It’s not the curriculum

In discussions of Philippine basic education issues such as drop outs and low achievement, there is always mention of the curriculum as the problem. Yet despite the talk, evidence is lacking for what makes it the problem and without facts intelligent discussion for an alternative or improvement can’t be had. But in aspects of the curriculum story, there could be something to be said.

Below is a lesson in Math, properties of addition, for Grade Two. Unbelievable! Pupils at this grade level could hardly add sums in their heads nor comprehend complex words unless the school is expecting a roomful of whiz kids. Grade Two pupils are seven year olds and still within the developmental spectrum of early childhood which is until age eight, hence do not naturally gravitate to this level of difficulty of words used in this particular lesson. This is not about the curriculum. It is the quality of textbook content, in this example, the choice of words and terminologies in the lessons considering the age of the users. In other words, age-appropriateness of words and terminologies. In EFA- and MDG-speak, child-friendly lessons. This implies that whoever are tasked to review for quality in children’s textbooks must be versed in the developmental capacity of children and review the textbook content as if he/she/they are children themselves (I’m imagining there ought to be a recognized body comprised of school children (perhaps, from federated PGOs and SGCs) within the public education system, who would among other things scan textbooks intended for them and their peers and assess for their child-friendliness, because after all only the child could perceive the world from his or her perspective.).

The problem is further complicated with teachers merely parroting what’s in the textbook regardless of whether the children understood what they said. Taking the cue, the children imitate the teacher, to parrot what teacher said because they get good grades that way and if they don’t, in some cases, the children are made to know they are brainless. Five days weekly, children are told to memorize names of towns, chemical elements, flora and fauna, and technicalities of the English language yet are at a loss with using these or identifying them in the real world. Quiz these children, veering away from teacher’s exact explanation, and the children are lost. And so the literate but functionally illiterate graduates.

At the teacher level, the quality problem could be corrected if teachers translate textbook lessons to the level of children’s developmental capacity. This implies (again) that teachers of all grade levels ought to know the rudiments of children’s development.

When teachers have not imparted the lessons as they should in the classroom, children and parents are punished with the load of homework children are made to bring home. Good if parents are themselves literate but what if not as many in this country are, how could for instance illiterate farmer-parents in godforsaken barrios (without electricity, without communication lines) understand ‘commutative property’ and ‘addends’ and translate these in ways so their child will understand? Why, in these instances, would schools, knowing the child’s family background, punish the child who is without the completed homework, or berate the child with incorrect answers to the homework? And odd there are nowadays more homework than in the time of our grandparents yet our grandparents were more knowledgeable on the core knowledge and skills. I expect that when children leave school for the day, their few remaining waking hours at home are spent mentally cooling down so to speak, conversing with their parents about what they learned in school (which serves as a review) and their experiences that day. But with the overload of homework, children leave school to find school at home. Fun is being taken out of their lives which is why I think many children seek fun in covert ways such as escaping classes to play. Of course the school says this is wrong and punish the children, but is it right when we know the real cause behind the children’s act? Play is uniquely the world occupied by children and never again is play tinged with that special magical quality as during childhood. In the words of Dr. Honey Carandang, children continue in the diligence adults expect of them (in school, at home) but in adulthood these adults play with the abandon of children, when they’re not supposed to, when it’s rather too late for childishness. Heartbreaking.

Children enter the school full of potential and leave it scarred and stunted from the system’s drilling into them its (adults’) idea of ‘potential’. Years of rote learning and adult invasion have shrunk school children’s innate capacity to think, be critical (yes they are, in refreshing ways), question, explore, experiment, connect, create, invent. The school in effect has taken out the childhood in the child. Is the school system a bully too? Of course there are schools and learning centers that by their conscious effort and continual understanding of the child have made their centers truly child friendly placing the child at the center of education but this model is, in this country, the exception and what we want is for this model to be the norm.

Adult learners aren’t spared of the same problem. Below is the overview section of the book, Ecology: A Problem based Approach to the Environment 2008 ed., by Jolaflor E. Cabildo, with a doctorate in education, and Sheryl F. Santa Cruz.

My interest was piqued by the book’s framework as assured by its title ‘problem-based approach’. It was wrapped in plastic, the bookstore didn’t want to open it and I ended buying it. Returning home, I was so disappointed with the content and felt cheated of the purchase. I couldn’t understand how it even passed the quality assurance review, if there’s one in this country. If only that bookstore allowed me to take a peek, even if it’s just the overview section, I know I wouldn’t have bought the book. I should’ve bought that Vogue magazine instead. I mean, seriously, how could the book “teach all students taking Ecology to be efficient, responsible and independent learners”? Or, that the book could “give you accurate information in the fastest possible manner when you need it the most”? Or even, for the reader/learner to use the book “as a vehicle for future review of theoretical information, activities and experiments”? These words don’t make sense. Teaching students in Ecology to be efficient, responsible and independent is beyond the book’s capacity and mentioning this as its objective is sugar coating at best and deceiving at worst. But supposing the book really has this as an objective, why then does it ask the learner to “speculate on why cannibalism is widespread among animals…”? Isn’t speculation as a mental activity a tad irresponsible (i.e. forget doing some research, just speculate) given you’d want the learner to form a really solid theoretical background on the subject? I decided to keep it, just to know what a really bad book is, inside. But for the sake of learners, this book ought to be taken out of store shelves and reviewed for quality.


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