Showing posts from January, 2017

Why Basic Education Is No Longer a Means for a Better Life

Schools are supposed to prepare the young for a productive future. Basic education is provided by the government through public schools. Schools can vary from each other especially in terms of resources. The disparity in resources leads to a disparity in opportunities. And when opportunities are not equal, there is no equity. Unfortunately, schools that need more resources are often the ones under resourced. This sad state exists in the United States and a recent report for the state of Washington demonstrates that less opportunities are provided in schools that have more students living in poverty thereby exacerbating the effects of poverty on education.

The report authored by Havala Hanson,  Biraj Bisht, and Jason Greenberg Motamedi of Education Northwest looks at the number of advanced courses taken by students in high schools in the state of Washington. Taking these advanced courses is correlated with a higher chance of enrolling in college. Students are grouped according to their …

Alternative Fact: Students Deprived of All Knowledge

US president Donald Trump made a scathing comment on public schools in his inauguration speech, "But for too many of our citizens, a different reality exists: mothers and children trapped in poverty in our inner cities; rusted-out factories scattered like tombstones across the landscape of our nation; an education system flush with cash, but which leaves our young and beautiful students deprived of all knowledge; and the crime and the gangs and the drugs that have stolen too many lives and robbed our country of so much unrealized potential." Trump criticizes public schools along with crime, gangs and drugs. US public schools certainly do not belong to the same category as crime, gangs and drugs.

First of all, there is variation is learning outcomes. This is seen even with standardized international exams such as PISA:

And second, the variation can be explained by a school's socio-economic status. What Trump says is clearly a distortion of the truth. Valerie Strauss of th…

America First?

The following is an excerpt from US President Donald Trump's inaugural speech:
We've made other countries rich while the wealth, strength, and confidence of our country has disappeared over the horizon.
One by one, the factories shuttered and left our shores, with not even a thought about the millions upon millions of American workers left behind.
The wealth of our middle class has been ripped from their homes and then redistributed across the entire world.
But that is the past. And now we are looking only to the future. We assembled here today are issuing a new decree to be heard in every city, in every foreign capital, and in every hall of power.
From this day forward, a new vision will govern our land.
From this moment on, it's going to be America First. Years ago, the southern island of the Philippines, Mindanao, was celebrating graduates of the Job Enabling English Proficiency (JEEP) Program:

As noted in the above article, "JEEP is a two-year non-degree English langua…

Why a Trump Presidency Worries Me

It is not his overwhelming presence on Twitter. It is not his bullying characteristics although that should already be worrisome. What worries me more is his perspective on solving problems. He often solves a problem for some, but not for all. This is probably an outgrowth of making deals as a businessman. Self-interest is his categorical imperative. Nowhere is this more evident in his approach to solving problems in basic education. His answer is school choice, fully embodied in his choice for secretary of education, Betsy DeVos:

Devos clearly demonstrates a lack of knowledge of current issues in basic education. This is indeed forgivable especially for one who is willing to learn. The scary part is that Devos is a very strong advocate for school choice. Devos believes that parents should have the right to choose schools for their children. Being able to make a choice, however, can only generate a good result if such a choice is well-informed. If Devos herself seems very lacking in k…

CHED Chief Is Neither Anti-Student nor Anti-People

Militant youth groups are obviously misguided in their recent criticisms of the chairperson of the Philippines' Commission on Higher Education (CHED), Patricia Licuanan. Higher education is evidently dissimilar from basic education. Basic education is compulsory while higher education is a choice. Every child therefore has the right to enter either a primary or secondary school. Colleges and universities are obviously different in this aspect as these institutions are selective. And the selection comes not so much because of what colleges do but because of what has happened in basic education. Patricia Licuanan is correct in stating, "The poorest of the poor are not yet in college. They have been knocked out long ago and enrollment of the poorest quintile in higher education is only 8 percent. So it’s not going to benefit the poor." Access to higher education is therefore not limited because of tuition, but mainly because of the failures of basic education. 

Higher educa…

"What You Don't Know Won't Hurt You"

This is what Dave Ramsey of Financial Peace Revisited thinks about this saying: “That stupid saying "What you don't know can't hurt you" is ridiculous. What you don't know can kill you. If you don't know that tractor trailer trucks hurt when hitting you, then you can play in the middle of the interstate with no fear - but that doesn't mean you won't get killed.” I guess we should fix that saying then to "What you don't know can hurt you". But in education, we could go further and write a saying that provides a useful message: "What you think you know but actually do not know will hurt you."

We are often ignorant of our own incompetence. This is according to a study published in the journal Current Directions in Psychological Science:

It does appear that top performers tend to be a bit modest while bottom performers greatly exaggerate their abilities. Dunning et al. call it a "double curse" - those who do not have the …

Exercise Improves the Academic Performance of Children with ADHD

My son's daily schedule in his elementary school includes an hour-long period for recess and lunch. At the end of the day, he may not easily remember what he had for lunch, but what happened during recess is something he could recall without difficulty. In fact, he tells me that he has scored a dozen goals in soccer since the start of the academic year. He may not share with me readily what transpired during math period but I am certain that at the end of the day when I pick him up from school I will be briefed on the highlights from the day's recess. Recess makes my son's day in school. It is his favorite period. And it is the period that has helped him a lot academically.

It has become evident especially from the work pioneered by Charles Hillman at the University of Illinois that exercise heightens brain activity. The figure below shows this clearly:

Exercise not only improves brain processing but also academic outcomes. The specific results are:
Analysis revealed that …

Learning on Your Own, Learning with Others, Learning from Examples

What is the best way to learn? This is an important question for educators. Some are attracted to the notion of inquiry-based learning, in which students are given the opportunity to solve problems on their own. The notion of collaboration is also attractive. In this case, it is hoped that students learn from each other when they work together. Lastly, there is the traditional option: learning by example. A paper scheduled to be published in the Journal of Educational Psychology addresses this question by performing a controlled experiment in Year 7 mathematics classes in an Indonesian school in Magetan, East Java. Their results suggest that learning from examples works best. In addition, students learning collaboratively is found to be somewhat detrimental when students are learning from worked examples.

The above findings are summarized in a figure provided by the authors:

One of the reasons why worked examples are more effective than requiring students to solve problems on their ow…

Should We Give "Zero" As A Grade?

"How does allowing a student to opt out of a program to provide him or her with assistance teach responsibility? If a student is truly going to enter a sink-or-swim situation in higher education, the best preparation is to teach the student to swim — to provide the student with the knowledge, skills and habits essential to success in that situation — rather than allow the student to sink first in high school", Richard DuFour writes in his book In Praise of American Educators: And How They Can Become Even Better. Jay Mathews of the Washington Post took notice of this statement and called it "brilliant" in his column on education. But there is one comment that caught my attention on Mathews' article. Part of it says "We make too many excuses in modern America, we give too many second chances. Penalties and consequences exist for a reason. Carrots alone don't work, you need the stick too. And sometimes people need to hit bottom before they get better. The…

What Makes Math Teachers Effective

Elementary pupils from Hong Kong score high in international standardized math exams. Hong Kong has placed second in the most recent TIMSS exam for grade 4 mathematics. It is therefore interesting to examine what teachers' characteristics correlate with student performance in schools in Hong Kong. Since this is a high performing region, one can just imagine that teachers in these schools mostly have high subject matter knowledge (SMK) as well as pedagogic content knowledge (PCK). Still, things are seldom homogeneous so it is possible to find variance within Hong Kong students and teachers in terms of mathematics performance.

Fung and coworkers have managed to do such as study and their findings are published in the International Journal of Education Research. No correlation is found between either a teacher's SMK or PCK and student performance in mathematics. It appears that knowing more mathematics may only be a prerequisite to teach mathematics effectively. In schools of hi…

How Students Evaluate Their Professors

At the end of the semester, students in universities are given the opportunity to evaluate their instructor. How students' evaluations correlate with a teacher's effectiveness is only expected to be weak. In fact, a study from Bocconi University suggests that students' evaluation of an instructor depends on "meteorological conditions". A teacher tends to receive poorer evaluations on either a cold or rainy day.

The following is the reported relationship between students' evaluations and teachers' effectiveness:

There is really no meaningful correlation. The question then is why do universities continue this exercise of soliciting evaluations from students. As an instructor, I think it is important for students to have a voice. And going beyond scores, some students actually write comments. I taught a small class this past semester. There were seven students and more than half actually wrote something in their evaluation:

A teacher-student relationship is …

The Principal and School Climate

"When you enter this school, you are scientists, you are explorers, you are important, you are loved, you are respected, you are a friend, you are the reason why we are here, love", - Mason Crest Staff. It is so much more than just a corsage of slogans. These words breathe a spirit of a genuine positive school climate in the elementary school where my children study. It is true that there are gaps that still need to be filled with regard to our knowledge of how to improve school climate but there is no doubt that what happens inside a school affects learning outcomes.

In a recent study published in the Review of Educational Research, Berkowitz and coworkers write:
Educational researchers and practitioners assert that supportive school and classroom climates can positively influence the academic outcomes of students, thus potentially reducing academic achievement gaps between students and schools of different socioeconomic status (SES) backgrounds. Nonetheless, scientific evi…

DepEd Will Be Building Classrooms

For the past six years, the budget for building classrooms in the Philippines has been rising every year. Yet, classroom shortages still exist. The image of about sixty second grade students cramped inside a former toilet as they listen to their teacher Leonora Jusay remains, even with billions of pesos assigned to alleviate the overcrowding of schools in the country.

The amount of money supposedly assigned to building classrooms has continued to rise for the past six years:

From 2011 to this year, more than 300 billion pesos have been allocated for building classrooms. At a cost of 2 million pesos per classroom, this amounts to 150000 classrooms. With 40 students per classroom, this number of classrooms then translates to 6 million pupils. There were about half a million classrooms in the country in 2015.

With the seemingly endless budget allocation for classrooms, why do classroom shortages persist? This was the same question asked by Rep. Tinio back in 2015:

And his own response to…

What Needs to Be Done: Address the Needs of Children

No curricular reform would work without addressing first the basic needs of school children. When kids have to climb cliffs and cross a river using a bamboo raft, their safety needs to be addressed first. A video showing what some Filipino children have to do just to attend school has been loaded on YouTube by Kyle Jennermann more than a year ago. The video has been viewed more than a hundred thousand times. Finally, the Philippines government has taken the right step in improving basic education by providing a safe bridge for school children to cross in Barangay Lingating in Baungon, Bukidnon.

The new bridge was formally opened two days before this past Christmas. Among the first to cross is Bukidnon's representative Maria Lourdes Acosta-Alba.

Kyle Jennerman did note on his Facebook page that the Department of Public Works and Highways paid attention to the video he posted. He shared a message he received a couple of months after he made that video:
"Result of the investigat…

Empathy, Blame and Guilt

Neuroscience has shown that when we see people suffering, we in fact feel the pain firsthand. The same regions in our brain that increase their activity when we get hurt are likewise the same regions activated when we witness another person in pain. This is indeed the first step in empathy, to feel what others feel. Functional magnetic resonance imaging has demonstrated that this happens as well with children. Empathy appears to be universal. How we cope is where we diverge. We either blame or feel guilt. And in a study by Leith and Baumeister, they found that "Guilt-prone people and guilt-dominated stories were linked to better perspective taking (measured by changes between the two versions of the story) than others. Shame had no effect. Guilt improved relationship outcomes but shame harmed them."

The problems in Philippine basic education require empathy to solve. Most education policy makers and politicians in the Philippines do not send their children to public schools.…

Fake News and Misinformation

Facebook has been trying to figure out a way to help reduce misinformation on its site. Some people lately have suggested that fake news is influencing people's decisions including the most recent elections in the United States. How much fake information one sees on Facebook of course depends on who your Facebook friends are. Mark Zuckerberg shares on a post, "Of all the content on Facebook, more than 99% of what people see is authentic. Only a very small amount is fake news and hoaxes." In "Media Influence on Opinion about Man-MadeGlobal Warming as Moderated by IndividualEcological Orientation and Personal Experience" George Stone finds that "media has no impact on perceptions that storm intensity is increasing. With both in mind, it is indeed unlikely that misinformation shared through social sites and blogs has contributed to election results. There is a natural tendency for a person to gravitate towards information that one wants to see. Even the Diary…

New Year's Resolutions

Poverty has a strong grip on education. It is difficult to solve a society's poverty problem. Thus, challenges in basic education are indeed quite formidable, but we can take steps to reduce the ill effects of poverty on schools. Those steps start with our best ally in education, the teacher. Talking about learning styles, curriculum, and other factors will not get us anywhere. So here I offer resolutions for this year.
We need to uplift the teaching profession in the Philippines. Teachers need salaries that will enable them to focus on their job. Teachers need not spend time on other odd jobs just to make ends meet. Teachers need to be empowered. Teachers are on the front line and are therefore best equipped to adjust to the needs of each student. The teacher-pupil relationship is personal and this can only develop in small class sizes.

May this new year witness the right steps toward improving Philippines basic education.