Showing posts from August, 2016

"We Feel, Therefore We Learn"

A news article today on Rappler relates the sad and unfortunate displacement of over three thousand college workers due to DepEd's K to 12. It starts with a statement made by the Philippines' Commission on Higher Education (CHED) during a hearing in Congress: "The number of displacements is much lower than the initial projection". The callousness is truly remarkable.
Somehow, the commission seems to have mastered a perfect dichotomy between logic and feelings, between cognition and emotion. Perhaps, it is important that the commission takes into heart and mind results from neuroscience research that demonstrates the strong link between feeling and learning.

In an article published in the journal Mind Brain, and Education, We Feel, Therefore We Learn: The Relevance of Affective and Social Neuroscience to Education, Mary Helen Immordino-Yang and Antonio Damasio have laid out clearly what neuroscience research is telling us about emotion and cognition:
Recent advances …

Parents Are Key to Improving Basic Education

Surprising results have been recently reported regarding the achievement gap in kindergarten in the United States. Sean F. Reardon and Ximena A. Portilla report in a study published in the journal AERA Open that the kindergarten school readiness gap between poor and rich children has narrowed significantly during the past decade. This is promising. It suggests a further decline in the achievement gap in the later years of basic education. It is surprising because income inequality has significantly widened during this time period and yet, the achievement gap has done the opposite. The actual cause still needs to be determined but the best guess at the moment is what parents are doing.

The 90-10 gap represents the difference between children from families belonging to 90th percentile and those that fall under the 10th percentile of the income distribution. The gap remains substantial, but the drop from 1998 to 2010 is clear.  These numbers come from a nationally representative data of …

"Poor Children Have Smaller Brains"

It is a dangerous headline for it implies fate. It is harmful as it suggests intellectual inferiority on those who are born to poverty. Yet, a similar headline can be seen even from the news section of the science journal Nature: "Poverty shrinks brains from birth".
The above headline is actually a lot more sensational than the headline employed by the research article described in the news article.

Unfortunately, a lot of people often do not go beyond the headline. Obviously, people are even less expected to read the original article. One simply has to see one of the graphs in the research article to appreciate what the differences really are:

Sadly, people probably would likewise fail to see and read the following paragraph from the research article:
"As a final point, our results should in no way imply that a child’s socioeconomic circumstances lead to an immutable trajectory of cognitive or brain development. Many other factors account for variance in brain morphom…

Surprising Results Regarding Retention

During my days of schooling and it is perhaps true up till now, retention is seen as bad. In a world where nobody is perfect and failure is inevitable, it is indeed surprising that retention is widely perceived as detrimental. A lot of research do show that retention may have negative effects. However, it should be clear that what is actually done with retention can significantly affect the outcome. ASCD's article, What Research Says About... / Grade Retention, ends with a wise statement, "Without early diagnosis and targeted intervention, struggling students are unlikely to catch up whether they are promoted or retained."

Thus, studying the effects of retention must be carefully designed. A paper scheduled to be published in the Journal of Educational Psychology, looks at the effects of retention by examining more than a hundred students that have been retained from a total sample of more than a thousand students in 42 secondary schools in Germany. The first sentence of…

"Valuing Teachers, Improving their Status"

"Valuing Teachers, Improving their Status" is the theme of this year's World Teachers' Day, October 5, 2016. Of course, the status of the teaching profession can not be simply reduced to how much a teacher gets paid. Still, money talks. Teacher salaries do speak of how much we value our teachers. 

In the United States, the Economic Policy Institute has recently released a study that shows that teachers' pay is significantly lower than those of other college graduates.

And in the Philippines, the story is pretty much the same. Representative France Castro (Alliance of Concerned Teachers) says that public school teachers are only taking home about 3,500 to 6,000 pesos (75-130 US$) every month: 18 August 2016
Reference: Rep. France L. Castro
Rep. France Castro on DBM Sec. Diokno's anti-poor statement

Rep. France Castro of ACT Teachers Party-List denounced DBM Sec. Benjamin Diokno’s 'anti-poor statement’ when he said “there is no urgency” in givin…

How We Solve Arithmetic Problems - How We Solve Societal Problems

Multiplication and division involving either fractions or decimals that are less than one persist as major challenges in fifth grade classrooms. Punching these decimals into a calculator, provided that the correct buttons are pushed, can of course lead to the right answer. Knowing how to do these arithmetic operations by hand likewise can be successful, but the question of whether a child really understands the concept of multiplication and division involving fractions remains to be addressed. Without such understanding, a careless handling of a calculator or an error in computation by hand can easily happen and at the end, a child is completely unaware that his or her answer does not make sense. A recent study involving seventh graders from a public school near Pittsburgh shows that students continue to fail in this area.

The work, scheduled to be published in the Journal of Educational Psychology, looks at how well a student answers an arithmetic problem involving decimals. The foll…

How We Treat Our Young Children

"In one study of extra-year programs, the biggest gains were not for the extra-year children but for the at-risk children who have received extra help in the regular classroom", noted Shepard and Smith in their paper, "Synthesis of Research on School Readiness and Kindergarten Retention". Shepard and Smith had long argued that schools should address the diversity of young children when they enter kindergarten and not focus on applying a common set of standards for all. Sadly, a list for kindergarten readiness, which includes the ability to "identify 30+ letters", is what parents see, for instance, from a county in Ohio.

School readiness as well as school entry age are issues difficult to address in research since learning outcomes are often determined by factors other than these two. As a starter, context matters. In addition, how schools respond as Shepard and Smith had shown can easily sway the results simply based on a teacher's perception of what …

Parenting, Basic Education, and Drug Abuse

Parents can provide both support and control. Parenting styles according to Maccoby and Martin can be categorized into four types: authoritarian (demanding and unresponsive), authoritative (demanding but responsive), permissive (responsive but undemanding), and neglectful (unresponsive and undemanding). With Amy Chua's "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother", strict and harsh parenting has been suggested to lead to successful education outcomes. Research has shown that this is false. The data as nicely illustrated by Paul Tullis in Slate show that Tiger parenting leads only to lower achievement and greater depression.

Cultural differences are often cited to explain different parenting styles. Thus, the success of an authoritative parenting style may just hold in Western societies, but not in general. What outcomes can be predicted from any given parenting style therefore need to be studied across cultures.

There is one study that involves parents and children in the Philippine…

Crime Rate: Poverty, Wages, Deterrence, and Basic Education

A lot can be said regarding how people could use statistics to mislead. It is therefore important to evaluate the source of information as well as biases that may be present in both sampling and analysis of data. Data can indeed provide correlations but one must be cautious in drawing a cause and effect relationship. There is a considerable interest in finding what correlates with crime. A reduction in crime rate can be easily claimed as an accomplishment by either policy makers or law enforcers. If the crime rate has really gone down, it is indeed an accomplishment. Nevertheless, it is still necessary to identify what factors are really responsible or significant. For this analysis, the size of the data as well as the length of time are consequential. One study, covering the period 1970-2008, shows that the crime rate in the Philippines correlates with wage rate, labor participation rate, and per capita income. In contrast, deterrence does not seem to impact significantly crime rates…

"Shooting First and Asking Questions Later"

A recent article from The Economist does not waste any subtlety in the message it wants to send to the Duterte administration: "The lesson of the drug wars in Latin America, and of previous dirty wars, is that extrajudicial violence resolves nothing and makes everything worse. Innocent people will be killed; and denunciations will also be used to settle scores and exploited by gangs to wipe out rivals. Filipinos’ desire for instant retribution will, surely, turn to horror, hatred and revenge. The rule of law will erode. Investors, who have made the Philippines one of globalisation’s winners in recent years, will flee. The only winners will be the still-lurking insurgents. Mr Duterte’s ill-conceived war on drugs will make the Philippines poorer and more violent."

The Philippines does sit in a precarious situation. One simply has to look at its stock market index:

With its stock index almost doubled in the past five years, one can easily predict that a correction is inevitable…

Debunking Myths and the Drug War in the Philippines

In a Harvard Business Review article, Christopher Graves enumerates reasons why debunking myths is a very difficult task. Working from findings made by social scientists, Graves finds four major reasons:
Arguing the facts doesn’t help—in fact, it makes the situation worse.Repeating the myth inadvertently popularizes it.Affirmation works – but we rarely use it.We consistently underestimate the power of narrative. Thus, with the above in mind, the previous post on this blog was really an exercise in futility.
So, below may be a more effective step. This is a narrative. It comes from the Kaibigan FoundationKAIBIGAN ERMITA OUTREACH FOUNDATION, INC.July 19 at 7:17am ·  Kaibigan Foundation (an NGO based in Manila) condemns the killing of Jefferson Bunuan, a 20 year old student beneficiary. Jefferson is a sponsored child of the foundation for eleven years. As described by Kaibigan staff, Jefferson is polite, soft-spoken, and has shown determination to finish his studies despite experiencing…

Evidence, Drugs and Crime

I have seen emails from Philippine scientists in the US asking whether our community of scholars should say something as a group regarding the current war on drugs waged by the Duterte administration. In a country where most people shoot straight from the hip without any regard for what research says, opinions from academic scientists who have practiced in their own disciplines respect for data may be welcomed or may be not. As discussed in this blog so many times, research based evidence does not seem to guide basic education policies in the Philippines. Therefore, it is unlikely that a similar effort on drug policies will make a difference unless a unified voice from the community is made. Nonetheless, this blog will try. And as always, the first step is to destroy myths. For starters, alcohol is the most harmful drug to both users and society (at least, according to researchers in the UK):

Second, the association between violent crimes and drug use is indeed true, but not for all d…

Poor Kids Tend to Have a Fixed Mindset while Rich Kids Tend to Have a Growth Mindset

Whether skills are inborn or cultivated through practice may influence how much effort a child would exert in school. Dweck and coworkers at Stanford University have worked on studying this psychology factor. They recently published an article in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, USA. The study which takes advantage of data from more than a hundred thousand tenth graders in Chile demonstrates quite a strong correlation between the income of the family a child belongs to and the mindset, either fixed or growth, the child holds. In addition, learning outcomes as measured by standardized exams are also correlated with mindset. Average scores of students within any given income group are shown to correlate with a child believing that intelligence is not fixed, and can be developed through diligent work.

Data also show that at the lowest income decile only about 10 percent believes in a growth mindset while more than sixty percent subscribes to a fixed one, and at the hi…

Teachers and Parents Are Crucial for a Successful Education Reform

"More than half of school reform efforts fail, many as a result of poor implementation. Without buy-in from critical actors such as teachers, administrators and parents, any reform effort – no matter how well-intentioned and conceived – is sunk.", wrote Courtnay Singer in "School by School Reform". With the Philippines' DepEd K to 12, opposition from parents and teachers may easily spell doom to the new curriculum even without the Supreme Court ruling on its constitutionality.

To appreciate the importance of a buy-in from critical actors, one can look at an example that is less controversial than DepEd's K to 12: Giving each student a laptop computer. The Shorenstein Center at Harvard provides a resource for research news and one of its recent articles written by David Trilling, Student learning with laptops: Measuring the effectiveness of laptops in American classrooms, points to a study published in the journal Review of Educational Research. This paper d…

Years in High School and PhD

Defending DepEd's K to 12, education secretary Briones was recently quoted, "I know for a fact that if one is a PhD, for example, from the Philippines, you go to another country, you will not get the same kind of ranking that you will have in the Philippines because they will automatically count the number of years you have had in basic education as well as in your field of specialization..." The first part of the secretary's statement may indeed be factual but the second part, "because they will automatically count the number of years you have had in basic education", is outright false. At the doctorate level, one's transcripts or grades, or even being a summa cum laude are not considered. What counts is one's original contribution to human knowledge, as documented in publications in peer-reviewed journals. 
Why an education secretary would issue such a misleading statement is perplexing. Perhaps, it is simply an invitation for knowledgeable people…

"Issues in Philippine Basic Education"

The Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) from the Bicol Region in the Philippines shares a list of current concerns regarding education in the country. The list apparently came to the attention of the teacher group as a Facebook message. It is quite different from the one shared a couple of years ago by James Paglinawan from Central Mindanao University.

The first item on the list criticizes the lack of emphasis on reading, writing and arithmetic, and fails to see the importance of other subjects such as music and health. Based on this, the list sounds as if it does not come from an actual classroom teacher. Most teachers now recognize the significance of these subjects in elementary school. It demonstrates a lack of awareness of what we now know about how music education facilitates "language development, literacy, numeracy, measures of intelligence, general attainment, creativity, fine motor co-ordination, concentration, self-confidence, emotional sensitivity, social skills, te…