Here comes the new generation of solutionaries

iTEACH - Jose Claro (The Philippine Star) - December 11, 2012 - 12:00am

I don’t care about politics.”

“I’m not going to live here anyway.”

“Nothing’s ever going to change in our country.”

Every teacher is familiar with these mantra-like responses from teenagers whenever a discussion about social problems takes place in the classroom. Our youngsters would normally be turned off by these topics, thinking our nation will never be able to solve its problems. However, students who do not analyze what goes on in our society will most surely perpetuate injustice and exacerbate the global issues that ail our world today. Our social network-savvy youths must be encouraged to participate in intelligent discussions of issues and not be merely content with repeating the prejudiced opinions they hear from different grownups. One culprit of this defeatist mentality could very well be our traditional education system.     

Thankfully, the Department of Education is moving in the right direction as it revamps the national curriculum to meet the goals of K-12. One improvement that has eluded the coverage of media is the agency’s shift from traditional pen-and-paper tests and the push towards alternative and authentic assessment. The former “objective” system of assessing learning focuses only on relatively simple problems that require one correct answer. Such grading system is highly favored by mediocre teachers as it is easier for them to check tests and compute for grades. Recent studies, however, push educators to design authentic assessments that require application of knowledge and skills learned in the classroom to real-life challenges and contexts. In an Edutopia article, American neurologist Judy Willis, MD explains, “When [teachers] provide students with opportunities to apply learning, especially through authentic and personally meaningful activities ..., facts move from rote memory to a consolidated memory bank instead of being pruned away from disuse.”     

This advance towards an authentic based assessment, however, must be further enhanced by relating the activities to the issues  of each school’s community. That is, students must demonstrate learning by proposing solutions to the issues of a particular barangay or municipality. This requires an effort from school administrators and teachers to integrate lessons from various disciplines and suggest ways to contextualize these lessons and projects in the light of our nation’s most pressing problems.  

Imagine our students benefiting from this kind of educational system. More than learning how to read, write, count, and compute, our youths learn to develop the intrinsic motivation to analyze a particular issue that they are passionate about. In order to tackle these issues, they learn how to become skilled and purposeful researchers and presenters from their language classes. They then develop a critical eye from social studies about the root causes of problems brought about by the structures and systems of society. Science and Math must then teach them the methods and systems of coming up with feasible solutions. In the process, young people learn to collaborate with others and brainstorm on the most creative of solutions. They also understand that though their school time is compartmentalized into different subject areas, discreet knowledge and skills must be synthesized in order to transform every graduate to become productive citizens. Most of all, they learn how to have a heart as they become more compassionate towards other people when they pursue their own advocacies. 

Unwilling educators who do not wish to be inconvenienced by the extra work that arises from such a shift must wake up soon and be inspired instead by the living proofs of such educational movements. During the onslaught of Frankenstorm Sandy, young Americans from Franklin High School collaborated to create crowd-sourced maps of functioning gas stations across the eastern coast of the US for thousands of Americans who have run out of energy supply. In our country, there is always that inspiring story of Marikina High School students who were challenged to come up with a solution to the janitor fish infestation of their river system. Many solutions were proposed, including the use of the tough hide to make wallets, purses, and other fashion accessories. Most successful and innovative was that of Raymund Amurao who developed a kind of bio-fuel after observing that the invasive species produced a significant amount of oil when boiled. Amurao went on to win third place in an international science fair held in Indiana, USA.

Ms. Zoe Weil, proponent of humane education, asked: What are global, 21st-century knowledge and skills for if our students can’t even help the people in their own community? Her website has inspired many people to realize that the previous generation of visionaries has failed to consider the unintended problems that technology and innovation have caused. What is then needed is to raise and educate what she calls a new generation of solutionaries.

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