Our Educational System is a Funny, Contradictory Mess

Photo by Richard Philip Rucker
Photo by Richard Philip Rucker

Originally published in Sunstar Davao.

As a former teacher and now a parent, I cannot help but observe a few things I find dissonant in how we educate our children.

A child usually starts out in pre-school, and a lot of pre-schools adopt or adapt some principles of the Montessori system or some other progressive system. The basic idea is we encourage pre-school children to explore, play, and socialize. We are happy when they become interested in learning. We ooh and ahh at their drawings. We answer their incessant questions as best we can. We give high marks for leadership and communication when they can talk to their classmates, carry a conversation, or spearhead a game or activity. When they assist their classmates, we tell the parents, “Your child is very helpful.”

When they enter grade one, however, those natural inclinations are curbed by more rigid rules and schedules. Learning is encouraged as long as it is within the bounds of the teachers lesson plan. If the child is curious about cooking or carpentry or how to train a dog, he is told to be quiet and learn his addition, or to memorize the different legal holidays in the Philippines.

When the child starts drawing in class, she is told to stop and instead pay attention to the teacher’s lecture on the different kinds of rocks. When they talk to their classmates, they are no longer possessing “good communication skills” but instead are now labeled “talkative.” When they assist their classmates or when they ask for help, they are now thought to be cheating.

So for the next ten years or so of his life, the many of the child’s desires are suppressed and he is forced to spend most of his day (and night) learning six or seven subjects that we adults have deemed important for him to learn — even if we ourselves have forgotten most of those supposedly important things. If they are really that important, why have we forgotten them? And if they are not important after all, why inflict them on our children?

I mean, seriously, the average adult does not know the difference between metamorphic, sedimentary and igneous rocks, and yet my daughter was taught these things in first grade. She had to memorize the definitions because they were going to have a quiz the next day. They were not even shown pictures or told why it was important to differentiate those rocks. Most likely, the teacher taught the lesson just because it was in the book. Up to this day, I cannot understand why we need to torture first graders with this lesson, most of whom will not grow up to be geologists anyway.

Before you know it, it’s time for college — time to choose a school and a major (which we call “course” in the Philippines). And we adults wonder why these teenagers cannot decide what to take. Why should we even wonder when the school has systematically drummed out most of their desires and has not even exposed them to a wider array of things to learn? Yet we now expect them to choose between hundreds of possible courses with names such as Industrial Design, Management Engineering, International Studies, Multimedia Arts, Management Economics, and a lot more. Is it any wonder they are confused?

What’s even worse is that once they have decided on a course, we expect them to stick to it, even though most of the time they chose it because it was their parents’ desire, or they just imitated their friend, or they just simply could not choose and had to do eenie-meenie-miny-moe. Shifting is highly discouraged and mostly looked down upon as a mark of indecisiveness, lack of focus, or lack of direction.

We end up with a lot of graduates still not knowing what they want. We have musicians who are engineering graduates, or nursing graduates who are graphic designers, or math majors who are English teachers. And wonder of wonders, we have flunkers, cheaters and dropouts who are highly successful business owners.

Our educational system is a contradictory mess. It is funny, but it is also sad. Make no mistake. I am not blaming our teachers but the system itself. The teachers and administrators are victims themselves of the system. And my next few articles will attempt to explore this in more detail.

Andy Uyboco is a businessman, trainer and speaker. Send me your thoughts at andy@freethinking.me, but please don’t send rocks.

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11 thoughts on “Our Educational System is a Funny, Contradictory Mess”

  1. very well said…. it’s surprising what they force children to learn in school these days. i’m not surprised that my child hated school in the philippines and has totally shifted to loving school once we moved. i can see it from the homework and project they used to send home. Parents don’t want to admit it but a lot of those projects and home sent to elementary students work were completed by parents, nannies and tutors. it’s ridiculous that the educational system in the philippines, especially in private schools has come down to, how much you can memorize. Which is the lowest level of learning.
    I dont want to start about college and all those subjects they have to take which are never going to be useful in their course/major anyway but are forced into them… tsk, tsk, tsk.

  2. Hi Andy, thank you for this article.i have mixed feelings about what you’ve said.1st i agree that our edu system is a mess, i have a 6 yr old son who will enter grade 1 this coming school year, he is very bright,inquisitive the usual preschooler and im afraid that when he enters grade school he will fall to that traditional type of learning as what you have mentioned in your article,but at the same time i also know the purpose of the “traditional” way of learning is to entail discipline and its really not about learning rocks,trigonometry and all but to learn how to follow instructions and building the right foundation,I’m looking for something in the middle a system where kids could be inquisitive but at the same time they should also learn about rules n boundaries.

  3. I belong to those “wonder of wonders”, and i even fit to the 4 description!

  4. Jennifer: You mentioned “I’m looking for something in the middle a system where kids could be inquisitive but at the same time they should also learn about rules n boundaries.”

    Actually, a lot of teachers and administrators want to encourage creativity, curiosity and so on. However, as I’ve mentioned, they are bound by many elements of the educational system as we know it.

    I’m jumping ahead of myself but in my next article, I will most probably deal with one of the deadliest elements of traditional schooling: grades.

    Abangan…

  5. Suzette: You mentioned “it’s ridiculous that the educational system in the Philippines, especially in private schools has come down to, how much you can memorize.”

    It is indeed ridiculous. I remember that (probably apocryphal) story of Albert Einstein who didn’t memorize his telephone number. When asked why not, he said, “I don’t fill my head with information I can look up in the phone book.”

    I always gave open-notes and open-books tests, even in the final exams. I place very low premium on memory and a lot on analysis and synthesis.

  6. Hi Andy, thank you very much for sharing this article. This is very timely to what te OCCI Fullness of LIfe Foundation is promoting right now. Please allow me to share briefly what OCCI Foundation is currently doing right now aside from the Trilogy.

    Andy Uyboco was also a graduate of OCCI trilogy ( FLEX, ALC & LEAP). The phrase that called my attention to post this article is when he said “Our educational system is a contradictory mess. It is funny, but it is also sad. Make no mistake. I am not blaming our teachers but the system itself. The teachers and administrators are victims themselves of the system”.

    In a forum on Philippine Education, Br Armin Luistro FSC, DepEd secretary said, When media asked me what is the one basic problem in education, is not building classroom and hiring teachers. The root cause is really the program and the curriculum. Br Armin stressed that building classrooms and hiring teachers are important, but we cannot continue to have graduates who have less than competent. If it is basic education , we should provide all the necessary resources and time so they can master standards and competencies.

    The good news is, OCCI foundation in partnership with Waters Foundation Org. launched and champion the Systems Thinking in Schools project here in the Philippines as part of a global effort. Recognizing the importance of systems thinking as a leverage for much-needed reforms not only in our educational system, but for the whole social structure of the country.

    OCCI Foundation, Inc. run the Systems Thinking in Schools (3-day workshop public offerings and in-house runs) designed especially for educators with benefits to the students,communities and to teachers. For detailed information you may contact me at my Sun mobile 0922-8975327 or may email me at ma.tessquiambao@gmail.com.

    Or, you can help and make a difference by contributing to a scholarship fund. Money raised will be used for deserving Teachers and schools to undergo the Systems Thinking in Schools training either through public offerings or in-house runs.

    For your electronic reference, please visit http://www.occiglobal.com

    Tess Quiambao
    Learning Consultant
    OCCI Fullness of Life Foundation

  7. Hi Tess,

    Nice to hear from you again. OCCI will always have a special place in my heart. It was very instrumental in molding my personal vision, for strengthening my leadership skills, and for giving me confidence in my ideas. Yes, I heartily recommend your programs to my readers here.

  8. as usual, a very good read indeed budz! You really hit the bullseye with this article! 🙂 Will share this online if you dont mind.. 🙂

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