Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Does DepEd Need PAGASA? A Tale of Two Visions

Forecasting is difficult. There are so many variables necessary to predict the future. While the United States has the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the Philippines has the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA). One acronym sounds like a character from Genesis while the other is the Tagalog word for hope. This maybe appropriate since, for some, hope is actually a readiness to whatever may happen in the future. 
Downloaded from  http://www.facebook.com/YouScoopGMA 
Reforming education is in a way similar to the challenges faced by climate and weather forecasters. The phrase "21st Century Learning" connotes tailoring the schools to meet the anticipated needs of the new century. Education is indeed very much about the future. Reforming education thus requires a vision. DepEd's K to 12 is advertised as a response to what other countries have done with their basic education. The claim of being left behind by other countries forms the very first rationale for adding two more years at the end of high school. When I was preparing my first commentary on DepEd's K to 12, one of my former graduate students, who is now a postdoctoral fellow at the Weizmann Institute in Israel, cautioned me when I was about to use the phrase "a mile wide but only an inch deep", saying that this phrase might not be familiar to people in the Philippines. I wanted to use the phrase since it had been used to describe in general terms one of the biggest problems of K-12 education in the United States. Seeing the initial framework of DepEd's K to 12 made me think that the Philippines might just be jumping into the same problem. There is indeed something that is in the past and the present that helps in seeing the future. Similar to constructing homes, the past and the present tell us where the danger zones are and we should therefore not build in those areas.

Another instrument in forecasting is seeing a trend. In education reform, the question is what are other countries doing. John Merrow, an education reporter for the National Public Radio in the United States, maintains a blog called "Taking Note, Thoughts on Education from John Merrow". Much of the remaining points in this post are from his recent article entitled, "Schools Do Need a Weatherman" (of course, the title of his article also inspired the title of this post), where he introduced four programs that might describe the future of basic education in the United States. Each of the four programs describe an important vision. Each one is a possible road map, each one is expressing a value. Thus, it is useful to enumerate these programs and describe each one briefly:

A New Learning Objective for Basic Education.  John Merrow cites the works of Dr. James P. Comer of Yale University on school development, which has the following core beliefs:
  • Child rearing, child development and learning are inextricably linked;
  • Development starts early and must be a continuous process;
  • Children's most meaningful learning occurs through positive and supportive relationships with caring and nurturing adults;
  • Parents are children's first teachers;
  • All parents, staff and community members, regardless of social or economic status, have an important contribution to make in improving students' education and their preparation for life; therefore
  • Adults must interact collaboratively and sensitively with one another in order to bring out the best in children
Dr. James P. Comer on Student-Centered High School

A Comer's school is therefore designed not only to address pupils but the society in general. A Comer's school is actively engaged in helping the society by preparing its members for a family that is supportive of a child's growth, development and learning. This indeed sounds more like "responsible parenthood". 

Core Knowledge.  With this philosophy, developed by E.D. Hirsch, Jr., "Education for All" means recognizing that education has fundamentals, which all students should be given an opportunity to learn. This is the core, which is roughly half of the current K-12 curriculum of the United States. Core Knowledge is therefore described as the content and skills that should be addressed from kindergarten to grade 8:
To dowload, visit  http://www.coreknowledge.org/mimik/mimik_uploads/documents/480/CKFSequence_Rev.pdf 
Core Knowledge does address the problem of having a curriculum that is a "mile wide but only an inch deep". And in distilling the curriculum while adding depth and mastery, basic education can be achieved in nine years. 

Quality PreSchool. As a previous post, "Focus on the Early Years", pointed out, the United States is very much aware of the importance of early childhood education. And to reiterate, here is that quote from Kevin Drum of Mother Jones:
...Here you go. There are two big things we could do if we really wanted to improve our childrens' future: aggressively get rid of all the remaining lead in our soil and in old houses — all of it — and spend a bunch of money on high-quality early childhood interventions among poor and working-class families. If we don't think we have the money — an argument I'll put off to another day — we should take it out of the K-12 budgets. We'd be better off with 100% more pre-K and 20% less K-12 than we are with our current funding priorities....
The rationale is simple. One problem that basic education clearly faces is the gap that is already present among children on their first day of school. Such gap only widens with each grade level. Quality preschool addresses this initial gap. It is solving the problem before it gets bigger.

Removing the Last Two Years of High School. This is the punch line. John Merrow takes Kevin Drum's suggestion one step further. To provide the necessary funding for quality preschool, two years may be removed from high school. Merrow writes:

About 10% of high school students are taking college courses in Minnesota, New York and elsewhere. I would open up “early college” to anyone who’s motivated, because it’s a win-win all around. 
Eventually, in this approach, senior year will disappear, and perhaps junior year as well, as education becomes seamless. The savings should be used for pre-school programs.
And to support this, a special school in Texas is cited:
Learning Matters, Early College HS in South Texas Part 1

Learning Matters, Early College HS in South Texas Part 2

Contrast the above four visions against DepEd's K to 12. Congressman Palatino recently shared in his blog some contents of one of the new teaching modules. 

Under the household service TLE subject, children will learn about the professional code of conduct or ethics of a household worker. They will be taught how to ‘maintain a professional image’ as household workers. Other topics include ‘Desirable Traits of a Household Worker’ and ‘Duties and Responsibilities of a Household Worker.’ At the end of the semester, students will be able to identify and operate a vacuum cleaner, floor polisher, and other cleaning materials. The teaching module also gives valuable tips to K-12 students and future supermaids:

Household workers should not sexually harass clients. Sexual harassment includes sexual advances, sexual solicitation, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature. 
Household workers should not use derogatory language in their written or verbal communications to or about clients. 
When setting fees, Household workers should receive fee that are fair, reasonable, and commensurate with the services performed. Consideration should be given to clients’ ability to pay. 
Household workers should make reasonable efforts to ensure continuity of services in the event that services are interrupted by factors such as unavailability, relocation, illness, disability, or death. 
They should take reasonable steps to avoid abandoning clients who are still in need of services.
-From Congressman Palatino's  K-12: TESDA IN HIGH  SCHOOL

Another major difference is the Department's introduction of a perfunctory kindergarten program. And of course, the fact that DepEd's K to 12 vision is adding two years to basic education while those in the United States are beginning to think of removing two years. DepEd does need a "PAGASA" to help it determine which direction the wind is really blowing.

Monday, July 30, 2012

On Human Rights, Linguistic Rights, and Mother-Tongue Based Multilingual Education

These words are huge and complex. Each one represents a value, an expression of importance. These are supposedly beacons to guide priorities. Justice, one of the seven values that guided Finland's education reform, is another big word. And in Pasi Sahlberg's words, this entailed "Attaining the goal of offering equal opportunities to a quality education for all has required creating and maintaining a socially just school network."

"Education for All" encompasses all the words in the title of this post. It is the yardstick that must be used to gauge education reforms in the Philippines, including DepEd's K to 12. It must be the primary objective, the rule that should set priorities. When DepEd spends money, time and effort on advertising its new curriculum in shopping malls, one should ask if these efforts are indeed in line with the priorities set by "Education for All".  When DepEd institutes the use of the mother tongue as medium of instruction, one must ask if this is a genuine effort for inclusive education. When DepEd jumps into new approaches, one must ask if basic needs have been provided first.

Leo Ortega Laparan II has been writing a series of article in the Manila Bulletin describing the current situation of schools in the northern islands of the Philippines. The latest in this series talks about Cadadalman Elementary School in Camiguin Norte Island. There are overcrowded classes, lack of textbooks, and poor facilities. The head teacher had the following to share:
“We even use the backstage to hold Grade 4 classes. For that, schoolchildren would have to endure the heat… even us teachers. At present, we lack a school building because of the Preparatory (referring to Kindergarten) classes, which became mandatory effective last year. That makes it seven years for us now. The kids won’t be allowed to enter Grade 1 without taking Prep. That’s why the room that you saw earlier was divided into two. We just chose the best room in terms of safety to ensure the wellbeing of the little children.” 
 The situation in Camiguin Elementary School is no different, as reported earlier in this series by Laparan. Classrooms no longer have ceilings and walls are cracked. Pupils hold umbrellas to keep themselves dry when it rains since their rooms no longer protect them from the elements. With regard to textbooks, as many as ten pupils share one copy and for science in Grade 3, for instance, a 1985 edition is still in use. These stories from the north do highlight the shortages Philippine schools continue to face. Although these islands are indeed remote, one must not be blind to the shortages in schools that are in the neighborhood of the Congress as well as in the public schools near the national offices of the Department of Education. It is a question of priorities, do we put up a display or presentation of K to 12 in the shopping malls or do we send books to Camiguin first?

Inclusive education is a high priority. The rationale behind mother tongue education partly rests on pupils' basic rights. This is in addition to preserving and nurturing cultural heritage. In a recently held International Conference on Teacher Education, Prof. Romylyn Metila of the UP College of Education presented a paper on “The Role of Teacher Education in Championing Linguistic Human Rights (LHR) and Effective Language Learning through Multilingual Education (MLE): A Fight for Fairness”. In the presentation, Metila stressed the need to examine closely the provisions of policies aimed at addressing linguistic rights and mother tongue education. Factors that require thoughtful considerations were enumerated. First, there is a need to recognize that the Philippines is really diverse in terms of languages. There are more than one hundred and fifty languages in the country. Second, the appropriateness and adequacy of these languages to serve as medium of instruction must be evaluated. Third, the spelling and grammar of these languages need to be set before these languages can be extensively used in reading and writing. And of course, last but not the least, the question of how prepared teachers are was likewise raised. The importance of educating the young on their native culture and tongue is not debatable. What requires careful examination are the pedagogical and practical sides of the argument. And these sides are best handled by the teachers and principals in their own respective schools. Inclusive education should be the main goal of the Department of Education in the Philippines. How the academic performance of students in the Philippines could be enhanced is the job of the teacher and not of a bureaucracy.

Sr. Ma. Famita Somogod, Rural Missionaries of the Philippines-Northern Mindanao Sub-Region (RMP-NMR) coordinator, has this to say:

"...Even as the government has identified education as its priority service, the indigenous peoples of Mindanao view it as a “vague illusion.” Accredited schools supposedly established for indigenous peoples were built or established in areas far from the communities. Many residents are also unable to pay even the smallest fees, and some of the Lumad children spend their formative years in community alternative learning schools usually established with the aid of non-government organizations. Even in the rare situations where communities are benefited by a literacy and numeracy school, these are not sustained because of counter-insurgency operations of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP). Instead of protecting the communities from rebel groups, the communities have become the targets of the operations. Militarization and war have resulted to human rights violations, exacerbating the living conditions of the already impoverished indigenous communities, with indigenous children becoming most vulnerable...

...In a conflict situation, children are robbed of both their right to learn and their right to live a child’s life. They are forced to violent realities too early, forced to experience terror too often. And this is not yet even going into the post-conflict trauma that these children suffer. Without access to education, there will be no room for indigenous communities to promote personal development, strengthen respect for human rights and freedoms, and enable individuals to participate freely in a free society...."
To read more,  visit http://www.internal-displacement.org/8025708F004CE90B/(httpDocuments)/48B4F5D25D01D17EC1257A09004EFAA7/$file/Education+and+Militarization+of+IP+Comm+-+Our+Experience+as+Rural+Missionaries+in+Mindanao+april+2012.pdf

 The following are videos depicting the current plight of the Mamanwa tribe of Agusan del Norte:

These are stories from the north and the south. These stories hopefully can help us understand better the words in the title of this post.