11 June 2010

For the record: P-Noy on education

Before his election as Philippine president, I published a series of columns on Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III's education platform.  So we will remember and hold him accountable for his campaign promises, I am posting my comments on his ideas about education:

I have to hand it to Noynoy.  He is the only presidential candidate that has thought through the problems of education in our country.  Even if all the candidates say that they regard the deterioration of public education as the most important and pressing issue to be faced by the new government, none of the others have put forward any kind of education reform program that makes sense.

I will present Noynoy’s 10-point program for educational reform.  I may not agree with all of his points, but I respect and salute him for at least bringing these points to the table for public debate.  Everyone else appears to be clueless as far as our educational system is concerned.

Noynoy begins his discussion of education with this unequivocal statement:  “Let me lay out the ten most critical things I will focus on to fix this problem of basic education.


1. “I will expand basic education in this country from a short 10-year cycle to a globally-comparable 12 years before the end of the next administration (2016).”

2. “All public school children (and all public schools) will have a full year of pre-schooling as their introduction to formal schooling by 2016.”

3. “I want a full basic education for ALL Muslim Filipino children anywhere in the country.”

4. “I will re-introduce technical-vocational education in our public high schools to better link schooling to local industry needs and employment.”

5. “By the end of the next administration, every child must be a reader by Grade 1.”

6. “I will rebuild the science and math infrastructure in schools so that we can produce more scientists, engineers, technicians, technologists and teachers in our universities so that this country can be more globally competitive in industry and manufacturing.”

7. “I will expand the Government Assistance to Students and Teachers in Private Education Program (GASTPE) to a target of 1 million private HS students every year through education service contracting (ESC) while doing away with the wasteful education voucher system (EVS) of this administration.”

8. “My view on the medium of instruction is larger than just the classroom.  We should become tri-lingual as a country:  Learn English well and connect to the world.  Learn Filipino well and connect to our country.  Retain your dialect and connect to your heritage.”

9. “I will not tolerate poor textbook quality in our schools.  Textbooks will be judged by three criteria:  quality, better quality, and more quality.”

10. “I will build more schools in areas where there are no public or private schools in a covenant with LGUs so that we can realize genuine education for all.”

Let us now take each of these campaign promises one by one.

Noynoy correctly sees that the key problem facing our educational system is its short length.  No matter how intelligent our children are, they can never learn in 10 years what children in other countries learn in 12.  Anyone who has ever crammed for an exam (and who has not?) knows that cramming never works.  We may pass a particular exam, but after the exam is finished, we will remember nothing of what we studied.


Similarly, cramming 12 years of learning into 10 years just does not work.  Again and again, our children fail international exams, because other children have had more time to absorb the knowledge and skills that we cram into the shortest educational cycle in the world.

Therefore, Noynoy’s promise that he will expand basic education to 12 years, instead of the current 10, is correct and should be lauded.  I am in complete agreement with him on this issue, and so are all the educators in all the other countries in the world.  Other countries regard us as an educationally backward nation, primarily because we do not educate our children long enough.

Noynoy’s second point is also well taken.  Children around the world now go to school earlier, not because basic education starts earlier, but because there are all sorts of schools that prepare them for Grade 1.  These schools may be named in various ways (nursery, day care, kindergarten, pre-school, etc.), but the idea is the same:  before entering Grade 1, a child should already know how to read.

There is no question on the theoretical level that all children should have at least one year of school before elementary school.  (Most private schools already require such a year.)  In practice, however, public school pupils do not, for the simple reason that the government cannot afford to fund the requirements of a pre-elementary year (school buildings, classrooms, tables and chairs, teachers, instructional materials).

Noynoy believes that, once he curbs corruption, the government will have the extra money to fund the extra year.  This remains to be seen, but it is clear that Noynoy has his finger on the pulse of international education.  With all the advances in teaching strategies nowadays, it is easy to teach pre-school children how to read.  Most of our children enter public school at age 6 or 7.  In other countries, 5-year-old children typically already know how to read.  You can imagine how effective our school system would be if children already knew how to read before they enrol in Grade 1.

The third item in Noynoy’s 10-point program for educational reform concerns Muslim children.  Says Noynoy, “I want a full basic education for ALL Muslim Filipino children anywhere in the country.”

There are huge differences in philosophy and objectives, as well as in teaching methods, between the Muslim educational system (madaris) and that of DepEd, despite DepEd Order 51, s. 2004.  The problem of integrating one into the other, however, cannot be solved only by the two Education Secretaries (DepEd and ARMM).  The bigger problem of the religious, cultural, and political conflict between Christians and Muslims not just in Mindanao but all over the country (including Metro Manila, which now has unacknowledged ghettos) has to be solved first.

There is, moreover, another problem with integration.  The integration should not be only one way.  Just as it is important for Muslim children to know our Christian heroes (Rizal, etc.), it is important for Christian children to know our Muslim heroes (Sultan Kudarat, etc.).  Many Muslim children have read the Christian Bible, but how many Christian children have read the Qur’an?  If Noynoy is serious about educating all Muslim children, he must study the teaching strategies of our ancestors.  According to the first Christians to reach our shores in the 16th century, we already knew then how to read and write Arabic.

Noynoy’s fourth item in his educational agenda involves tech-voc.  He says, “I will re-introduce technical-vocational education in our public high schools to better link schooling to local industry needs and employment.”

About time!  In many advanced countries, a high school diploma is enough for someone to find a job.  There is no reason for an ordinary office worker to have a college degree.  Many of our call centers, in fact, now accept non-college graduates.  Our problem today, however, is that public high schools have no time to prepare students for the workplace.  Once the two missing years are added to basic education, however, there will be time for the system to give students the skills to find jobs or become entrepreneurs.

Noynoy continues with his fifth point:  “By the end of the next administration, every child must be a reader by Grade 1.”

Since his plan is to institute universal pre-school, this point is no longer necessary to make.  A good pre-school education will make a child a reader at the beginning (not at the end) of Grade 1.

With his sixth point, Noynoy turns his attention to tertiary education.  He says, “I will rebuild the science and math infrastructure in schools so that we can produce more scientists, engineers, technicians, technologists and teachers in our universities so that this country can be more globally competitive in industry and manufacturing.”

The Congressional Commission on Science, Technology, and Engineering (COMSTE), in which I sit as part of the Technical Advisory Council, repeatedly makes the same point.  We need to increase the pool of college students taking up science and engineering courses.  One way to do this is to excite our high school students by teaching them such subjects as Industrial Chemistry, Digital Design, Molecular Biology, and Number Theory.  These subjects are now taught, by the way, in our science high schools (as they are in the regular high schools of many advanced countries); the materials are ready and can easily be used in all our public schools.

While the problems of the public schools are humongous, private schools have their share of problems, too, primarily financial.  Noynoy addresses these financial problems with his seventh point.  He says, “I will expand the Government Assistance to Students and Teachers in Private Education Program (GASTPE) to a target of 1 million private HS students every year through education service contracting (ESC) while doing away with the wasteful education voucher system (EVS) of this administration.”

This is such a minor matter that I wonder why Noynoy even bothered to bring it up.  Perhaps he just wanted to take a swing at the Arroyo government.  It will take a mere DepEd Order to make this come true.  If Secretary Mona Valisno is wise, she will issue such an order effective this June and steal the thunder from Noynoy.

The eighth point has to do with the thorny issue of the medium of instruction.  My stand has always been clear:  students should be taught in the language that they use, not in a language that they are still learning.  International educational research has established a long time ago that teaching a language in the same language does not work.  Local education research has shown in experiment after experiment that Filipino children learn math and science faster and better when they are not taught in English.

Therefore, I agree in general with Noynoy’s stand on the medium of instruction.  He says, as his eighth point, “My view on the medium of instruction is larger than just the classroom.  We should become tri-lingual as a country:  Learn English well and connect to the world.  Learn Filipino well and connect to our country.  Retain your dialect and connect to your heritage.”

I say “in general” because Noynoy makes a common mistake.  He reveals his ignorance when he uses the word “dialect.”  Bicolano, Cebuano, Hiligaynon, Ilocano, and Tagalog are not dialects.  They are languages.

The ninth point in Noynoy’s ten-point agenda for educational reform concerns textbooks.   “I will not tolerate poor textbook quality in our schools,” he says.  “Textbooks will be judged by three criteria:  quality, better quality, and more quality.”

When I was the Department of Education (DepEd) Undersecretary for Programs and Projects in 2001, I changed the way the content of the textbooks was evaluated.  I asked my friends in universities to sit down with DepEd’s textbook experts to see if the textbooks then being proposed were good.

Since they were nationally and internationally famous scholars and since they themselves had no vested interest in any basic education textbooks, my friends were objective and strict.  As a result, none of the textbooks then proposed passed their scrutiny.

In my stint at DepEd, I did not approve the use of any textbooks, except those that had already been approved by previous administrations.  Since I could do only so much in the time I had, I focused on not allowing bad textbooks to enter the system.  Had I stayed longer, I would have started looking at the textbooks already in use, to see what should be removed from the system.

There is no question that the textbooks currently used in our public schools leave much to be desired.  I am not talking of grammar.  I have a standing bet that no one can send me a paragraph written by a Filipino that does not contain a grammatical or structural mistake.  (I can say this with confidence because my teacher Fr. Joseph Galdon, S.J., taught me to spot even the tiniest error in sentences written by the great international masters of the English language.)

I am talking about content.  For example, our English textbooks still do not realize that adverbs can modify nouns.  Our Filipino textbooks still teach Tagalog, rather than Filipino.  Our Mathematics textbooks do not use what children can see around them, thus defying the ancient – now mistakenly called constructivist – principle that we learn only from what we already know.  Our Science textbooks do not excite children enough to think of pursuing careers in science.  Our Social Studies (previously, Makabayan) textbooks do not make our children proud to be Filipino and do not motivate them to stay in our country.

Noynoy cannot fulfill this particular promise even if he had more than six years in the presidency, because all our public school textbooks (I repeat, all) are of poor quality.  The process of telling publishers what to put in a textbook (involving a “textbook call” and “learning standards or competencies”) takes more than a year.  Evaluating the content of a proposed textbook will take at least a year.  The bidding process will take another year.  Printing will take another year.  Training teachers to use the new textbook will take more than one year.  By that time, Noynoy’s term will be almost over.  We are not even talking of evaluating textbooks already in use.

Noynoy’s tenth and final point is managerial.  He says, “I will build more schools in areas where there are no public or private schools in a covenant with LGUs so that we can realize genuine education for all.”

I do not know why Noynoy mentions this point.  Perhaps he just wanted to have ten points rather than eight or nine.  The LGUs, despite the Local Government Code, are really in practice under the control of the President.  There is no need for a covenant.  Schools can be built as long as there are funds to build them or, as Noynoy’s camp never fails to remind us, if the funds do not go into the pockets of corrupt officials.

Overall, then, what do I think of Noynoy’s education policy?

Clearly, among the presidential candidates, Noynoy has the best proposals for education.  Adding two more years to basic education, requiring pre-school, ensuring that a high school diploma is enough for employment, and strengthening math and science teaching are crucial to improving our educational system.  His ideas on madaris and textbooks will remain pipe dreams, no matter who becomes his DepEd Secretary.  He need not bother himself with “Every child a reader by Grade 1,” GASTPE, or the LGUs, since these are proposals that any DepEd Secretary can implement in his or her first month in office.  I do not completely agree with his stand on the medium of instruction, although I realize that, this being an emotional rather than a scholarly issue, he is being merely politically safe by championing Filipino, English, and vernacular languages equally.

(First published in The Philippine Star, 4, 11, 18 March 2010.)

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

At present, While our education is only ten years, many of the students failed to graduate probably because of financial problems........ how much more if our education will be 12 years?!?..... not all people can afford in schools, that is what P-NOY has to look for a solution... although there are some scholarship programs, but the number of students that will be included will just be limited......

megaDamBoy said...

at present we only have 10 years for education, at this ten years many of the students fails to graduate because of some problems, especially financial problems.... although there were some scholarship programs, but the number students that will be included will just be limited. if at 10 years of education, only few can graduate, how much more of it turns to 12 years!?!.... this would probably be one factor that P-NOY has to look out...

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