News Media and Basic Education

Trustworthy information is important to make the right decision. In fact, the very first step in solving a problem, understanding what the problem is, already requires reliable information. One good source of information regarding education is peer-reviewed research. Unfortunately, these papers are not that widely circulated and articles are often not light reading material over a cup of coffee. The public therefore get information on what does work and does not work in education from mass media. What the public knows about education therefore is generally shaped by what is reported on network news and printed sheets. There is nothing inherently wrong in this setup especially if peer-reviewed articles cannot be digested directly by the public. News media can therefore serve as a bridge between experts and the public. In real life, sadly, this does not happen. In the Philippines, for instance, news media would rather talk about someone's mistake on where Mayon Volcano is.

A study in the United States uses the word "small droplet" to illustrate how little of what we hear on the news on education is based on peer-reviewed work. Paul Murphy, a third grade teacher in Michigan, captures the sad state of education research in his blog by comparing it to his 10-year old daughter's teeth:

The Philippines' approach to basic education likewise ignores education research. Instead, it takes its cue from politicians who really have no idea what education is about.

Just to remind us, here is a repost of

A Tale of Two Education Reforms

Two education reforms are compared side by side. One started about thirty years ago while the other has barely begun. These are two countries: Finland and the Philippines. Finland in the early 1990's was staring at an unemployment rate of 18% and a public debt of almost 60% of its Gross Domestic Product. Now, Finland is currently ranked as among the competitive nations in the globe. On the other hand, the Philippines remains near the bottom (see "Philippines: Global Competitiveness"). On education, Finland is now recognized as a leader in basic education, with its students garnering the top scores in international tests while the Philippines continues to slide down in these tests (see "Role of Higher Education"). What has Finland done? And what is the Philippines trying to do?

President Benigno Aquino III
The current education reform of the Philippines is based on the vision laid out by its current president, Benigno Aquino III. This vision is summarized as a list of ten ways to fix Philippine Basic Education (taken from Manuel Quezon III uploaded document on Scribd):

Philippine education is in crisis and we need not argue that point. What we need is a president with a basic education agenda, willing to make the hard decisions. This is what needs to be done.

1. 12-Year Basic Education Cycle

We need to add two years to our basic education. Those who can afford to pay for up to fourteen years of schooling before university. Thus, their children are getting into the best universities and the best jobs after graduation. I want at least 12 years for our public school children to give them an even chance at succeeding. My education team has designed a way to go from our current 10 years (6 elementary, 4 high school) to a K-12 system in five years starting SY 2011-12. Kindergarten (K) to Grade 12 is what the rest of the world gives their children.

I will expand the basic education cycle in this country from a short 10-year cycle to a globally-comparable 12 years before the end of the next administration (2016).

2. Universal pre-schooling for all

All over the world, pre-schooling is given to all young children as the first year of basic education. We don’t solve this deficiency by renaming day care centers as pre-schools. We need to build a proper pre-school system and make this available to all children regardless of income. All public school children (and all public schools) will have pre-schooling as their introduction to formal schooling by 2016.

3. Madaris Education as a sub-system within the Education system.

Our Muslim brothers and sisters ask for an education system that respects their culture while providing a technically sound curriculum in English, Filipino, science and math. Madaris education with subjects in Arabic Language and Islamic Values Education can be integrated in our public school curriculum as additional subjects with the view to keeping our Muslim Filipino children in school.

I want a full basic education for ALL Muslim Filipino children anywhere in the country.

4. Technical vocational education as an alternative stream in senior high school.

Half our high school graduates want to work upon graduation but do not have enough technical education. We need to provide an education alternative to better prepare students for the world of work. Technical,vocational education must be re-introduced in our public high schools with trade tests and skills rating (TESDA or other acceptable work standards) as the final examination for students looking at HS as their terminal course.

I will re-introduce technical-vocational education in our public high schools to better link schooling to local industry needs and employment.

5.“Every Child a Reader” by Grade 1
At the core of our children’s non-learning problems is the inability to read properly. By the end of the next administration (SY 2015-16), every child passing pre-school must be a reader by Grade 1.Essential to this, we must build a library infrastructure in our schools,procure reading books (from our Philippine publishing industry to support local authors and publishers) and train our elementary teachers on how to teach reading.

By the end of the next administration, every child must be a reader by Grade 1.

6. Science and Math proficiency

We need a strong science and math curriculum that starts as early as Grade 1 with instructional materials and properly trained elementary teachers. To build a culture for science and math, I will bring back the science and math clubs movement with elementary and high school science/math fairs.

I will rebuild the science and math infrastructure in schools so that we can produce more scientists, engineers, technicians, technologists and teachers in our universities so that this country can be more globally competitive in industry and manufacturing.

7. Assistance to private schools as essential partners in basic education

Private education must be a partner in producing quality education in the country. I intend to expand GASTPE (Government Assistance to Students and Teachers in Private Education) to a target of 1 million private HS students every year through education service contracting (ESC) while doing away with the wasteful education voucher system (EVS) of this administration.

I will expand government assistance to private education. A strong private school system will strengthen our public schools by providing parents an alternative and not adding to the overcrowding.
8. Medium of Instruction rationalized

UNESCO has proven that young children learn best in their mother tongue before moving on to English in higher grades. I fully support theUNESCO-tried and tested formula on mother tongue instruction. From pre-school to Grade 3, we will use the mother tongue as the medium of instruction while teaching English and Filipino as subjects.From Grades 4-6 (7), we will increasingly use English as the medium of instruction for science & math and Filipino for Araling Panlipunan (social studies). For High School, English should be the medium of instruction for science, math & English; Filipino for AP, Filipino and tech-voc education.

My view: We should become tri-lingual as a country.

Learn English well and connect to the World.

Learn Filipino well and connect to our country.
Retain your dialect and connect to your heritage.

9. Quality textbooks

Poor quality textbooks have no place in our schools.

I will not tolerate poor textbook quality in our schools. Textbooks will be judged by three criteria: quality, better quality, and more quality.

10. Covenant with Local Governments to build more schools

We need to address our continuing classroom shortages. And if we are successful keeping more kids in school, the demand for more classrooms will be even greater. Here, we need a covenant with LGUs not only to build more classrooms but to establish more schools on land provided by LGUs. We do not need more overcrowded schools; we need more schools with smaller populations so that teachers, students, and parents can form a real learning community.

I will build more schools in areas where there are no public or private schools in a covenant with LGUs so that we can realize genuine education for all.

If we fix these ten concerns, we will fix most of the problems in our education system. If we fix basic education, we fix the long-term problems of the country.And if we fix the country’s problems, we will build a truly strong society we can proudly call the Philippines.

Education Reformer Pasi Sahlberg
With Finland, the list is very different. Pasi Sahlberg talks about seven elements (Education Policies for Raising Student Learning: The Finnish Approach, Journal of Education Policy, Vol. 22, No. 2, March 2007, pp. 166–167):

(1) Depth: The purpose of schooling remains focused on holistic development of personality, including knowledge, skills, values, creativity and interpersonal characteristics. Schools are places for learning and caring, where learning comes before testing, achievement is defined in relation to one’s own development and growth, rather than in relation to universal standards.

(2) Length: Education policy development has been built upon longer-term vision and strategic principles, such as equal opportunities for all and putting learning before teaching. Rather than seeking short-term gains, education development has focused on consolidating these basic values within the education system.

(3) Breadth: Education leadership has gradually diffused from the centre to local levels. Leadership is not only limited to daily managerial duties and administration but especially addresses the responsibility and right to lead continuous development of the education system.

(4) Justice: Attaining the goal of offering equal opportunities to a quality education for all has required creating and maintaining a socially just school network

(5) Diversity: The school network is based on the idea of inclusive education that promotes diversity in schools and classrooms. Steering of teaching and learning has never been based on written standards, but rather upon guidelines encouraging creative solutions within increasingly diverse social and human environments.

(6) Resourcefulness: Young, talented and creative individuals have been appointed over the past three decades to lead schools, local education offices, and central departments, guided by the belief that competencies often override routine experience. Systematic and research-based ways to prepare and continuously develop leaders and to maintain their knowledge and skills were introduced in the 1980s.

(7) Conservation: Education development has represented a balance between bringing in new innovations and employing existing good practices. The public recognizes that many needed educational innovations already exist somewhere in the system. This was a key acknowledgement of teachers’ wisdom and realization that learning from past experiences is at least as important as introducing totally new and often alien ideas in schools.

The first stark contrast between the two education reforms (Philippines versus Finland): The president of the Philippines assumes he has the knowhow to fix the basic education system and enumerates specific actions to be taken. On the other hand, the Finnish approach begins with principles to guide the reform. The second glaring difference is the lack of acknowledgement of the role of teachers in reforming education. It is therefore not surprising that present efforts in the Philippines only involve dictating to teachers what they should teach and how they should teach. After all, everything has been laid out already by the president, there is no longer any input needed from the teachers. Finnish education reform involves a much deeper conversion. It includes a paradigm shift in which all sectors of society begin to see what basic education really is. Hence, the Finnish reform is characterized by elements, not specific steps or actions. These elements are essentially the values on which education policies in Finland were built. With these, it becomes clear why Finland's educational system is characterized by the following (excerpts from Education Policies for Raising Student Learning: The Finnish Approach, Journal of Education Policy, Vol. 22, No. 2, March 2007, pp. 147–171):
Same basic school for all 
All Finnish children start their compulsory nine-year comprehensive basic schooling in August of the year they become seven years old....

Well-trained teachers 
In Finnish society, the teaching profession has always enjoyed great public respect and appreciation....

Intelligent accountability 
...Intelligent accountability in the Finnish education context preserves and enhances trust among teachers, students, school leaders and education authorities in the accountability processes and involves them in the process, offering them a strong sense of professional responsibility and initiative....

Culture of trust 
Much of what has been previously noted is only possible when parents, students and authorities genuinely trust teachers and schools.

Sustainable leadership 
The success of Finnish education is not the result of any major national education reform per se. Instead, education development in Finland has been based on the continual adjustment to changing needs of individuals and society....
A quick review of Aquino's ten ways shows a set of values different from those which guided Finnish education reforms. Starting with the number of years, Aquino looks at an imagined standard of number of years for basic education. There is no such world standard. The view also includes a sense of competition, a perspective that reduces education as a mere vehicle for economic benefits. Achievement is fixated at some artificial standard. Basic education loses its primary purpose - an environment where everyone grows and develops. Universal kindergarten matches some of the values. However, Aquino's government dedication and commitment to this goal is questionable. The lack of funding especially the government's mistreatment of kindergarten teachers clearly demonstrates that the government is not serious about providing quality kindergarten for all. This is simply a "show", to display on the surface that the current administration is better than the previous ones which initiated installation of day care centers. The education problems in Mindanao arise because of the presence of conflict. No education reform can address the problems Mindanao faces without achieving peace first in the region. Technical vocational education is not basic education. The government already has agencies and programs that address this track. Adding this to basic education simply takes the eyes of the government away from the problems and shortages that both primary and secondary schools experience. Commanding that the ability to read is gained by a certain age is also not the job of a politician. This is a task of an educator. Proficiency in math and science cannot be achieved by contests or fairs. Hoping that the private sector takes some of the responsibility of providing quality basic education is a dereliction of duty on the part of the government. The private sector should not shoulder the basic needs of the education system while the government is wasting funds on programs that are already bound to fail. How students will be taught cannot be decided by politicians. What medium of instruction should be used needs to be made by the teachers with consultations with parents and students and proper consideration of available resources. Adding textbooks to a list of ten ways to fix education shows how deep Aquino's government really understands education. This simply illustrates micromanagement. The last one does not make sense. Where schools are needed, of course, there is a lack of resources. Large urban centers do not have the space while rural areas do not have the funds.These problems cannot be solved by a simple covenant between the national and local governments.

The education reform in the Philippines lacks all of the above characteristics of a good education system, unfortunately. This is expected since the reforms are not based on depth, length, breadth, justice, diversity, resourcefulness and conservation. DepEd's K to 12 sadly misses the most important ingredient in basic education: its teachers. Education reform must come from teachers. Education reform must involve teachers. And first and foremost, education reform can only begin with treating our teachers with respect and appreciation.