Students of the Araullo High School in Ermita, Manila attend their first class during the opening of the new school year on June 3, 2019
The STAR/Miguel de Guzman, File photo
Commentary: Toward quality education
Louie Montemar (Philstar.com) - December 27, 2019 - 1:00pm

The Department of Education participated in the 2018 cycle of the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), a triennial international assessment administered to 15-year-old learners who are about to finish their basic education. 

Implemented by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), PISA tests students’ ability to apply knowledge they gained from formal education to “everyday situations.”

Given the very dismal PISA results, DepEd is now pushing Sulong EduKalidad. 

Purportedly a response to the rapidly-changing education landscape, it has four aspects: 1. K-to-12 curriculum review and update; 2. Improving the learning environment; 3. Teachers’ upskilling and reskilling; and, 4. Engagement of stakeholders for support and collaboration. KITE for short.

For about a decade or so, Tim Boulton, one of the best education practitioners I have met, has had the opportunity to observe many schools and classrooms in various Philippine regions. 

In taking post-graduate education courses here and presenting at numerous teacher workshops, he has heard from hundreds of teachers from a wide range of contexts and he affirms the need to address the education quality issue.

He notes, for instance, the obvious challenges of overcrowded and under-resourced schools, but most especially what teachers express as various “under-the-iceberg factors” that impede school improvement and student achievement. 

One of the most common teacher sentiments that he hears goes something like this: "Thank you for sharing these new educational practices, but if we adopt them in our schools then our students will do poorly on their national exams.” 

This is a valid concern because, as Boulton notes, the national achievement tests given out to learners are not in sync with the relevant aspects of thinking, and hence measure very different things compared to the PISA.

Education quality, he posits, is also affected by the way school leaders expect teachers' compliance at the expense of their creative and independent thinking. What he sees is that teachers who might otherwise be original and dynamic become “robotic and dispassionate.” 

For him, a related underlying challenge here is the perspective that education should be based on competition and thus a competitive attitude is nurtured. This view is passé and tends to shift the burden of responsibility from the educators to the learners.

In addition, he criticizes the notion that “good teachers” are controlling. He does concur that some amount of classroom management is needed, but the “best teachers”—and he emphasizes that research is very clear on this—are the ones who give students more than a modicum of autonomy. 

Autonomy motivates them to be self-learners. In line with this, school leaders should give teachers the freedom and flexibility to be effective.  

However, this is impeded by the bureaucratic and hierarchal nature of the formal learning system.

Finally, parents and teachers alike need to keep up with the accelerating field of cognitive science—they ought to know how best to facilitate learning. Toward these, Boulton proposes that there is a need to undertake the following measures: 

1. Create new incentives to keep the most talented teachers in the country. 

2. Launch a national campaign to recognize teachers and raise their status in society. 

3. Widely implement school feeding programs, with energy and nutrient-rich foods, to mitigate hunger and its harmful effects on student learning. 

4. Start teaching English and Filipino in preschool to catch learners at the optimal stage of development for language acquisition. 

5. Cut curriculum content to reduce rote learning, increase direct application and promote deep understanding that endures (i.e. strive for depth over breadth). 

6. Reduce the hierarchal nature and procedure-orientation of schools, empowering teachers to adjust to the needs of all the learners under their care. 

7. Replace top-down teacher appraisal, which can thwart teachers' creativity, risk-taking and improvement, with peer mentorship programs. 

8. Align national exams with the aspects of learning that matter most (e.g., building robust explanations, reasoning with evidence, making connections, seeing multiple viewpoints).

9. Ensure that teachers embrace and embody a "growth mindset" by: helping students understand that their intelligence is not fixed; praising positive learning behaviors, not intelligence; soliciting regular feedback from students to guide and adjust their teaching practice; avoiding student comparisons and rankings; and helping children to see that their mistakes are valuable and necessary for learning, not something to be ashamed of. 

10. Create teams of external observers insulated from intra-school politics. They would visit the schools for a few weeks at a time to observe and coach teachers in the context of cognitive science and positive teaching behaviors; taking note of the extent to which students seem happy, active, curious, creative, inspired and engaged.

I have had years of experience in organizing and conducting teacher trainings and I think these are excellent ideas and recommendations aligned with KITE. They deserve more than a passing glance. 

Louie Montemar is a fellow at think tank Stratbase ADR Institute.

PHILIPPINES AND THE DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION
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