of a mandatory senior high school. Duterte has always been critical of DepEd's K to 12. In June of 2012, Duterte was quoted opposing the new curriculum.

Above copied from SunStar Davao
And up till June of this year, Duterte has maintained opposition to DepEd's K to 12:

Above copied from BusinessMirror
Duterte makes it clear to everyone especially journalists the need for discernment, to know when he is joking and when he is serious. It is actually not that difficult to figure out when to take Duterte seriously. One simply has to keep in mind what a person like Duterte in any government position can really do. This aspect is so evident in a video during which Duterte outlines his platform:

Embedded video from Joanna Allas

"I cannot do it alone" was his first statement.

Near the end of the video, when asked what he intends to do to improve education, Duterte responds:
To do this we must promote Values Education. Our government, TV-Radio and Mass Media, all the resources should be able to concentrate on educating our children, building character, and we must teach the values of hardwork, ethics, honesty, and cleanliness, self-respect and the molding of character, of self-reliance. The discipline that I started in Davao is now being enforced by the people themselves. I have proven that it can be done. 
We must be Innovative. If there is still a lack of classrooms, we can rely on technology… for example, big screens, for the meantime, to teach our children the education that they need.
Duterte mentions values and if one examines the list he gives, these actually resemble what Angela Duckworth calls "grit and self-control" (Duckworth Research Laboratory, University of Pennsylvania). Hardwork is the first value Duterte mentions. In the seminal paper on grit published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, it has been shown that "grittier individuals had attained higher levels of education than less gritty individuals of the same age". Paul Tough gives a similar advice on how to help children, especially those born in poverty, in his book How Children Succeed.

Another item Duterte mentions in his education platform is the role of mass media. In this aspect, one could look at research on Sesame Street, for instance, as an example of a mass media effort on education. Charlotte Cole in "Why Count von Count Is Obsessed With a New Number" wrote:

Sesame Street will never be a substitute for school, but for many children there is a critical need for effective, affordable educational interventions that either supplement existing efforts or (for children living in under-resourced parts of the world) are the sole access to an intentional early childhood educational experience. That's why, for example, in 2008, researchers found that in Bangladesh the Sesame Street Difference translates into a full year of learning: when children four years old were exposed to Sisimpur (Bangladesh's Sesame Street adaptation) they performed at the same level on tests of reading and math as their five year old peers who had not watched!

Duterte also mentions the use of technology to alleviate shortage in basic education. One can imagine that if there is a shortage of classrooms, it is very likely that there is likewise a shortage of teachers. In a previous post, "An Excellent Teacher for Every Student", the following is highlighted:
In the Philippines, the Bernidos of Jagna, Bohol have been working on a project called Learning Physics as One Nation (LPON) to address the lack of qualified teachers. LPON is quite similar to the models shown previously from Public Impact's Opportunity Culture: 
"Learning Physics as One Nation (LPON) is an initiative of the Fund for Assistance to Private Education, funded by the Department of Education of the Philippines, and designed to bypass the nation’s severe STEM teacher shortage. Project components include a specially designed Physics Essentials Portfolio of 239 learning activities to be independently accomplished by students during one school year, and associated 18 DVD volumes of video lectures by national educators. The materials are designed such that a command team can monitor student progress, and address questions from the field through e-mail, mobile phone text messages, Skype, and fast courier services. Initial assessment of student performance shows a positive trend. Thus, after field studies in over 200 schools, plans are to produce Learning as One Nation materials for all other STEM subjects following the LPON model."
Duterte's idea of solving some of the problems Philippine basic education faces is actually not that far from the vision of Magsaysay awardees, Ma. Victoria Carpio-Bernido and Christopher C. Bernido.

Duterte perhaps understands the proper role of a politician in basic education. In a speech that Duterte gave during an Education Summit, the issue he emphasized was this:
"Good leaders will not let drugs ruin even a tiny part of their society because drugs will surely fry the minds of your students."
To this, Duterte apparently added:
"If I will be in position, I will not be the one to kill. I will build rehabilitation centers in every barangay, town, and city to make the brains of addicts return to normal life."
Like principals, politicians are enablers. The best they could do is to ensure that a school is indeed a place for learning.