Thursday, April 12, 2007

Politically Correct Myths About Philippine Public Education

DUCATION was the topic on ABSCBN's Forum 2007 on ANC last night, involving senatorial candidates Sonia Roco (GO), Tessie Oreta (TU) and Richard Gomez. My vote goes to Richard Gomez who is an outsider to the education game and therefore not completely enamored of its persistent MYTHS, which were actively being peddled by the others including interpellator Marichu Lambino with her leading questions.

MYTH #1: We aren't spending enough on Education.

This widespread and persistent complaint is actually equivalent to saying that a family that spends 90% of its food budget on LECHON and BACON isn't spending enough on NUTRITION. It is true only in the same twisted and malnourished sense of PRIORITY, which by the way was the theme of last night's forum--i.e., whether the government is giving enough of a priority to education. The meat of the matter was examined in several Philippine Commentaries last year on the classroom shortage and the patriotic curriculum, where it was shown how the latter explains the former as cause-and-effect.

Sonia Roco was first to trot out the old saw that the 1987 Constitution mandates the "highest budgetary priority" for education. She states that we are violating this mandate because we are spending more on repaying our foreign and domestic debts. She would rather we practice international balashubasism by stiffing our foreign and domestic creditors to throw more good money after bad into public "education." Again by way of analogy, it is like that same family I mentioned above being told by the Wife that they should perhaps stop paying the red-hot credit card bills (without having to tear up the credit cards) and spend more of the family income on the bacon and lechon. What exactly is this bacon and lechon to which I refer? In a previous post on Education Secretary Jesli Lapus (The Man With Half a Million Employees and Not Much Else) you will find the explanation that in fact the Education budget is largely a Labor and Employment budget having little or nothing to do with education as such since about 90% of the 150 billion pesos allocated for it will go to the largest single bureaucracy and labor union in the government (the teachers, principals, supervisors, administrators, consultants that make up the DepEd). About 1 billion pesos will go to the school building program and far, far less to textbooks, computers and other facilities that the students and teachers all need badly.

Now what could possibly be wrong with spending almost all of the education budget on the teachers? Well, there wouldn't be anything wrong with it except for the fact that 60% of that budget is spent not on teachers of Math, Science, English or Pilipino subjects, but on the strange super-subject full of plantilla-bloating teachers called "Makabayan" that was invented by none other than former Education Secretary Raul Roco (Sonia Roco's late husband) at the same time that he ABOLISHED the Science subject from Grades One and Two of the curriculum. There is still no more Science subject at those two crucial levels of a child's education in all 40,000 public schools as a result, but they get plenty of "values education" and "patriotic instruction" -- and no classrooms, desks, computers, textbooks and school buildings, which get about 1% of the budget!

So I found myself both laughing and crying at Ms. Roco's pious but disingenuous response to Cheche Lazaro's question about the results of the 1995, 1999 and 2003 global Trends in Math and Science Study (TIMSS) showing the Philippines ranking near the very bottom (3rd from the last) in all three surveys of the countries of the world in these two subjects (ahead only of places like Haiti and Somalia!). It was in 2002 when, in response to these hair-raising, eye-opening scientific studies involving 600,000 students from over 40 countries, her late husband did indeed abolish the Science subject in Grades One and Two, established the Makabayan subject in preparation for the 2004 elections (which he lost anyway). This move recongested the Philippine curriculum contrary to the best recommendations of the international education community that was calling for streamlined curricula that focus on Reading, Writing and 'Rithmetic.

Myth #2: It's the fault of the Teachers
Former Senator Tessie Aquino Oreta responded to Cheche Lazaro's question about TIMSS and the dismal performance of the Filipino studentry in maths and sciences by blaming on the need to SPEND MORE MONEY on training the teachers, implying that it is their general incompetency which is to blame. Yet a simple examination of the Basic Education Curriculum which she has supported and promoted as "patriotic" and "values-laden" will show that it is because math and science have gotten the short shrift from the the politicians which is actually to blame. In other words, if you don't emphasize math and science subjects and put money into hiring math and science trained teachers in favor of Makabayan's "liberal arts" and religion masquerading as patriotism and civic virtues (which take up over 60% of the curriculum and therefore the budget), you are definitely going to get Africa-level students in those all-important subjects. It's when you insist on having non-science teachers (like English, Pilipino and Makabayan teachers) to somehow incorporate science subject matter in their courses, as the 2002 BEC of Raul Roco does, that you get the present strange and abominable situation. I don't think our math and science teachers are incompetent at all! But if we don't give them schools, classrooms, computers, laboratories and textbooks to use because we are busy hiring and training teachers in the Renaissance arts and leftist ideologies of nationalism and patriotism in the dominant Makabayan supersubject, how can we expect them to do a good job?

Myth #3 The Public Schools Need More Money To Compete With the Expensive Private Schools

This is another boil of a myth that really needs lancing. Folks like Oreta and Roco, as well as interpellators Marichu Lambino and Howard Calleja claim that public schools need more money in order to deliver the widely acknowledged higher quality of education available in private schools, which, oh by the wa,y commit the mortal sin of --gasp-- charging tuition fees. I guess it simply never occurs to them that the very REASON for those high tuition fees is that the public schools with their advertised free tuition (but not not other fees and expenses) represent UNFAIR COMPETITION to the private sector. It is as if the government were suddenly to announce that it will now subsidize hamburgers being sold at Jollibee's to make them free, and then wonder why the quality there goes down from an effect called the Tragedy of the Commons, and the prices go up in the non-subsidized food outlets where far fewer customers nonetheless care more about quality and results along with price. My assertion is that private school tuition fees would naturally plummet under market forces if they would be allowed to compete to service the educational needs of those 22 million kids in the public schools who are actually trapped in the false promises and flawed premises of our essentially socialist education system. I simply do not believe that the De La Salle brothers, the Ateneo Jesuits, the nuns of the collegiala schools are really in the education business to make a mean buck, considering they've all taken vows of poverty, chastity and obedience and dedicate their lives to that enterprise. It's the economic market forces, stupid!

Myth #4 You can run Fedex or DHL with only the truck drivers and no trucks, computers or telephones. The real key to understanding what ails Philippine education is the Basic Education curriculum and how it drives the Deped spending in all the wrong directions. We hire the wrong sorts of teachers and not enough of the kinds we really need in math, science and language because we insist on that patriotic curriculum. We don't invest enough in facilities, instructional materials and laboratories. It is not at all that we don't spend ENOUGH, it is that we don't spend enough on the right things. We insist on spending 90% on lechon and bacon and wring our hands that we don't get enough nutrition.


Lord Dracula said...

It would have been helpful if you posted about Gomez's reactions/answers to questions.

ricelander said...

It would be a good idea to compare our curriculum with, say, Singapore or Japan, wouldn't you think?

Been mulling over this hypothesis: Filipinos are generally right-brain dominant.

There is a theory in psychology that the brain is essentially made of two spheres, the left and the right. The left is the logical, the right artistic/creative/musical. Dominance of either dictates the process of digesting and understanding information and situations. Roughly, that's how I understand it.

Now, how do these connect? The suspicion that Filipinos are in general right-brain is borne out of the observation that there seems to be a disproportionately large ratio of would-be or frustrated singer/artist for every hundred, compared to, say, the Chinese or Taiwanese . Note too the obiquitous videoke machine, if it does not suggest you a thing.

Math and the sciences are logic-oriented subjects fit for individuals with left-brain dominant spheres. That should suggest a reason why as a race, Filipinos are poor in these areas of knowledge but seem to be always with a limitless pool of artists, musicians, dancers, etc.

I am right brain. (I am artistically inclined. I sing for a garage band. I do digital arts. I used to draw a lot. I sometimes paint). Now, as a student I had my unfair share of frustrations understanding math subjects until I have learned to visualize them differently in a manner I could make sense of it, as a shape, as a device, whatever. It's slower but I arrive at solutions that satisfy my curiosity. In school, they give you formulas; follow the formula you get the right answer. But to me a "gap" somewhere would linger until I could "see" the "picture".

Let me guess: you are left-brain dominant.

blackshama said...

A related but major issue now in the Pinoy science community is why with all the money invested we have not improved our scientific output (measured as publications). This lack of science output has affected the global rankings of our top universities. UP, Ateneo and La Salle are not in the top 200 list of Asian schools.

It's not because we have few scientists or good teachers. We have a lot of them. It is likely that our priorities are misdirected and given the recent rankings a university president said that his school's priority is how it contributes to the formation of the Filipino. Well it is hard to argue about that!

As for comparing the university curriculums of neighbouring countries like Singapore, you would notice that our college curriculums are filled with useless subjects that do not prepare the graduate for competitiveness.

Rizalist said...

Richard Gomez I like because I sense he is a conservative in the sense that he wants to hold people responsible for what happens to them. His advocacy against drugs is a lot like my criticism of the hunger/poverty surveys, the incidence of which is surely the fault of people themselves to some extent. What I don't like is treating our people like sheep who are helpless at helping themselves. It's his philosophy I like rather than anything specific in his proposals. I want to study him some more before posting at length on him.

Rizalist said...

I think the left brain right brain difference is overblown. I may be a physicist but I also won a 500,000 peso prize during the Centennial Literary Constest for an epic poem I wrote on Balangiga. And I love art and literature as much as science. I suspect that as a garage band member, you are also enamoured of electronics, sound systems, digital music software and the like. By the way, when I was building XRAY CT scanners for G.E. in Milwaukee, I also ran with heavy metal band! (mainly for the girls, but also for the music and great gang of guys) hehe. (what part of the brain is sex assigned to?)

Rizalist said...

Perhaps it is because it has gotten harder and harder to do really good science work in the world, since many of the basic problems were solved centuries ago. Although "the night is large" and our ignorance far far greater than our knowledge, you can't expect to do good science with a mediocre concentration on it as just one of many subjects. It's just too easy to drift into other subjects that are not as demanding in real accomplishment and hard work. We do have great scientists and teachers, but they need context-- a challenging and demanding environment -- in order to produce. We don't have that because our education policies are too wishy washy and uncognizant of how much it really takes to do good science. Heck, even in the rich countries true achievement is rare, how much more in a country not serious about it?

baycas said...

what part of the brain is sex assigned to?

i don't know if this will be allowed here but here's where sex is assigned:

Rizalist said...

haha! very good baycas. not only allowed it's encouraged.

engineerOFW said...

See the latest news from Beijing?

A high-level Beijing city official said Beijing taxi drivers must pass an English test to keep their licenses. He said. "Taxi drivers need to get their licenses renewed every year, and an English test is now part of that that exam. But the exam is not so difficult."

"Some taxi drivers do speak some English, and that's a big change from the past"

blackshama said...

You don't need a brain to have sex. Bacteria invented sex before their descendants developed brains!

ricelander said...

Just a thought really, Dean. Maybe a serious study is in order. My point here is that we may not be teaching ourselves properly. It isn't like I am saying a right brain dominant is incapable of being good in Math but only if his cognitive processes were properly understood and considered.

That you are both good in literature and the sciences probably makes you an exception? But who were the judges when you won? hehehe

Sex is supposed to reside on the right. Care to try an experiment? hahaha.

Rizalist said...

Just take a look at the performance of the Filipinos once they go abroad. They're great performers, with many excelling in schools at all levels. It's not so much our brains or any particular left-right dominance. We just don't teach ourselves enough of the subjects that really matter.

In the contest we had to use pseudonyms so the judges never knew who the contestants were. Otherwise all of us unknowns wouldn't have had a chance against the established writers, many of whom did win anyway. Mine was only a bronze medal btw and there were ten different categories with thirty winners in all.

Jego said...

Bacteria invented sex before their descendants developed brains!

Yes but they didnt enjoy it. You need a brain for that. :-D

Rizalist said...

Here is an email from "GABBY":

what do you think the perfect curriculum must be, given current levels of spending? what exactly would you change?

1) for grades 1 and 2, what exactly is the problem? its not that they are NOT teaching math and science at all -- its just that they are using these subjects as a way to teach english. ( i.e. counting whole numbers... talk about water: This bucket of water is clean, etc...) its still math and science, but the goal is to learn english and communication -- key to understanding mathematical logic and the scientific method.

2) for makabayan, it seems alot of it is practical education -- work education, technology, art, computers. vocational experience is vital, since it seems to me that not everyone should go for a 4 year college experience necessarily. isn't it a good thing to have this?

3) i agree that the case for teaching values is weak at best. but shouldn't schools teach SOME SORT of civics? i agree that this we're spending too much time now, but ZERO time alloted to values/civics hardly seems correct.

4) private catholic schools spend time on values/religion also.

on the assumption that you can change the curriculum to your desired curriculum, isn't more investment in both teachers and infrastructure desirable? the teacher student ratio is low, is it not?

also, on teacher training, wouldn't it be difficult to get science and math grads to teach grade/high school? the opportunity costs for them are simply too great. instead, shouldn't we just change teacher training, teaching colleges, incorporate math (each teacher should know enough to teach college algebra, if not elementary calculus), and the scientific method.

we would all look forward to hearing something specific. thanks

And my reply:
Hi Gabby,
The International Association of Education which conducts the TIMSS studies every four years were quite specific in their recommendations on curriculum reform based on the results of the study and the lessons learned from the successful countries. Primarily they recommend focussed, streamlined curricula that concentrate on the basics. Bro. Andrew Gonzalez, who was DepED secretary before he was thrown out in the overthrow of Erap Estrada was apparently contemplating three subjects only: math, science and language (whether English, Pilipino or local vernacular didn't seem to matter, though I am sure he actually had English in mind for most schools).

I would certainly support those recommendations, starting with a restoration of the science subject in Grades One and Two (they did not abolish math subject). The abolition of the science subject certainly affects the possibility of attracting Science teachers to the public schools since the signal was sent loud and clear: WE DON'T CARE ABOUT SCIENCE. Not only Grades 1 and 2 were affected, but if you recall the proposal for a bridge year between grade school and high school after testing graduates of elementary, that came about because the secondary school science program was severely impacted by the fact that the incoming students were only getting four years of science prep instead of the six years they had before. It was and is an unmitigated and unrecognized DISASTER.

(1) That is the big problem with what happened in Grades 1 and 2--it cut the legs out from the ENTIRE science program of the public schools. I think it was stupid and dumb and ought to be fixed considering how badly we are doing relative to the rest of the world.

(2) For makabayan, sure it's a lot of practical education, but I would rather spend even a tenth of what is being allocated to Makabayan to building class rooms, building and buying computers and textbooks, not teaching values or religion disguised as civics. I have nothing against either, but when you can't afford it anyway, that is bacon and lechon when you can't buy rice.

(3) Some sort of civics yes--after some sort of math and science, after all you can get civics elsewhere, but hardly math and science. It is a matter of priority.

(4) It's the right of private catholic schools to teach religon and values, but public schools ought not do so--remember separation of church and state?

(5) My point IS that there should be investment in both teachers and infrastructure, but 120 billion for teachers and 1 billion for school building program hardly seems reasonable.

(6) As I said, if we send the message out that we don't care about science, why should science teachers seek to work for the public schools?

I hope this was specific enough?

carlo said...

OK guys. This is my third year teaching at a public high school and this is the problem from where I see it: Nobody cares in DepEd about education. Nobody. It's all about careers, salaries, and kurakot, and kurakot, and kurakot. You try to talk about quality education and this is the kind of response that you get: "Pumasok sa sistemang ito, matuto kang sumunod sa sistema." or "masakit ka magsalita, DepEd ka rin, tapos pinipintasan mo ang DepEd?" The stupidest people in the country are in DepEd.