Tuburan: Transforming the Educational Landscape (Part 2 of 2)

(Click here for Part 1)

The kids rush outside for their daily dose of outdoor play. Some climb on the wooden slides, others play in the sand, and still others grab their toy water cans and start watering the plants.


Outdoor activities form a large part of Steiner education. “Sometimes, we start the morning by letting the children hike through the fields and climb trees,” explains Kate. Steiner believed, as Piaget did, that the early stages of a child’s development (before age 7) depended largely on how he or she experiences the world. The educational approach then, needs to be sensory and experiential. Thus, they don’t only talk about trees, but they actually have to see them, touch them, feel them, and yes, climb them.

I snap a few more pictures, then it’s off to lunch with Maya, and we have a long conversation about what the school was all about and their teaching methodologies. Three things impressed me the most:

  1. No grades – People who really know me know that I have no love for grades. They may have served a certain need in times past but it is high time the educational system moved past this pass/fail mentality. The freedom from grading students removes the atmosphere of competition among students (and even parents), allows the teacher to connect with the student on a deeper level, and frees the teacher to conduct activities that facilitate learning but are difficult to grade — e.g. observing insects, digging for worms, etc.

    Teachers give a detailed evaluation of each student at the end of the year instead of just giving a card filled with numbers or letters.

  2. DSC_5884

    Holistic/Thematic learning – Traditional schools teach several (usually unrelated) subjects in a day. There is little reinforcement that happens from one topic to the next. The Waldorf system revolves around what they call a “block method” with a main topic that spans several days or weeks. For example, the teacher may allocate a block of two weeks to study Medieval History. During those two weeks, all activities will be focused on Medieval History. They will decorate the room accordingly. They will play relevant music. They will discuss the language, poetry and other literature of that time. They may do drama, crafts, sports or anything related to the theme. One can easily see how this approach can better engage students than to have them sit still listening to 8 different, unrelated lectures every day.

  1. Celebrations and Festivals – In line with the desire for holistic learning or educating the “head, heart and hands,” there is a special emphasis placed on celebrations and festivals — as these are believed to connect humanity with the rhythms of nature and the universe. Birthdays are meaningful celebrations. The teacher decorates the room in a special way and the moment the students step in, they know someone has a birthday and they become excited. The teacher then tells a story about the child, about how special he or she is. The story is customized to the child’s personality as the teachers weaves in details about his strengths, talents and gifts. The parents are also invited into the class to share stories and photos about their child.

    Now, isn’t that more meaningful than simply singing “Happy Birthday” and having spaghetti, fries and softdrinks from the nearby fastfood chain?

Tuburan is a Visayan word meaning “wellspring,” reflecting the school’s desire “to pave the way for a wellspring of independent, community-based schools in Mindanao offering a culturally transformative curriculum and pedagogy.” But I see it as more than that. I see it as a dream of two courageous souls who truly want to make an impact in the community.

Tuburan is not just a school, it is a wellspring of love, joy and hope for our children, and their children as well.

Originally published in Sunstar Davao.

Andy Uyboco is a businessman, trainer and speaker. Learn more about Tuburan Institute by visiting school.tuburaninstituteinc.com. Send me your thoughts at andy@freethinking.me.  View previous articles at www.freethinking.me.


Tuburan: Transforming the Educational Landscape (Part 1 of 2)

Teacher Kate greets each and applies citronella on their arms and legs each morning
Teacher Kate smiles and greets each child in the morning. She rubs citronella on their arms and legs to keep those pesky mosquitoes away.

I began the day with an air of anticipation last Tuesday. I was going to visit and observe a Waldorf school called Tuburan Institute in Indangan, Davao City. I have heard about Waldorf schools when I was still based in Manila and I knew that tuition there costs a small fortune. So when I heard about Tuburan and its mission of making this kind of education accessible to the community level, I was naturally intrigued.

The Waldorf system was developed by Rudolf Steiner, an Austrian philosopher and educator who started his first school in 1919 in Stuttgart, Germany. It is called “Waldorf” since the first school was set up to educate the children of the employees of the Waldorf-Astoria Cigarette Company. One can refer to the schools interchangeably as either a Waldorf school or a Steiner school, or even a Waldorf/Steiner school. At present there are over a thousand Steiner schools spread out in around 60 different countries.

I learned about Tuburan when I got an email from one of the co-founders of the school, Maya Vandenbroeck, who had read a previous article I wrote about education and she invited me to visit this very young school so I could see what it was all about.

I arrived a few minutes before class started, and chatted with a couple of teachers, co-founder Kate Estember and Nalini Libera. Kate told me that the Steiner approach was all about rhythm and balance. Education was not just about head knowledge, as is the case in most traditional schools, but also about the heart and the hands. A lot of emphasis goes to feeling and sensing. While we were talking, Nalini was quietly slicing and arranging slices of guava and rambutan in small bowls.

“We start the day by eating together,” said Kate. “This is part of the educational process. Kids eat a lot of artificial ingredients nowadays. We teach them to appreciate the natural taste of fruits. The different colors also stimulate them.”

The kids arrive and Kate sits just outside the door as they form in line in front of her. She gives a warm smile to the first child in line and says “Maayong buntag.” Then she takes out a bottle of Citronella (a natural mosquito repellant) and starts applying them on the arms, legs and neck of each pupil. I observe that she does this task with much affection. It was not just a matter of applying the repellant, but also a way to connect with the pupils through her loving touch.

Once everyone had gone inside, they sat around the tables prepared with fruit. Kate holds the children’s hands and they sing a short song of thanks for the food. Then they begin eating and talking.

The kids begin the day by eating freshly-picked fruits prepared with love

“This rambutan is sweet,” says one.

“This guava tastes good. But my favorite fruit is durian,” says another.

After the meal, the kids put their plates in the wash area and go to the play area where there is a shelf of mostly wooden toys. A third teacher, Vivi San Pascual, has arrived and assists some of the kids in laying the mats and giving them toys from the higher shelves. Some kids stay at the tables which have now been transformed into drawing tables, with large sheets of paper and crayons.

The teachers assist the kids when needed but they are mainly left to their devices. They play with whomever they want with whatever toys they want. They draw whatever they want. If there are conflicts between the kids, the teachers are content to let them resolve it by themselves and only intervene when there is a threat to safety. This is part of the educational process, letting children learn to express themselves, build communication and negotiation skills, be comfortable in their own skin and have a better sense of who they are.

“In Tuburan,” explains Kate, “We learn to take time. We don’t pressure the kids. We let them experience and learn things on their own.” I observed the teachers resolving conflicts not by raising their voices or using harsh words, but always with a soothing voice — so gentle it could almost be a love song.

(continue to part 2)

Originally published in Sunstar Davao.

Andy Uyboco is a businessman, trainer and speaker. Learn more about Tuburan Institute by visiting school.tuburaninstituteinc.com. Send me your thoughts at andy@freethinking.me.  View previous articles at www.freethinking.me.


Who Do You Trust?

Image from the Evangelical Pastafarian Party of Canada
Image from the Evangelical Pastafarian Party of Canada

Someone once pointed out to me that he would rather trust God than science because science keeps changing while the Bible has remained the same for thousands of years.

Some people think that constancy is a good thing. In some cases, it is, but in many others, it’s not. The Biblical text may have remained the same but our understanding and interpretation of it certainly has not. I, for one, am certainly glad that we no longer execute homosexuals (Leviticus 20:13), nor stone to death non-believing relatives — with your own hands no less (Deuteronomy 13:6-10), nor decimate entire towns that entice you to believe in other gods (Deuteronomy 13:12-16). Imagine the killing spree that would happen should you open your doors to a couple of Mormon missionaries. Imagine the bloodbath that would happen.

But wait, one need not imagine for it has already happened in the Crusades of the middle-ages, the Salem witch trials, and other such events in the annals of history.

Now tell me again why being unchanging is actually a good thing.

Many people find comfort in constancy. They want a stable job, a steady income, a close set of friends and so on. That is but natural and I’m not making a judgement call on whether that’s good or bad. It is what it is. Now, it is good in a sense that your life becomes quite predictable and free from nasty surprises. However, constancy can also prevent you from moving forward and radically improving your life.

In fact, the reason I trust science more than the Bible is because science is honest enough to discard or modify its own principles when sufficient evidence arises to warrant a change. Granted, there are unscrupulous scientists who falsify evidence in their favor, but then again, there are unscrupulous people anywhere, be it in business, politics or religion. In no way does the presence of such individuals invalidate the scientific method. If anything, it serves to show that no matter how plausible or philosophically elegant a claim is, it can be discarded based on the evidence or counter-evidence.

Science can show that whether your skin color is black, white, yellow or brown, you are not inferior or superior to another and this cannot be used as a justification for slavery. Science can show that man and woman are essentially the same, yet it took thousands of years for people steeped in superstition to accept that and give the same rights to both. Even today, with all the evidence available, that same right is not yet a given in all countries or cultures. Science can show that homosexuality is a natural phenomenon occurring in various animal species and although much research and debate is still ongoing, it certainly is no cause to pour hatred or condemnation on the LGBT community, nor lump them together with murderers and thieves as in 1 Timothy 1:9-10.

The great comfort I derive from uncertainty is that there is always the possibility of changing for the better. Of course, one can always take a turn for the worse but that is a necessary risk, or one will forever be stuck in a meaningless cycle of existence — a point excellently made in the 1998 film, Pleasantville, starring Tobey Maguire (before his Spiderman days) and Reese Witherspoon.

This is not to say that science is always uncertain. We can be certain of things to a reasonable degree. I trust in science and the scientific method because it works. When you drop a ball, you can reasonably expect it to fall downwards instead of falling upwards. When you build a rocket based on sound science, it flies into space. When you create medicine based on science, it alleviates pain and suffering.

And yet, the beauty of it is that science is always open to new discoveries and new principles that can supersede the old. It does not brand as heretics those who want to disprove Einstein or Hawking as long as they can back it up with sound data or mathematics. Now, try raising your hand at the next church service and seriously question the virgin birth of Jesus, or his resurrection.

Let me know how that goes.

Originally published in Sunstar Davao.

Andy Uyboco is a businessman, trainer and speaker. Send me your thoughts at andy@freethinking.me.  View previous articles at www.freethinking.me.

Double Blind Placebo What?

Photo by Timothy Krause
Photo by Timothy Krause

Most people have, at one time or another, encountered a friend or relative selling miracle cures. It may be something conventional like a tablet, juice, ointment or aromatic oil. It may also be something unheard of like a bracelet, a skin patch, magnets, or stickers. The seller will usually have a handful of written testimonials (with photos) or video footages “proving” the effectiveness of the product against cancer, goiter, asthma and a whole host of other diseases.

The question now is, how do you decide whether to believe them or not?

I have a confession to make. I used to be one of those selling such products when I was still based in Manila. I worked with a company which sold health products (pills and drinks). To be fair to the company however, they never marketed their products as cures but as nutritional supplements. Some distributors, however, got it into their heads that they could sell the products better if they targeted them as cures for certain diseases. One such disease was a skin problem called psoriasis. The strategy worked for a time so we neophytes decided to mimic their style.

So, armed with testimonials and product brochures, I charged into the clinic of a dermatologist who claimed to be specialist of psoriasis. He listened to me for a few minutes, then said, “You know I’ve come across a lot of claims for curing psoriasis, but I will only trust your product if it has been proven in a double-blind, placebo-controlled test and published in a medical journal.”

In my mind I said, “What the hell is that?” But aloud, I only said, “Well sir, I’m sure our company has those. I’ll ask for them and bring them back to you.”

I asked the more senior people at our office if we had such documents and they said, “Yes, of course we do,” but when I pressed and asked for the actual documents, nobody could produce them. So in the end I could only conclude that we didn’t have them and I never went back to that doctor again.

But what is so important about a double-blind, placebo-controlled test? Well, I know a lot more about it than I did then so let’s start with what a placebo is — a placebo is a treatment which has no actual medicinal value, but can seemingly cause a cure. For example, a man goes to the doctor and complains of a headache. After a thorough examination, the doctor finds nothing wrong, but the patient insists that his head hurts. So the doctor gives the patient a pill, tells him to take it and to call him if the situation improves. A few hours later, the patient calls and says that the pill worked perfectly and he is feeling quite energetic. He wants to know what that pill was. The doctor then reveals that it was just a sugar pill. The headache perhaps had some psychological cause and the belief that he was taking actual medicine “cured” the patient of it, or the belief caused the mind to release certain chemicals in the body which took care of the disease.

This is called the “placebo effect” and it is a common phenomenon in medicine. Quack doctors and faith healers use this to fool people into thinking they are cured. To protect against this, new drugs or treatments have to pass a double-blind, placebo-controlled test to verify that the drug can actually treat the disease instead of merely relying on the placebo effect.

I’ll try to explain how it works in very simple terms. Let’s say, there’s a new drug for asthma called Asmalex. In order to test Asmalex, we find volunteers who have asthma who are willing to undergo the test. These volunteers are split into two groups A (experimental) and B (control). Group A will be given Asmalex and Group B will be given the placebo (sugar pills or cornstarch pills or any other useless pill).

The patients do not know whether they are given real medication or the placebo. That is the first “blind.” The second “blind” is that the ones administering the medicine do not know also whether they are giving the real thing or not — hence the term “double-blind.”

This method ensures that there are no subconscious signals to make the patient believe whether he is taking the real thing or not, as that belief may affect the results.

After the test period is over, the data is collated and interpreted by a statistician — and if the researchers want to make the results even more unbiased, they also do not reveal to the statistician which is the control group or the experimental group, thus introducing a third “blind,” and lending more credibility to the conclusion.

If statistics show that the experimental group’s result is significantly better than the placebo group, then the treatment is granted to have a therapeutic effect. The methodology and results are then published in a journal for other researchers to review for errors, or for replication and verification.

So I hope that adds to your knowledge and vocabulary for today, and if someone tries to sell you the latest cure-all, be sure to ask for the double-blind, placebo-controlled test. Oh, and if they do happen to produce one, make sure to read it thoroughly. Just because they can produce some piece of paper does not necessarily make it legitimate.

Originally published in Sunstar Davao.

Andy Uyboco is a businessman, trainer and speaker. He is not blind. Send me your thoughts at andy@freethinking.me.

Hey God!

Photo by Waiting for the Word
Photo by Waiting for the Word

Me: Hey God!

God: Hey, how’s it going?

Me: All right, I guess. Nothing to complain about.

God: So what’s this all about then? I haven’t heard from you in a while ever since you talked to my son last year.

Me: Well, I was just wondering what to write about this week and I couldn’t get anything really sorted out in my head so I thought I’d do what Neale Donald Walsch did and see if you’d come talk to me too.

God: Of course I’d talk to you. I talk to everyone. Most people just don’t listen though.

Me: You’re not exactly that clear-cut, you know. For example, how do I know I’m really talking to you and it’s not just my mind making up these words?

God: You don’t. But how do you know it’s not me putting those words you think you made up in your mind?

Me: I don’t know. Some people seem to think that you don’t talk to people anymore — that all you have to say is right there in your holy book.

God: You mean all that the infinite, all-knowing, all-wise creator of the universe has to say is contained in a book written thousands of years ago? Come on, I thought I made you with better sense than that.

Me: Just saying, that’s what people say. Others say, however, that you do talk, but whatever you say today cannot contradict whatever is in scriptures.

God: Now you’re being ridiculous. Times change, circumstances change, what I say can also change. Do you remember when you were a little boy and you declared to everyone within earshot that you wanted to be a soldier? How’s that going for you?

Me: But you’re God. You’re not supposed to contradict yourself.

God: Really? And which higher being made that rule for me to follow? I can contradict myself as much as I want. Who’s going to stop me?

Me: Uhm, good point. Isn’t that against your nature though?

God: And what good is it being God if I can’t go against my nature? Besides, what are you going to do about it? Slap me with a logical fallacy?

Me: I can’t argue with that.

God: Good that you know.

Me: You know some people are going to read this and get offended that I’m presuming to speak for you.

God: Don’t you get offended when they presume to speak for me?

Me: Not really, but I get really irritated.

God: And why is that?

Me: They’ve never really met you, seen you, heard you, felt you or touched you. Yet they are so sure that they know you — I mean really know you. They presume to know what you want and what you don’t want, who you love, who you’re going to save, who you’re sending to hell.

God: Now wait a minute, who said anything about sending anyone to hell?

Me: It’s there in the scriptures.

God: Which was written by whom?

Me: You.

God: Me? I never wrote anything in my life. Why should I bother writing anything down? It’s you humans who like writing things. You have this intense feeling and you write. You think you hear voices and you write. Like now, it’s you writing this conversation down, not me.

Me: So you’re saying you didn’t write the scriptures?

God: Nope. Any sane, intelligent scholar knows I didn’t take a pen and put words down on papyrus.

Me: How about what they say about you “inspiring” the men who wrote the scriptures?

God: Like the way I’m “inspiring” you now?

Me: But no one would really believe that these words I’m writing were inspired by you. They’ll just say I made the whole thing up. They’ll even say I’m blaspheming you by putting words in your mouth.

God: So? Nobody believes in prophets, but you already know that. You know, you humans take life too seriously sometimes. Lighten up and learn to laugh. I made life for you to enjoy and have fun and not get too caught up in these constipated arguments.

Me: Okay then. I’d love to chat more, but it’s late and I have a word limit and I think I exceeded it already.

God: Oh pooh, just tell your editor you’re having a divine dialogue.

Me: She’d never believe me.

God: I’ll put a mini-rainbow on her desk to make her know it’s legit.

Me: I’d like to see that happen. Later, nice chatting with you.

God: Au revoir!

Originally published in Sunstar Davao.

Andy Uyboco is a businessman, trainer and speaker. He likes talking with God. Send me your thoughts at andy@freethinking.me.  View previous articles at www.freethinking.me.

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