Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Inquirer’s Homework is not DepEd’s Primary Homework

December 7, 1998, President Joseph Ejercito-Estrada, as part of his Ten-Point Action Plan, issued Executive Order no. 46 to create the Philippine Commission on Educational Reform to “define a budget-feasible program of reform, and identify executive priority policy recommendations and items for a legislative agenda on education.” The result is the proposal to add a one year “pre-baccalaureate” term between high school and college for students who are found deficient for taking a concentration in order for them to be “equip[ped]…well enough to undertake more challenging university work.”

Every president promulgates a survey to review and reassess the educational system. Marcos has his Presidential Commission to Survey Philippine Education (PCSPE); Aquino, Educational Commission (EDCOM); Ramos, Philippines 2000; Estrada, PCER; and Arroyo, the National Competitiveness Council (NCC) through the virtue of EO 571 (October 6, 2006). All of the said commissions and reforms are tantamount to PCER’s proposal to extend the basic education curriculum from 10 years to 11-13 years. In fact, only last year a bill was passed in the Congress to petition the immediate effect of the proposed K-12 system of learning in Philippine public education that will “improve the ‘level of learning’ in the country, however, it didn’t pass the second reading of the bill because of the side-by-side criticisms and objections.

The primary basis of these commissions and survey is the continuous deterioration of public education. From professional brain drain to the awful ranking of our students in the world’s Math and Science proficiency, it is basically elusive to name the main reason of this deterioration. On an editorial entitled Homework dated February 7, 2009, the Philippine Daily Inquirer suggested that the main reason why the basic education is decaying is the “bloated education bureaucracy that is the underbelly of corruption, waste and mismanagement.” However, this is not the case for a question consequentially follows this statement: If we have effectively exterminated corruption out of the system, will the education cease deteriorating? I think not, for the problem itself dwells within the hearts of the Basic Education Curriculum.

One major revision in the Philippine Basic Education is the 2002 Basic Education Curriculum through the virtue of the Department of Education (DepEd) Order no. 25 s. 2002, issued June 17, 2002. Through this, DepEd envisions every student to be functionally literate, equipped with life skills, appreciative of the arts and sports and imbued with the desirable traits of a person: “maka-Diyos, makabayan, makatao at makakalikasan”. BEC basically restructured the former elementary and secondary education curricula and compressed the ten subjects into five general ones: English, Filipino, Science, Mathematics and Makabayan (a super subject which includes Geography, History and Civics, Values Education, Technology and Livelihood Education (TLE) and Music, Arts, Physical Education and health (MAPEH)). With this, BEC is supposed to displace the “theoretical, crowded” previous curricula and teach the basic skills needed by the students in order to apply theories learned in classroom to everyday life. Another question arises from this point: How basic is basic?

Basically, the BEC only teaches the basics in the classroom and thus, provides the students no mastery in the said learning areas. For example, in the subjects English and Filipino which are continuous throughout the curriculum, grammar is taught extensively and redundantly. As soon as the pupil enters grade one, parts of speech are introduced one by one while usage is taught simultaneously. Apparently, there is no significant flaw in this part; however, as the student enters the succeeding grades, the same topic is still taught, however, in a more difficult sentence structures. This system will continue until the end of the curriculum. What is the apparent flaw in this system is that other learning areas connected to languages (such as literature, communications, et cetera) is simply overlooked. Though these subjects oftentimes include Basic Journalistic Writing, the fact that it is basic journalism can only contribute a minimal effect to the student’s academic reservoir. Therefore, even though a student mastered the grammar (which is contradictory from the results of the World’s English Proficiency tests which suggests that the Philippines ranked 42nd out of the 43 countries), s/he could not use his/her grammar because it is not applied in various learning areas.

In Mathematics, on the other hand, arithmetic is taught throughout grade school. The variability of this subject is that the level of difficulty of the computations as the student progresses up into the ladder of education, is basically dependent on the increasing number of digits of the given. Polya’s Four Step Problem Solving is taught; however, it does not promote critical thinking to the students. Mathematics in the Basic Education Curriculum is definitely a waste of time. Instead of teaching and providing mastery for the students in the primary level (first grade to fourth grade) in the arithmetic while the intermediate level teach pre- and algebra proper so that higher mathematics is taught in high school (Trigonometry, Geometry and Elementary Calculus), BEC lets the students absorb minimal skills which contradicts to the objective of the BEC itself.

All of these minute problems that have accumulated over time are partly because of the incompetent teachers teaching our students. What will we expect from the teachers that learned from the same redundant, ineffective Basic Education Curriculum? How will a blind help another blind?

The Philippine Daily Inquirer, however, seems like overlook this major factor that contributes to the continuous deterioration of the Philippine Education. Instead of addressing the greater problem, the editorial deflected the issue into an easier aspect that takes a little effort to rebut (corruption) — indeed, a flamboyant and intricate form of red herring. It does take into account that corruption in DepEd’s bureaucracy affects the education system; however, indirectly. Exterminating corruption in the bureaucracy (though it will take a greater effort for the government to do this) will contribute to the efficiency of the government but will not address the problem in education directly (as well as any other problem in different areas of the government).

Questions shall arise from this point: If the elimination of corruption in the bureaucracy does not address the issue-at-hand, then how can we mend the problem in education? What are the basic steps in order to fully implement the solution as questioned by the previous statement?

The answer in the first question is very obvious: Mend the curriculum itself— that is, come up with a concrete solution not with additional criticisms. I suggest doing the following:

1. Since the current Basic Education Curriculum main objective is to provide the students with necessary, basic skills that are applicable in real life situations, upgrade the BEC into a problem-based curriculum that will present reality simulations. A concrete example of this is the integration of laboratory work in the theory-based learning.

2. Widen the scopes of the subject, that is, integrate relevant learning areas into the incumbent subjects. For example, grammar should only be taught in the primary level so that the intermediate and secondary level will be able to teach communications, literature and journalism. Moreover, pre-algebra and algebra proper should be taught in the intermediate level so that basic higher and advanced mathematics should displace the said subjects in high school.

3. Scrap MAKABAYAN. Instead of clumping the humanities subject into one, why not teach them individually. Arts and Music must be strengthened and the degree of importance with these subjects should be leveled equal to Physical Education. Also, history must be promoted in order for the students to understand their rich heritage. The subject Technology and Livelihood Education should be scrapped and let computer education replace this.

4. Strengthen the foundations of the students in Sciences. Instead of integrating Science and Health into the English subjects of Grades I and II, let the pupils learn the fundamentals of natural sciences. With this, we can prepare them as early as those levels for learning and understanding of higher aspects such as Biology, Chemistry and Physics.

5. Offer elective subjects such as foreign languages, entertainment arts etc. With this, we can let them develop their talents and excel in their own chosen area.

6. Periodically equip the teachers the right knowledge in order for them to teach efficiently our students. Moreover, raise their salary and benefits so that they will be not discouraged in their profession (Note that public school teaching is one of the jobs that is virtually paid the least). Upgrade the curriculum of Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education and Bachelor of Science in Secondary Education, if deemed necessary.

Of course all of which will be maximized if the officials are transparent enough.

The answer to the later question, however, will serve as a conclusion. In order for us to implement a certain executive reform on education, we must first learn to recognize the long-term benefits that we can get from it. The pandemic replies of the public with accordance to current and previous educational reforms are very negative: Educational reforms will just add up to the burden of parents for their children. We should realize that these reasons or excuses are indeed myopic and a concrete proof that Filipinos are narrow-minded. With this, we could not come up with an effective educational reform that will help us stabilize the foundations of our economy. Let us not, therefore, deflect all issues regarding these reforms to corruption, which is of course a different issue; instead, let us recognize that there is a need for change and this change is necessary. We must think outside the box so that we could analyze the system and see the real roots of the problems. However, it will take us years and costs in order for us to see the returns, yet the investments will turn out to be useful. Let us be reminded of the importance of education and literacy for our economy. If we fully implement an efficient executive priority on education ceteris paribus, we will witness a growing globally competent labor force that will salvage the sunken economy of the Philippines.#