The curriculum summit

MINI CRITIQUE - Isagani Cruz () - August 19, 2010 - 12:00am

At the end of the Curriculum Summit that I convened last month, I asked the participants what concerns other than those we had discussed during the session were urgent and important. They listed several, among which are the following. These concerns reflect the current thinking of our senior educators. I append my own take on their comments.

Teacher quality. This was mentioned by most of the participants, who urged better selection of teachers and better teacher training. Indeed, the most important factor in student achievement tends to be teachers, rather than curriculum, teaching method, textbooks, or other inputs.

Teacher welfare. As one participant put it, “Teacher welfare must be attended to.” Clearly, the other side of demanding higher quality teaching from teachers is making sure that they get what they truly deserve. Good quality teachers should have good quality of life.

Teaching methods. One participant observed the lack of creativity in the classroom. I agree that teachers should not use only lecture, discussion, and recitation, but also innovative methods of delivering instruction.

Importance of culture. Reference was made to the NCCA’s Philippine Cultural Education Program (PCEP), which aims to mainstream culture and the arts in all education, whether formal or nonformal. It is ridiculous that most Filipino children would rather be Americans.

Language of instruction. Fortunately, the issue of the medium of instruction did not become a sore point during the discussion, which it often does in other forums. Our top educators have obviously read the research done on the relationship of the medium of instruction to the quality of learning.

Lack of physical facilities. “We have to build more facilities, such as gyms, libraries, and laboratories” was a common comment. It is not only classrooms that DepEd should look into, but the other structures that make up education. Education is not all book learning, but should involve multiple intelligences, experiential knowledge, and hands-on experimentation.

Need to be globally competitive. Because so many Filipinos work abroad, the participants were aware of the pressure being exerted on the Philippines by other countries to conform to international standards of education.

Prejudice against non-degree holders. One participant put it this way: “Those that opt to go to a work-related program and not to go to a university should not be discriminated against. We must change the image of voc-tech.” This is such a huge problem, because it is not based on reason or facts, but on age-old prejudice. Even if the richest man in the world (Bill Gates) is a prime example of the superiority of technical versus academic excellence, practically all Filipino parents believe that a college-educated person is a better human being than a high school graduate.

Textbook quality. Frankly, I believe that, no matter how many layers of evaluation we have in purchasing textbooks, the quality will not improve unless those writing textbooks are writers who teach, rather than teachers who do not write.

Parent empowerment. Many comments had to do with parents, who have to pay for so many things, even if tuition were free. We need to find an institutional way of consulting parents.

Student empowerment. Similarly, students – who are the customers of the education business – have to be able to demand what they should be taught, how they should be taught, and who should teach them.

Timetable for changes. Finally, as a few participants mentioned, we cannot talk forever. At some point, somebody has to make a decision to implement (or not to implement) the plan of adding two years.

At the end of the Summit, I asked then incoming CHED Chair Patricia Licuanan and then newly-named DepEd Secretary Armin Luistro to respond to the insights and suggestions of the participants. They both showed willingness and eagerness to listen, but they also emphasized that, at the end of the day, they had to make the hard decisions.

As with any change, the addition of two more years to the basic education cycle is going to make a lot of people unhappy. It is, however, a bitter pill. We need to join the rest of the civilized world in terms of the length and quality of our education cycle. We have objective proof that our educational system as it is right now does not work. We always score among the lowest in international tests such as TIMSS.

TEACHING TIP OF THE WEEK. Here’s a tip from the Teaching and Learning Center of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln:

“Give students red, yellow, and green cards (made of poster board) and periodically call for a vote on an issue by asking for a simultaneous show of cards.”

The idea behind this simple activity is to ensure that everybody is taking you or their classmates (if it’s a discussion) seriously. Red, of course, means I don’t agree or No; Yellow means I have no opinion or I don’t know; Green means I agree or Yes. Even without actually counting the “votes,” you can tell if the class as a whole is following what is being talked about. If you distribute the cards as the students enter the classroom, this is also a quick way of finding out how many students are absent or late.

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