25 November 2007

The Future of Accreditation

I was asked to react to a paper on "PAASCU at 50: Raising the Standards
of Excellence in Philippine Education" by Fr. Antonio S. Samson, S.J., President of Ateneo de Davao University, at the PAASCU General Assembly held in Club Filipino, Greenhills, San Juan City, Philippines, last 23 November 2007. ("PAASCU" stands for Philippine Accrediting Association of Schools, Colleges and Universities.) These are the remarks I made:

Fr. Samson raised several points. I shall react to four of them.

First, he has correctly pointed out that we have globalized in two ways. We have established linkages with associations abroad that now recognize our process, and we are about to accredit institutions outside the country. Our coming out into the world logically follows our looking beyond CEAP to non-CEAP schools. Globalization is an inevitable, necessary, and good development of PAASCU.

Second, Fr. Samson has pointed to the need to develop new instruments for new programs and new conditions. He mentioned architecture, marine engineering and transportation, and he also mentioned voc-tech and foreign students. We are expanding not only geographically but also disciplinally. A new condition is, of course, IQuAME. Far be it from me to champion this mongrel of dubious birth, but like Leibniz who thought that there is always something good in everything, even the most evil of things (I think it was Leibniz, because otherwise, my philosophy teacher Dr. Ramon Reyes, PAASCU president, will recall my grade), Fr. Samson has asked us to examine our consciences to see if we do not, indeed, focus enough on outcomes, as IQuAME claims it does. I agree that we should always be sceptical of ourselves, just to keep us honest, but I do not share his optimism that talking to CHED about IQuAME is worth our time. Having tried for more than ten years as a member of one of CHED’s technical panels to change CHED from within, I think talking to the so-called commissioners would be an exercise in superhuman patience. Fr. Samson would be better off talking to his fellow Jesuit, Fr. Bienvenido Nebres, who is now de facto the Education Czar, since the real Education Czar, Mona Valisno, consults him. As for foreign students, we should be flattered that other people are asking us to teach them. The universities in their countries usually rank higher than ours in the Times Higher Education Supplement survey. That reminds me. Perhaps we might want to include in our graduate school area of research the requirement of Times that faculty publish in ISI-listed journals.

Third, about deregulation and autonomy. Together with some of the PAASCU members in this room, I was involved in this CHED project. Let me say that, if we were accrediting CHED in this area, we would not even recommend a consultancy to determine readiness. I do not share Fr. Samson’s optimistic view that, if CHED finally comes up with the list, some or even a few of our problems will be solved. Remember how we felt the first time around? The original lists raised more questions than they answered. By the way, the non-accreditors in CHED are now demanding that autonomous schools should follow the tedious process that non-autonomous schools go through to get permits for new course offerings. That’s what we get when people have no accrediting experience. As the late Education Secretary Raul Roco famously put it when he was asked why he did not approve of charter change, why change the charter when we can always do anything under it? Frankly, what does autonomy really give an institution that it cannot get if it knew how to get things done within the self-contradictory bureaucracy of CHED? And while we are on the subject of autonomy, Fr. Samson has correctly alerted our basic education schools to DepEd Order 32, series of 2006, which expands the arena of struggle about autonomy from CHED to DepEd. Since DepEd is even more self-contradictory than CHED, there is even more we can do because of that Order.

Fourth, Fr. Samson talked about institutional accreditation, which we have with our Level 4 and which we really have no choice but to have, since we practically do it anyway.

I want to say something of my own about institutional accreditation and autonomy and the general idea that some schools should be able to do pretty much what they want to do. If we look at the educational system as a whole, it is important that some parts of it, even just a few parts, should be at the margins, or probably better-put, at the cutting edge or frontier. Some schools should be innovating. In effect, they will be the R&D of the system. To innovate, these schools have to have autonomy in the real sense, that is, that they should not be subject to the confusing directives of either DepEd or CHED and perhaps not even to the clear criteria that PAASCU itself uses for accreditation. Because we are not divine, these schools are bound to make mistakes, plenty of them. Like the dot.com phenomenon, perhaps they will succeed only 10% of the time. But that 10% might spell the difference between life and death for all our schools.

Let me take a simple example. Fr. Samson mentions the decrease in enrolment in our schools. Within the paradigm that we now follow, that sounds like a really bad thing. If we look at autonomous or institutionally accredited schools as our R&D, however, this might not necessarily be a bad thing. After all, our taipans always say that every disaster spells opportunity. Maybe the decrease in enrolment is heaven-sent. Why and how should we profit from the apparently unstoppable exodus of students to SUCs, to call centers, to jobs abroad? This is precisely why we need autonomous schools to think for us, to think not just outside the box, not just to break the rules, but to do what academic institutions are supposed to do, to challenge received wisdom, to discover or constitute new truths, to shift the paradigm. We can call it institutional accreditation or autonomy or whatever, but whatever it is, we have to identify, not to reward, but to provoke institutions with proven quality to show us the way out of the educational disaster that we are currently experiencing.

When PAASCU was first conceived, it was, above all, a revolutionary idea. PAASCU should remain revolutionary. That is the only way for us to continue to make a difference. Thank you.

14 November 2007

CyberEd 101

Charges of corruption and overpricing miss the point. The Philippine Department of Education's CyberEd is a bad project not because of politics or economics, but because it makes no sense from the educational point of view.

CyberEd envisions one channel per grade level (6 for elementary and 4 for high school), plus two extra channels for teachers and officials, for a total of 12.
Let us assume, for the sake of argument, that all schools already have electricity, that all classrooms have TV sets and computers capable of receiving the 12 channels, and that each school has enough money to pay for electricity and maintenance costs. (I am using assumptions contrary to fact to show that, even under ideal conditions, the project is nonsense.)

Take a Grade 3 class. Suppose it is 8 a.m. and students are watching a program on Channel 3 (for Grade 3) of CyberEd. Say the program has a master teacher giving a lesson in English. Let us even assume that the students learn from the master teacher (a contentious point in educational theory). Instead of a master teacher, the lesson can feature a canned educational program; my point will still be the same. I am using DepEd’s Single Session Sample A schedule for Grade 3.
What happens at 9:40 a.m.? The students go on recess. For the sake of argument, let us say that Channel 3 now broadcasts inspirational shorts or advertisements. Let us even assume that the students watch the intermission materials while having their meals.

What happens at 9:55 a.m.? Channel 3 shows a lesson in Mathematics.

From 11:15 a.m. to 1:00 p.m., there will be no one in the classroom, because the students go out to have their lunch. Channel 3 goes dark. That is not so bad, because the network station at least will save some power costs.

At 1 p.m., Channel 3 goes back on air to show a lesson in Science and Health.

At 1:40 p.m., Channel 3 shows a lesson in Filipino.

At 3:00 p.m., it is recess time again, and Channel 3 shows more inspirational shorts or advertisements.

At 3:15 p.m., Channel 3 shows a lesson in Makabayan.

At 4:15 p.m., Channel 3 signs off, because the students are now out of school.

What is wrong with this picture?

Any teacher can spot the educational problem immediately. Students do not learn at the same pace. Section 1 may grasp the lesson immediately, but Section 5 will need another day to finish the lesson. But Channel 3 assumes that all students learn at exactly the same pace all throughout the country. The lesson for today assumes that the students have learned the lessons beamed yesterday.

In educational terms, CyberEd is not learner-centered and contradicts the DepEd and UNESCO philosophy of learning.

Furthermore, any DepEd official with some experience in education can spot the scheduling problem immediately. Not all schools use the Single Session Sample A schedule. Some use the Single Session Sample B schedule, which has Filipino at 8:40 a.m., Mathematics at 9:45 a.m., English repeating at 1 p.m., and so on.

Worse, plenty of schools do not hold single sessions but double sessions, which means that English is taught at 6 a.m. and it is Filipino that is being taught at 8 a.m., when Channel 3 broadcasts its English lesson. There are even schools with three shifts, which means that, at 8 a.m., the students are either on recess or learning Filipino.

If DepEd insists, to correct the scheduling problem, that all schools teach English at the same time, then we run into what Gloria Arroyo got so angry about when confronted with the unfavorable ratio of students to classrooms: only if schools go on multiple shifts can the ratio look good on paper. Your guess is as good as mine why Arroyo does not go ballistic with CyberEd for making her look stupid.

The Online Journal of Space Communication carries, in its Spring 2007 issue, several articles surveying the experience of various countries with the kind of distance education that DepEd wants to set up.

CHINA: There are three projects for basic education in China: the Western Primary and Junior Secondary Schools Project, the Distance Education for Primary and Junior Secondary Schools in the Countryside Project, and the Bainian Shuren Group.

The first is on its pilot stage and serves only 10,000 schools.

The second offers laser discs and computers to schools, not the live broadcasts that DepEd envisions.

The third has over 100 channels, running 24 hours a day, but covers only 5,000 schools. In contrast, DepEd wants to have 12 channels covering at least 25,000 schools.

What does Tsinghua University say about its own experience in distance education? Speaking in Singapore in 2003, Feiyu Kang of Tsinghua said that all their students were at the college level or were out-of-school youth, not in basic education. Why is DepEd working with Tsinghua on CyberEd?

If DepEd is so enamored of Chinese technology, why doesn’t it follow the Chinese government policy of “progressing step by step”?

THAILAND: Thailand has had 12 years experience with exactly the kind of network DepEd wants. Says one article: “The Thai Schoolnet network was reaching over 35,000 primary, secondary and vocational schools nationwide by 2006. Schoolnet supports a mix of infrastructures that include dial up, ADSL, WiFi and two-way satellite depending on which technologies are most accessible and appropriate for a specific area or school.”

This is the concluding sentence in the assessment: “Attention must also be given to the appropriateness of the infrastructure for the desired applications on the ground.” That is the technojargon way of saying that there is a mismatch between the hardware and what teachers actually do in the classroom.

One of the key problems confronting DepEd’s CyberEd project is its putting the cart before the horse: it wants to put up the infrastructure before it has determined what the applications on the ground will be. You can bet the entire national budget that CyberEd will fail, because DepEd decided to put up 12 channels before figuring out what to show on those channels.

INDONESIA: The Indonesia Distance Education Satellite System (SISDIKSAT) caters only to college students. Nevertheless, one of its own findings – that despite initial acceptance by students, the system has become unpopular – is noteworthy: “There was a drop from 46% to 12% in the number of students who believed that SISDIKSAT teachers were better than their local instructors. In almost all cases, the SISDIKSAT teachers had higher academic qualifications than local teaching staff, so students were not using that as an indicator of better quality. It does not appear either that their evaluation was based on the dedication of the teachers nor by the degree of student interaction allowed by the teacher. Interviews with some classes indicated that many students preferred instructors who covered the course content at a leisurely pace that all students could follow.”

The DepEd CyberEd project will force every student to study at exactly the same pace. That does not work with college students and it will definitely not work with younger ones.

INDIA: India’s experience is even more telling: “It took nearly a decade and the expansion of the number of network production centres to 17 for Indian higher education to be completely self-sufficient in programming for the one-hour slot.” If it takes ten years to do programs to fill one hour, how long will it take to do programs for several hours on 12 channels?

India recalls its own experience in basic education: “There were five independent educational channels, named after characters from Hindu mythology. None had enough programmes to run a channel independently. None had resources to step up the production capability or capacity.” India calls this “depressing,” because their EDUSAT was supposed to carry 72 channels.

If India cannot even put up one complete channel for basic education, how can we have 12?

The lesson from international experience with projects similar to DepEd’s CyberEd is clear: it takes a very long time to do such a project and, at the end of the day, no country has claimed complete success with the kind of hardware we are eager to buy.

DepEd has answered some of the points I raised about CyberEd. I quote from DepEd’s long rejoinder, with my comments.

“Isagani Cruz, being a former Undersecretary of DepEd, could have requested DepEd a full and private briefing on CyberEd but he did not. He could have engaged us in a productive dialogue but he did not. We wish to tell him that we in DepEd hold him in such high respect that it would only take one phone call from him for us to come rushing and eager to brief him. We could have clarified his concerns or comments. In fact, we would most welcome his proposals and ideas. But he chose to do this in public and would want to engage DepEd in a public debate (as if we had all the time and energy to do that at DepEd).”

Thank you for the kind words, but I attended a briefing by Secretary Jesli Lapus himself. It was a briefing attended mainly by university presidents, former DepEd secretaries and undersecretaries, and former CHED commissioners. Lapus started the briefing by announcing that “CyberEd is the best thing that has happened to Philippine education since the coming of the Thomasites.” Frankly, how he could have dismissed in one sentence the entire history of Philippine education in the 20th century is beyond my understanding.

“The CyberEd proposes to install servers (high capacity PCs) in each school capable of recording or saving live broadcasts. These servers are also envisioned to be capable of storing reference learning materials for easy access of local teachers. It is also designed to download materials from a Central Repository or from the WWW that will help the teacher teach his/her class better. Through this capability, therefore, we envision the following:

“1) while the live broadcast of the master teacher takes care of the main body of learners (supplemented by the local teachers during the rest of the class hours when the broadcast is not live during the same hour), the local teacher can now have some leeway to take care of the advanced learners and the laggards by downloading beforehand materials with which both ends of the learners can work on (advanced materials for those fast learners and further working materials for those lagging behind). Given the rich availability of stored and downloadable materials, the local teachers can now plan ahead on how to engage his/her class more effectively;

“2) since live broadcasts are and can be saved, these can be replayed for slow learners at special appointed hours: replayed and replayed even in slow motion if things are really difficult for some learners;

“3) since broadcasts can be saved and can be played at will, those schools with different schedules can arrange these replays quite easily. In fact, this is perfect for those affected by suspension of classes due to typhoons or whatever other reasons. This way every school and every child will have the chance of getting the same quality inputs wherever they are in the country. The poor child in an island in Saranggani can have the same quality of inputs the kids in Metro Manila will be receiving.”

If the live programs are meant to be downloaded and stored, to be played at different times anyway, why not just record all the programs first, put them all on DVDs, supply schoolrooms with players, and send the DVDs and future revised versions to the schools? That would accomplish exactly the same thing and be much less expensive.

“As for the effectivity of broadcast TV-based instruction, we urge everyone to talk to Gina Lopez of ABS-CBN Foundation for copies of their studies on the matter. Or perhaps, Prof. Milagros Ibe of UP will be more accessible.”

Dr. Ibe was present in the briefing I attended. The instructional video series I am currently producing (FUSE’s CONSTEC Literature) should eventually be shown on ABS-CBN’s Knowledge Channel. From personal experience with distance education, I can tell that CyberEd is silly. (The Philippine Star, 18 & 25 October, 8 November 2007)