The weakest link

MINI CRITIQUE - Isagani Cruz (The Philippine Star) - October 21, 2015 - 10:00am

The weakest link in the K to 12 reform is, ironically, the teacher.

There is no question that our teachers are highly motivated. All you have to do is to follow one public school teacher – any teacher – for a whole day, and you will see how much work s/he puts in, not just inside the classroom but before and after school hours.

There is also no question that our teachers – in public or private schools – are trained, in the sense that they all took courses in their specialization or in education or in both. Those of them that have stayed for some years in the teaching profession have accumulated experience that has made them better teachers now than when they started out.

The problem, however, is that the new K to 12 curriculum and the new General Education Curriculum are very, very different from the old curriculums. The content is different (spiraling is only one of the new things today). The methods of delivery are different (the computer has changed everything, including how learners learn and how teachers should teach). The physical environment is different (there are a lot more learners now than there used to be, not only because the population has increased, but also because there are fewer learners who drop out now than in the past). The student body has changed (learners today are digital natives, unlike teachers who are mostly digital immigrants or even digital aliens).

Moreover, one of the daunting challenges facing teachers today is multiple disciplinarity.

Practically all teachers have been trained in a single discipline or, at most, a single set of similar disciplines. No one has really been trained to handle a class that needs advanced knowledge in political science, mathematics, and poetry (to mention only those disciplines I tackled in my previous column on the elections) or on international relations, environmental science, or theater (to mention only disciplines that are useful in discussing climate change).

Choi and Pak (mentioned in my previous columns) identify certain indicators that are necessary for multiple disciplinarity to be successfully employed in education.

They say, for example, that administrators must choose faculty members on the basis of real expertise, not seniority or reputation or, worse, subservience. These administrators must themselves be multiple disciplinal. These administrators must urge teachers and learners to work at home rather than go every day to a school campus. Not every administrator in the Philippines can meet these indicators.

One necessary requirement, according to Choi and Pak, is that the Internet should be fast and should be available everywhere. That has nothing to do with the aptitude and attitude of our teachers or administrators. That has everything to do with the way the country is run (many businesses just looking out for profit and many government agencies looking the other way).

Fortunately, not everyone is asleep. In the Presidents’ Summit convened by Philippine Business for Education and USAID on August 20, Sarah Stein Greenberg of Stanford University pointed out that “highly structured students enter an increasingly ambiguous world.” She asked (rhetorically) if majors are needed at all in higher education.

Finland recently started to remove subjects from basic education. Finland was not the first to do this, of course. Several years ago, New York, in a famous experiment done by IBM, removed subjects from high school and proved that the worst possible learners, when not constrained by traditional practices, can jump from junior high school to higher education.

In the book “The Rise of the Creative Class,” Richard Florida says something about the American educational system that also applies to ours: “Our current system of elementary and high-school education, as many have observed, is badly broken. It is not hard to see why: it is a complete and total relic of the industrial age, developed to stamp out workers for the Fordist industrial machine as if they were so many widgets on a, well, assembly line.

“We need to rebuild our education system from the ground up – and on the principles of creativity and the Creative Economy. That means an educational system that is less focused on test scores and standards and more around active learning.”

Yes, the problem is not the teachers themselves, but the way they were trained and the system that trained them. Our teacher education curriculum is terribly outmoded. The way we train teachers who are already in service is also terribly outmoded (the cascade method has never worked!).

Our teachers may be highly motivated, but they have been trained the wrong way. We need teachers who can help learners work out solutions to climate change, terrorism, traditional politics, the drug problem, and so on.

As Florida says, “We need to stop blaming teachers for problems created by an outmoded system.”

The K to 12 reform, together with CHED’s new General Education Curriculum, is an attempt to replace the outmoded system of Philippine education with one that can make Filipino learners lead the rest of the world in tackling the problems of the 21st century. In order to achieve that goal, our teachers (not to mention our administrators) need to be retrained, and fast.


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