they cannot teach what they do not know (part 2)

ILOILO CITY – The primer of the Department of Education (DepEd) on the K-12 Basic Education Program states the following:

Enhancing the quality of basic education in the Philippines is urgent and critical. Education outcomes in terms of participation, completion and achievement rates attest to this urgent need. The poor quality of basic education is reflected in the low achievement scores of Filipino students in the National Achievement Test and international tests like TIMSS.

For something that the DepEd considers “urgent and critical”, as it well should, it offers the following as the framework for a solution:

One reason behind this is that students do not get adequate instructional time or time on task. This is partly due to the congested curriculum. The current 10-year basic education curriculum is designed to be taught in 12 years…Thus, the Department of Education in collaboration with various government and non-government stakeholders has developed the K to 12 Program which aims to improve basic education in the Philippines.  

If this is the entirety of the solution to an “urgent and critical” issue then I daresay, we are screwed. It doesn’t give you much confidence in the technocrats, bureaucrats and other crats in the DepEd when you cite one reason for this crisis, re-build the entire basic education framework around this and fail to cite the other reasons. Moreover, this one reason is not even given the courtesy of being tagged as the primary or main reason, if it is that. Finally, how serious does the DepEd and its crats really think of this when all they say is that this exercise is meant only to “enhance the quality of basic education in the Philippines.” To enhance is a wimpy way of doing something for the sake of doing something.

There is no quality to the basic education system of the Philippines. The products of this system cannot read with comprehension, write with any form of coherence, do math without a calculator nor understand basic scientific principles. Instead this system provides false hope to many who see this as a way to escape the grinding poverty that they find themselves in.

Reading, math and science are the core competencies that an educational system must provide in as comprehensive a manner as possible to produce competitive citizens. The system must not only do so comprehensively but also make sure that the students that it serves MASTER these competencies. It is not enough that students go through these subjects as matter of course, again, the students MUST MASTER these competencies.

It is under this context that I firmly believe that adding two years to the Basic Education Program is not enough. And no, I do not mean adding more years. In math – 10 x 0 equals 0, 12 x 0 is still zero. To translate, if we do not improve the rigor and substance of the system, its products will still gain zero no matter how many years you add to it.

Rigor and substance.

The basic education system must be made rigorous i.e. difficult. In other words, hindi puwede yung pasang awa. Education is not just about the learning per se, it is preparing kids for life. Life is not an easy thing. So why should make the way to prepare for it, easy. Secondly, by cheapening and lowering standards, you also demean children by in effect saying that hanggang diyan ka na lang when what we should be doing is challenging them, driving them to do more. For if we do not, we will grow another generation of citizens who will continue to adhere to the lower standard of puwede na ‘yan.

I mean substance in education to be a deepening of comprehension of core subjects as opposed to providing a breadth of subjects taught superficially. Again, basic education should force students to MASTER core subjects and not just know them. If they fail to do so then they must be forced back to do it again and again. For what is life without its failures. What is more important is what we do after we fail. Our kids must be taught that there are no shortcuts in life. It is through hard work, perseverance and the overcoming of obstacles that we become successful.

Rigor and substance.

It is unfortunate but the reality is that we cannot do this now. See when DepEd settled on that one reason for the failure of our educational system, that kids do not have “enough instructional time or time on task”, they missed out on an even more important reason – the inadequacy of our teachers.

This is not meant to insult nor demean the thousands of schoolteachers out there who day in and day out heroically try their best under the most trying of circumstances to teach. It is not their fault. It is instead the fault of the system and indeed our own that we as a society have over time diminished the stature of our teachers. Yes, they remain respected but in a sort of nakakaawa naman sila way.

As the common saying goes, teaching is a noble profession. When we think that, however, there is a slight hint of condescension and the impression (or maybe the reality) that teaching as a profession is a sacrifice.

The task of teaching the young is the most important obligation of society. Yet we do not accord the required level of importance and appreciation for the teaching profession. In one measure, teaching indeed becomes a sacrifice for when have we heard of a teacher becoming rich. Maybe under our current reality, the economic value we place on the teaching profession is laughable. In a sense,it is so because becoming a teacher relative to becoming an accountant, a lawyer, a doctor or an engineer is indeed easier. More economic value is placed om professions which are perceived to be harder to get into. Yet, it doesn’t have to be this way.

We already know that the Philippine educational system is messed up. One only has to look at the quality of products that it produces. Products that are not competitive.

We need a revolutionary change to our basic education system. The first step should not have been K-12. That is the “doing something for the sake of doing something” way. Yes, we will need it at some point but it could have come later. Sadly, the question as to whether we are prepared for K-12 is now up in the air (see http://opinion.inquirer.net/83234/ready-for-k-to-12). The first priority is teaching the teachers for how can they teach (and I mean teach in the true sense of the word) what they do not know. How can our teachers provide rigor and substance when they themselves were products of a system that was easy and superficial?

This revolutionary change should upend the way we think about things. Teachers should be among, if not, the highest compensated professionals for they do more for our society than all the other professions combined. By changing this dynamic, the best and the brightest among our youth will gravitate towards the teaching profession and from them we can pick and choose who we entrust our future to. Having said that, becoming a teacher should become a difficult academic and intellectual path. Enough of puwede na ‘yan.

Yup – I know what you’re thinking. It’s a nice and noble aim for who can argue with the thesis of this article. But unrealistic? Difficult perhaps but not impossible. As with many things that our country faces, we will need to make hard choices. What do we do about the several million badly equipped teachers which we now have in the system? Under a new and more rigorous teacher training program, most would undoubtedly fail and I say this without being condescending. Yet, if we are to remain true about saving our children from the shackles of poverty and deprivation, the unqualified will indeed have to go. Of course, we have to provide them with the opportunity to elevate themselves to the level that will now have to be demanded. Yet I fear that so many will still fail.

In the meantime, we have to toughen up the teacher training institutions that we have. We also need to weed out the unworthy diploma mills that contributed to the diminution of the teacher. To those that survive, admissions and the training within these institutions will have to be demanding.

Hard choices. That is really what we have left ourselves with after allowing our society to acquiesce to our decline as a nation. What was once an educational system to be proud of is now nothing but a system that awards (to paraphrase what Joe Pinsker of the Washington Post said) …”a diploma (that) starts to look a lot like a receipt printed on fine cardstock. It is proof not that one has learned something in college, but that one has paid for it.”

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