Another Brick in the Wall (Part 2)

As if to answer the question I left hanging last week, “Is that what education really means?” — referring to a student’s ability to satisfy a teacher’s or a school’s requirements and get a diploma — news came out of our performance in the PISA 2018 where our students ranked at the bottom of around 70 countries.

The PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) is an assessment  tool of the Organization for Economic Development (OECD) administered to 15 year olds and “examines what students know in reading, mathematics and science, and what they can do with what they know.”

Since the result has been out for a few days, there has been all sorts of panic in the education-sphere. “Oh look how bad our students are,” or  “Oh, we need to do something about this,” and “We need to spend more money on education,” “We need to teach more math and science,” and so on.

The typical educator’s knee-jerk reaction to this sort of thing is to think that it needs more teaching, with the assumption that it will lead to more learning. Expect more projects, extra reading and homework in math and science in these coming months because the “brick” that people seem to think that a good education is made of has math, science and reading as its main ingredients, and schools want to produce as much of these bricks as possible in order to do better in the next round of PISA.

Let me repeat the question I asked, is this what education really means?

I am not saying that reading, math and science are unimportant. They are quite important and useful but they seem to be hogging all the attention right now, as if our performance in them is all that matters, as if education is all about doing well in these areas. 

We pay a lot of lip-service to the idea that children develop at their own pace and have their own strengths and interests. It is lip service because, believe me, because of this PISA report, and because of misplaced pride and a sense that “we ought to do something,” a lot of money and effort is going to be poured into these 3 areas. A lot of kids are going to be forced to do well in reading, math and science by age 15 because that is what will be expected of them to raise our PISA scores and restore our national pride in our “education.”

But what about emotional stability? What about intentionality and self-direction in life? What about knowing one’s self — one’s own strength, weaknesses, and inclinations? What about sound decision-making? What about being kind and considerate to others? What about respect and responsibility? What about social interaction and ethics?

A child may be able to factor a quadratic square trinomial, or perfectly balance a chemical equation, or explain the Theory of Relativity, but if they cannot manage their emotions, if they lack empathy, cannot handle stress, and don’t have a clue what to do with their life, then none of that other stuff is really going to matter.

A child is not another brick in the wall, not something to be shaped by adults into an image of their liking. A child is a human being, like you and me. And just as we expect others to respect our individuality and humanity, so must we respect theirs.

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Another Brick in the Wall (Part 1)

In 1979, rock band Pink Floyd came out with a song called “Another Brick in the Wall” which speaks out against rigid, traditional schooling. The lyrics go:

We don’t need no education.
We don’t need no thought control.
No dark sarcasm in the classroom,
Teacher leave them kids alone.

Hey, teachers, leave them kids alone!
All in all it’s just another brick in the wall.
All in all you’re just another brick in the wall.

Amidst the recent drama involving radio broadcaster Raffy Tulfo and the public school teacher he lambasted for allegedly humiliating a student, this song seems an appropriate background theme. I am not here to elaborate on that case, however. Many other people have made their own commentaries and I think enough has been said for one to go through, read, and make their own judgment.

What I want to focus on, is the system, the culture, of education that the song is protesting. The lyrics make the teachers to be the villains, but in reality, teachers are as much the victims of the system as the students. We have been programmed to think of schools as factories, as tools for shaping society, for providing human resource needs — very much like “another brick in the wall” of humanity that we are building. And teachers are victims because they think their job is to produce bricks, not humans.

The math teach thinks everybody needs to learn long division. The English teacher thinks everyone needs to properly differentiate between an adverb and an adjective. The Filipino teacher thinks everyone needs to read Noli Me Tangere and the History teacher is surprised if a teenager does not know who Andres Bonifacio was.

Think about that for a second, and notice your own reaction to it. Now let me ask, why would it be surprising for a teenager not to know who Andres Bonifacio was? Does Bonifacio matter in their daily life? Does it help them cross the road? Do they get money for knowing him? Why should it matter? If you still insist that it does, then let me ask you then, does it matter in your life that you know Andres Bonifacio? How does that knowledge impact your everyday life? Is it useful in your work? Does it give your life meaning?

Now, let this sink in. No one NEEDS to know who Andres Bonifacio was, nor long division, nor adverbs and adjectives, nor Noli Me Tangere. Am I saying these are unimportant? No. That is not my point.

But this is what I’m driving at. The system has fooled us into thinking that to be an “educated”person, an “educated” Filipino, we need to have all these little bits of knowledge within us. We need to be bricks with the right ingredients.

If we can satisfactorily spit out to the teacher what he/she wants to hear, we get that congratulatory handshake and that little piece of printed paper certifying that we are “educated.”

But is that what education really means?

More next week.

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The Right Questions

When confronted with a problem, most of us are trained to look for answers and solutions. Very few take the time to look at the problem itself.

For example, if I were to present the problem: Pedro has 8 oranges in one hand and 10 oranges in the other, what does he have?

Most people would straightaway answer 18 oranges. One clever student however, answered, “Pedro has very large hands.”

Or how about this: Julie has a pile of 100 chocolate bars and 200 candies. She eats 52 chocolate bars and 112 candies. What does Julie now have?

Again, most of you would start computing and say, Julie now has 48 chocolate bars and 88 candies.

But then this smart aleck answers, “Diabetes. Julie now has diabetes.”

In school we are trained to ask, is that the right answer? But in real life, in business, and in many other areas, I more often than not been forced to ask, is that the right question? How you frame the question is more crucial than finding the answer. The right question puts you in a state of mind that is open and creative while the wrong question can make the situation seem very limiting and constrictive.

These days, educators are asking all the wrong questions — How do we raise test scores? How do we increase our school’s college passing rate? How do we get kids interested in our lessons? How do we get them to sit still and listen and take notes? What are effective teaching strategies? What topics need to be added to the curriculum?

What we ought to be asking, instead, are the following: How do children learn? And how can we best support their interests? How do we continually make ourselves relevant to them? What can we learn from them? How do we help prepare them for a future we may not see? How do we help them make difficult decisions?

What do you think?

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Still Doing It Wrong (Part 2)

Last week, I discussed the first of a 3-point agenda of DepEd called Digital Rise, about how wrong it was to expect everyone to learn the same skills and information as everybody else via a fixed curriculum.

This time, I want to tackle the 2nd and 3rd points — which is to preload material on teachers laptops, mapped to the curriculum, as well as to provide each learner with their own device to access e-Learning resources.

While I understand the idea that pre-loading material on laptops makes such information accessible to far flung areas that do not have internet access, I also see the danger in the wording that makes DepEd think it has the power to decide what sort of materials to preload. I’m sure there will be a lot of materials on mathematics and science, but what if the child’s interest doesn’t lean towards any of those?

What if a child is interested in learning and mastering card magic, or playing billiards, or singing? Will those be part of their e-Learning resources? DepEd might shake its mighty head and say those aren’t important but who are they to say what is or what is not important to a child? Accomplished magicians in places like Las Vegas can earn more in a year than our public school teachers earn in their lifetime.

Who are we to curate, censor and filter a child’s interest?

In fact, probably the only point I can get behind is providing learners with their own devices, but I fear that even then, they will try to lock the devices to access only materials they think are “educational.”

The best would be just to provide kids with a basic and inexpensive Android device, a place where they can access wifi, and leave them be.

There is a saying, often misattributed to Einstein, that goes “Everyone is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing it is stupid.” That, in a nutshell is what DepEd does with its focus on curriculum, on standardized testing, and adding this or that subject because they think that’s what the child needs — never mind what the children themselves think.

It is tragically funny how DepEd uses the word “learner-centered” in their documents when what they do is anything but that. To be truly learner-centered means respecting and supporting the interest of the child, not to create a curriculum and then try to have the child fit in there.

To be truly learner-centered, one must learn not how to control, but how to set free.

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Still Doing It Wrong

I just read a summary of DepEd Secretary Briones’ on a program called Digital Rise which aims to use Information and Computer Technology (ICT) to support the learning of information, media and technology skills of students.

The program has three main points. The first tackles the subjects “needed” by students. Productivity Tools taught in Grades 4-6, Basic Programming in Grade 7, Multimedia Skills in Grades 8-10 and Vocational courses such as Computer Servicing and Call Center Services in Grades 11-12.

The second point involves providing all teachers with laptops preloaded with e-Learning resources — 7,842 learning materials from the Deped Portal, 1,566 materials form CHED, 7,000 videos and 20,000 interactive exercises from Khan Academy, and 5.8 million articles from Wikipedia Offline — “all accessible offline and mapped to the curriculum so that teachers will be guided on which resources are ideal for teaching a particular subject and competency. Teachers will no longer need to use manila paper to prepare visual aids when they have access to e-Learning resources that they can project in their classes.”

The third point involves “providing each learner with a tablet or laptop they will use to access the e-Learning resources that will be available both offline and online.”

While all this sounds lofty, grandiose and ideal, I would argue that they are basically a huge waste of budget and resources (even if such were readily available, which they are not) — DepEd has been doing this wrong, and they’re still at it.

The first point alone shows that we are off on the wrong foot. Mandatory classes in programming? computer servicing? multimedia skills? Some adult somewhere is saying, “Oh everything is becoming computerized. Everyone ought to learn programming,” which is as absurd as saying that there are cars everywhere so everyone ought to learn how to drive, or that those who learn how to drive also ought to learn how to be car mechanics.

Kids (and people in general) being what they are, will naturally have different interests and tendencies. While it is true that people can barely survive these days without a computer of some sort (yes even our phones and watches are computers now), people will use them for different purposes, and yes, some will opt not to use them at all. Going back to the car analogy — some will like big 4×4’s, some will like sports cars, some will like motorcycles, others will prefer to take the jeep or bus or taxi, while some would rather bike or just walk. It is nobody’s business to dictate to others what vehicle he or she ought to be taking. 

Education’s purpose is not to curate or worse, ram down certain topics into everyone’s throats, but to ensure access of information to those who need it. 

So do points 2 and 3 cover it? That’s what I’ll deal with next week.

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