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Does UNICEF value the maximum learning competencies of 3- to 6-year-olds in a preschool?

In 1996 when President Corazon Aquino’s governance commenced, about 350 district supervisors, principals and master teachers of Negros Oriental joined Provincial Governor Dr. Emilio Macias II and his mayors at the National Literacy Coordinating Council (NLCC) conference in Valencia town, next to Silliman University, Negros Oriental.

As a member of the technical panel of the National Literacy Coordinating Council (NLCC), I was invited by Dr. Metodio Gapasin, school division superintendent of Negros Oriental, to speak and demonstrate the O.B. Montessori Post Literacy Program for village mothers and their children to the Negrense educators.

To make literacy part of the daily activities of rural women, the O.B. Montessori Child and Community Foundation set up 10 years earlier in Cadiz, Negros Occidental the twin project of O.B. Montessori Mothercraft Literacy training course for young village mothers with their preschool children.

Old DECS’ 8-week preschool program made the 6-year-olds restless

A couple of supervisors asked to consult me after my demonstration. The sample Pagsasarili Math and Geography materials excited them since they revealed that a more psychological approach in learning could answer their problems, instead of workbook only. In contrast the new eight-week preschool program DECS compiled to help the sixes adjust to Grade I proved boring to the six-year-old Grade I children. The supervisors observed that the children were rather restless by the second week at school.

“After an hour of activities, they would run all over the classroom. The teachers are helpless and confused. We fear that the drop-out problem will worsen,” they anxiously remarked.

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By then, the O.B. Montessori Pagsasarili preschools in eight laborers’ districts of NHA have continued operation since 1983. Fully sustained by parents in Caloocan, Pasig, Marikina, Las Piñas, Pasay and San Juan the tuition fees gradually increased from P35.00 to P350.00 monthly. By year 2000 the OBMC Child and Community Foundation started the EFA-DAKAR partnership with DepEd Region III to implement quality education into the Pulung Bulu Elementary School - the UNESCO EFA goal. Today, a total of 157 Pagsasarili Preschools include seven in the UNESCO WHS of Ifugao, 113 all over Batangas and twenty in public preschool from CAR, Region I, II, III, IVa and MIMAROPA. In spite of free DepEd preschools, the enrollment of Pagsasarili preschool even increased by 400.

Teachers and parents of all these Pagsasarili preschools continue to discover the “new children” who prefer work to play, who seek order and silence instead of noise, and eventually become independent. The Pagsasarili educational system being psychological in nature believes that each of the three- to six-year-old children has a “secret teacher” helping him/her help himself/herself. The traditional system has to be redirected to understand and respect the true nature of children.

Should our children minimize or maximize their competencies?

In 1986, then Secretary of Education, Dr. Lourdes Quisumbing observed that the DECS had her hands filled with the concerns of elementary schools and high schools. Dr. Juanita Guerrero, then chief of the Bureau of Elementary Education (BEE), organized the Coordinating Council for Early Childhood Education in the Philippines or CONCEP. Dr. Gurrero stated that DECS Order No. 87 would use CONCEP as the advisory body to DECS for preschool programs as PAFTE is the advisory body to the DECS in relation to teacher education. To help institutionalize Early Childhood Education, CONCEP continued its national orientation workshops under DECS Secretaries Isidro Cariño, Ricardo Gloria, Armand Fabella, Raul Roco and Brother Andrew Gonzales when the ECE law was finalized.

As one of CONCEP founding board members, I compared Dr. Guerrero’s DECS preschool standards identified as “minimum learning competencies” or MLC of five-year-old preschoolers with what I have observed as the “maximum learning competencies” of the fives in the first eight Montessori Pagsasarili preschools. By 1997, UNESCO funded the CONCEP Manual “Planning the Young Child’s Education: A guide for parents, teachers and preschool administrators.” The last book on Philippine preschool was published in 1965 leaving a long gap in information that caused the mushrooming of substandard neighborhood preschools. It compared in 1997 the DECS-BEE Minimum Learning Competencies with the Pagsasarili syllabus. The former was divided into four goals: I.) The personal-social-physical development, II.) The affective development, III.) The cognitive aesthetic development, IV.) Creative (arts and music) development. The specific activities are embodied in the eight-week preschool program for the six-year olds who enroll in Grade I. Two years earlier, 1995, the entry age to Grade I was lowered from seven to six.

The role of UNICEF in partnering with DepEd

This year, during President Aquino’s watch ECE has been institutionalized by Congress and Senate. DepEd, assisted financially by UNICEF has put together the 40-week National Kindergarten Curriculum Guide (NKCG). I have been given only the “Part I” curriculum syllabus of 20 weeks. It is the same as the old “eight-week” preschool program.

The DECS-BEE Preschool Integration Program must understand the real psychological nature of preschoolers. Energetic physically and mentally, they cannot be tied down doing workbook on their desks. Play activities bore them after a few minutes. To prevent the “dropout” phenomena, UNICEF, which heavily supports the implementation of the new ECE program with DepEd, cannot afford to scrimp the proper ECE teacher training and the provision of the universally tested Pagsasarili Practical Life, Language, Math and Cultural Arts materials, otherwise the Philippines, as predicted will not be able to meet the UNMDGoal of quality primary education. Within the first month, the preschool child learns the “cycle of work. He/she waits for his/her turn using materials which are not duplicated, but kept in trays. If the environment is so prepared, the child becomes independent during the first month or first four weeks.

In contrast, the latest NKCG prescribes the first two weeks to be taken up by introducing one’s name, parents’ name and address, care of the body, days of the week, story-telling of “The Lost Kitten” (Nawawalang Kuting) and the “Round Egg”, beading, cutting and pasting.

All these things could be worked out within three hours, but the DepEd-BEE program stretches from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m., resumes at 1:30 p.m. to 3:50 p.m., a total of five and a half hours.

A two-and-a-half-hour lunch break in between can make both teachers and children restless and irritable. The schedule should be reduced to half-day sessions. This would allow more children to enroll for the afternoon session. The syllabus must be enriched (see Chart of Activities).

The urgent need for DSWD and DepEd to work together

The threes and fours are specially mobile and talkative, but adults shun them as “malikot.” If fully occupied in a “work environment,” he can readily concentrate and become independent. Therefore at five, he begins to settle down to more academic work. By six, he would be more than ready for Grade I.

One can say that young Filipino children have been blocked in their development. If there is a blackout in electricity, then Filipino kids have been suffering “blackouts” all along. This will not erase the vicious cycle of “dropout” circumstance.

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