Lessen school disruptions by recurring disasters
GOTCHA - Jarius Bondoc (The Philippine Star) - January 17, 2020 - 12:00am

Earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, typhoons, floods, landslides. The harm of recurring disasters on Filipino children’s schooling begs study. Classes are suspended for days, public schoolhouses convert into evacuation centers, pupils are traumatized. The more time devoted to classroom instruction, the better for a child, experts have noted for centuries. Put another way, frequent or prolonged disruption of classroom time blunts learning. By how much, education officials can only guess. Sure, makeup classes are held for some weekends. And affected schoolers’ scholastic standings regularly are tested. Still, at school’s end they are promoted en masse to the next higher grade, conveyor belt-style, to make way for incoming batches. Not only classrooms but teachers too are in short supply to handle any left-behinds. Hopefully the students would catch up in later levels.

But do they? Evidence shows they don’t, when compared to counterparts in other lands. In 2018, 15-year-olds in 79 countries were tested in Reading, Math, and Science proficiency. Announced last Nov. that Program for International Student Assessment ranked Filipinos lowest in Reading, and second to last in Math and Science. Four in five Filipinos could not comprehend the short, simple English article they were made to read. Conversely, only one in five was able to construct new ideas from what was read. Educators traced that to the Filipinos’ poor early instruction, in Grades 1 to 3, when they were introduced to the alphabet, words, sentences, and writing. Due to incomprehension, they consequently lagged too in Math and Science. The last time Filipinos participated in a similar test, Trends in International Math and Science Study-2003, was as dismal. Fourth graders and 2nd-year high schoolers were also at or close to the bottom.

School disruption by natural disasters is not the only culprit, of course. Poor teacher training, shortage of instructional materials, and low state spending on education are to blame too. Yet from the 2000s to today there have been major reforms. Bi- and trilingual early schooling was adopted; higher standards were set on aspirants for school principal; class size was brought down from 70 to 45 pupils and still diminishing. But why still the similar outcomes in the 2003 and 2018 tests?

The effect of calamities may be anecdotal. But strong evidence could lie in some of the PISA findings. For one, socio-economically advantaged Filipino youths outperformed disadvantaged ones in Reading by 88 points. Ninety-four percent spoke at home a language other than English. Only 68 percent of 15-year-olds were tested, as the rest were out of school. Majority expressed fear of failure, and worry about what others would say. Natural disasters strike all social classes anywhere. But the socio-economically advantaged live in sturdier homes in safer zones, are able to recoup faster and cope better. Despite calamities, they are likely to stay in undisturbed private schools, closely monitored by English-speaking parents, and maintain equanimity.

Perhaps civil officials must be sparing in suspending school at the slightest storm. More so since such declarations only expose their failure to solve floods in their locales. Congressmen must also stop taking kickbacks from unquantifiable “flood control dredging.” Better to build permanent evacuation shelters than keep using public schoolhouses. The PISA scores indicate that Filipino youths will be unproductive in daily life. Is that the legacy the political leaders want to leave behind?              

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Except for two still in the works, all of Makati City’s barangays are now wired. Citizens instantly and freely are able to communicate with each other and the world. Connecting to City Hall and its service facilities is easy. Securing permits, receiving benefits, paying taxes is done from home or work. Mayor Abigail Binay’s next step in her “smart city” is to give out “wearables” by which citizens, especially seniors, can monitor their health. The wrist gadget will show the Makati-zen’s heart rate; steps made, stairs climbed, and calories burned for the day; sleep reminders and timers; plus more. Binay figures that despite their free hospital and medical benefits, citizens need to be equipped for healthier lifestyles. Insurance technologists are testing ways instantly to alert physicians via the wearables about patients’ health lapses or medical emergencies. Once that’s perfected, expect Binay to adopt it too for constituents.

There’s a downside to fully wired barangays, Binay discovered recently. Certain juveniles send her rude messages, thinking it’s all part of democracy and free speech. One message demanded that the mayor “suspend classes this very minute due to volcanic ash fall from faraway Taal, or I’ll whup your ass.” Another name-dropped a conglomerate CEO, saying, “Don’t you know that my granddad is a high executive of Mr. So-and-So?” Both turned out to be 12-year-old girls from different exclusive schools. A devoted mom to a ten-year-old daughter, Binay politely replied to the two online posters. Whereupon, they quickly realized their mistake and profusely apologized. Other Filipino and foreign officials are the butt too of uncouth posts, Binay has learned. Digital telecoms has empowered youths to the point of abusive language. Maternal instinct tells Binay that, along with wiring up Makati, she can launch a movement for social media etiquette, starting with youngsters.

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Catch Sapol radio show, Saturdays, 8-10 a.m., DWIZ, (882-AM).

Gotcha archives: www.philstar.com/columns/134276/gotcha

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