Outcome Based Education in Chemistry

More than twenty years ago, Bruno Manno wrote in Outcome-Based Education. Has It Become More Affliction than Cure?, "Although having adopted, in general principle, a focus on results, many educators have proceeded to promote vague outcomes emphasizing values, attitudes and behaviors often reflecting quasi-political and ideologically correct positions -- rather than knowledge, skills and other cognitive academic outcomes." Outcome Based Education, of course, is another favorite catchphrase of both the Department of Education (DepEd) and Commission on Higher Education (CHEd) in the Philippines. How closely Manno's comments apply as well to these education agencies in the Philippines is quite remarkable as seen in a paper in the Asia Pacific Journal of Multidisciplinary Research, a journal published by the Lyceum University in the Philippines. The paper lists competency, credibility, commitment and collaboration as learning outcomes. In this list, it is quite obvious that knowledge, skills and other cognitive outcomes no longer form the majority of the output we want to see from education.

"Implementation of a Proposed Model of a Constructivist Teaching-Learning Process – A Step Towards an Outcome Based Education in Chemistry Laboratory Instruction", a paper written by Paz Reyes of the Lyceum of the Philippines University, Batangas City, proposes a model of instruction for chemistry depicted in the following figure:

Above copied from
Implementation of a Proposed Model of a Constructivist Teaching-Learning Process–A Step Towards an Outcome Based Education in Chemistry Laboratory Instruction
PB Reyes
Asia Pacific Journal of Multidisciplinary Research| Vol 1 (1)
There is nothing inherently wrong with the seven goals listed for science laboratory instruction. The assessments employed and the analysis of the learning outcomes, however, paint a largely different picture, one that points to a profoundly disconcerting status of chemistry education in the country. Since outcomes have been laid out in terms of the 4 C's: competency, credibility, commitment and collaboration, assessments are geared toward measuring these.

Credibility is measured by students' self reporting of behavior and attitude:
  • I do not manipulate the results of an experiment just to get a high grade in the report
  • I never practice plagiarism in submitting research works
  • During examinations, I never copy from my seatmates
  • When doing assignments, I do it myself, I do not rely on the assignment of others
  • I use my own imagination and creativity in doing scientific investigations
Most of students say they agree, including the fifth one, using their own imagination and creativity. One sentence in the paper quickly invalidates this answer:
"The responses of the students on the teaching strategy of their chemistry laboratory instructor that they like most are: the thorough discussion of the procedure before the experiment and giving the expected result...."
For commitment, students are asked whether they agree to the following:
  • Learning chemistry requires a serious effort and special talent
  • If I am having trouble in chemistry, I try to figure out why
  • I have a real desire to learn chemistry
  • I put enough effort into learning chemistry
  • I am willing to master the knowledge and skills in chemistry course
Requiring a special talent goes in the wrong direction of commitment and most students strongly agree with the first statement demonstrating that they actually believe that chemistry in meant only for a selected few, those who have some sort of "chemistry" talent.

The students also appear to be quite "collaborative" as they agree with most of the following:
  • Enjoys working with the team 
  • Tries to get other team members involved
  • Responds calmly to others
  • Questions other’s task ideas constructively
  • Presents ideas about how to work on the task
The above results, taken from eighty five students taking a biochemistry course at the Lyceum of the Philippines University, Batangas City, surely suggest that in terms of credibility, commitment and collaboration, the students are passing with flying colors. Unfortunately, these are all bogus measures. One simply has to look at the competency measures to see a failing education in chemistry:
36 out of the 85 student-respondents or 42.40% got a score below 13 in the Science Process Skills Test and were identified to have little competence in cognitive skills.
Nearly two out of ten students cannot "measure exact volume of liquids with a pipette or with a graduated cylinder". This is a disaster especially when one considers that this is a biochemistry course and not an introductory course in chemistry in high school. These students have gone through General and Organic Chemistry.

What is even more troubling is that the paper even attempts to show that through their instruction, there has been progress:

Above copied from
Implementation of a Proposed Model of a Constructivist Teaching-Learning Process–A Step Towards an Outcome Based Education in Chemistry Laboratory Instruction
PB Reyes
Asia Pacific Journal of Multidisciplinary Research| Vol 1 (1)
First of all, what is being compared above are pretest and posttest results. The use of a p-value is only valid if the students have been divided into two groups: one control and one for the study, and postests between these two are then compared. Reyes writes,
"Based from the result, the obtained computed value of 7.942 is greater than the critical value and the resulted p-value of 0.000 is less than 0.05 level of significance, thus the hypothesis of no significant improvement on the cognitive skills given on pre and post test is rejected. This means that there is a significant difference and implies that there is an improvement in the student learning outcomes during the implementation of the constructivist model of teaching-learning process. This was also revealed by the mean value of the two test conducted."
First, the mean score going up from 12.3 to 14.0 in a 25-point exam, in which 17 is the passing score, is not an improvement. Second, a significant difference test is used only when comparing two methods of instruction. One cannot use this for pretest versus posttest. I sincerely hope that no instruction in the world would show scores going down between a pretest and a posttest.

If education policy makers in the Philippines are informed by poor studies such as this, it is no longer a mystery why both basic and higher education in the Philippines are facing enormous challenges.