Thursday, August 17, 2006

Education Matters

Education Matters

Any Filipino who is unaware that his country’s education system is in deep shit is either an eremite or a hardened callous freak, or more likely, this individual is a victim of the system --- an illiterate ignoramus. If you are Pinoy and do not fit any of the three descriptions above you surely must have noticed how the great unwashed (*1), also called the electorate, manifested their depressed level of education by their injudicious choices in the last elections.

Why do I care? I simply detest living in a place full of morons --- I don’t have enough time to learn the language of idiots (*2). Maybe it would be wise for you to start stoking your angst about the 2007 elections if the plummeting educational system (*7) does not get reversed soon. We might yet see an even more abominable set of politicians installed to positions of power

So, pardon me if I bloviate a bit.

The June 24 2006 editorial of a leading national paper said it all, a litany of the problems besetting our public school system and the primary cause: “lack of resolve and political will to address it… Around 9 million of the 57.6 million Filipinos aged 10-64 years are ‘functionally illiterate,’ meaning, unable to read, write, subtract and add, or understand instructions -- something normally learned by Grade 4. Among Grade 6 kids, only 26 percent have a mastery of English, 15 percent of Science, and 31 percent of Math; and among senior high school students, only 7 percent have mastered English, 2 percent, Science, and 16 percent, Math.”

“If the pupil hasn’t learned, the teacher hasn’t taught.” Like so many things that have faded from memory, I no longer recall the author of this maxim. But the logic of the message is not easy to forget. It is, after all, the job and duty of the teacher to help pupils learn. No amount of excuses would justify the failure. As Jesli Lapuz, the latest Secretary of the Department of Education (DepEd), laments, “How can we produce good students if their teachers are not good in the subjects they teach? How indeed.

Teaching English

Max Soliven, publisher of Philippine Star newspaper, narrated in his column that in a lunch with U.S. Ambassador Kenney, she asked if there was any way the US could help in the education program and the undertaking of new DepEd secretary Jesli Lapuz’s , a plan to restore English as the medium of instruction in all public schools. Mr. Soliven replied that “Lapus’ avowed intent would be difficult to implement, because we had too few teachers in our school system who could speak straight English, much less teach in it.” He added, “In fact, the present generation of Filipinos had not only lost English, but in school, pupils and students actually poked fun and derided their classmates who tried to speak English with any enthusiasm or proficiency. This is probably because many of the pupils in grade school and students in high school felt that attempting to be proficient in English was an affront, not necessarily to their nationalism but mainly to their own ignorance.”

Many probably question the obsession to use English for instructing Filipinos, implying the national language Filipino is inferior. For the answer, one only has to look at the availability of reference material (dictionaries, thesauruses, idioms, etymology), and clearly English is vastly superior to Filipino. Textbooks? Authors in English would easily outnumber Filipino authors, even discounting the unworthy writers.

A few weeks earlier, Mr. Soliven wrote “Charter change? Let’s do it the slow but sure way. But the surest way to change the Filipino for the better, in every way, is through Education. Banish ignorance and every voter inclined to "sell" his or her ballot will realize that only the ballot, wisely cast, will set us all free. First freedom from Ignorance. Then, will inevitably follow, Freedom from Want, and Freedom from Fear. Educate our people, Madam President, not rage against announcements about a shortage of classrooms. Bring back our good teachers from the diaspora, and train more.”

Roots of Decline

Poor teaching skills of teachers is not the only reason why Filipino schoolchildren haven’t learned. It is only one of a multitude of causes, and it is not even the biggest, but the root cause boils down to poverty --- the lack of funds to build enough schools and classrooms (forcing unwieldy clusters of fifty or more students to each class), to buy textbooks and hire good authors and publishers of textbooks (forcing excessive sharing of books that are atrociously error-filled and misleading), to attract, hire and remunerate prospective teachers of higher level I.Q., and to furnish classrooms with sufficient desks and chairs. These are the visible factors. (In President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s (GMA) vision of an Enchanted Kingdom, it is possible to solve classroom shortages or construct 7,000 classrooms in just a few hours)

A chronic problem

School year 2006 was ushered in with the usual difficulties, one being the shortage of classrooms. Newspapers report that GMA blew her top again – publicly on national TV – over math about the shortage of classrooms. During one Cabinet meeting, then officer-in-charge of the Department of Education, Fe Hidalgo, got a taste of volatile presidential temper after giving what the Chief Executive considered inaccurate figures regarding the classroom shortage. The public scolding underscored the lesson that one is never too old to learn (*3). Her mistake (which turned out later to be fatal to any hope of gaining the Secretaryship) was in holding to her old fashioned belief that honesty (*5) and truthfulness are revered virtues, a mindset incongruent with the prevailing school of thought and neo-ideology of the administration --- spin and twist.The matter was settled with a peremptory presidential edict that a shortage does not exist and nary a shred of compunction or scruple was evident. But a new monster may have been created. In the field of propaganda, lies repeated often enough soon becomes white, and soon, with time, even de facto. (See Lenin (*4) below)The unperceived factors hounding the education system are even more harmful. The lack of funds is exacerbated by corruption (*6) not just in the Department of Education, but in the entire bureaucracy (we seem to be competing with Indonesia in the contest to grab the dubious distinction of being the most corrupt country.). Contracts to supply textbooks, desks, supplies, classrooms are usually tainted with allegations of overpricing, kickbacks and other crooked deals.

Hanky Panky

An agency seemingly ripe for reform is the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) , the government agency tasked with supervising higher education, – the department recently involved in controversy owing to the deterioration of nursing education and the stigma of a "leak" in the test questions of the last nursing board examination. An item in the newspapers surfaced in which a ranking CHED official ranted that the older, established nursing schools are "at fault" for the deteriorating quality of nursing education in this country --- a fallacious argument. The proliferation of substandard nursing schools designed to meet a huge demand for Filipino nurses abroad was abetted by the CHED which did not move decisively to close them down. Whispers and rumors about the technical cooperative program (funded by foreign countries which grant aid to the Philippine government to enable us to send teachers abroad for advanced training) has surfaced about a CHED official allegedly extorting payment from each grantee in order for the hopeful teacher to get CHED’s stamp of approval. Also under suspicion is CHED's alleged endorsement of a single publishing house to supply all state universities. In fairness, CHED made attempts to regulate more strictly diploma granting schools, substandard nursing schools among them. CHED recently ordered 191 colleges and universities to phase out certain programs, including accountancy, civil engineering, nursing and elementary education, due to the poor performance of their graduates in licensure tests. But there may be some substance to the grapevine; Malacañang often intervenes, overruling CHED on behalf of influential owners of diploma mills (more on this topic later). Perhaps that’s why the last head of CHED, a Dominican priest and educator, decided to call it quits. There are other unrecognized pernicious factors.

Effects of poverty and hunger on the learning process and education

The World Bank issued a report urging that aid in the fight against malnutrition be focused on children before they reach the age of 2. Children suffering from malnutrition before age 2 can suffer irreversible damage -- long before they begin school -- the Bank report says. "If you miss that period, the damage is irreversible, especially in cognition, but also in growth," said Marie Ruel, director of the division of food consumption and nutrition at the International Food Policy Research Institute. The report said nutrition education programs -- such as those urging mothers to breastfeed their infants -- would do a better job than large and politically popular programs that provide food for school children, the New York Times reported. Malnutrition is stunting the development of more than 100 million children worldwide, the World Bank report said. (The report mercifully omitted how many are from the Philippines but one could imagine the extent of the malady based on independent surveys of Social Weather Station and Pulse Asia indicating poverty is currently about 50% of the population and most undergo hunger often.) "You get more bang for your buck without the food," said Meera Shekar, the lead author of the report, who described feeding programs as costly and vulnerable to corruption. "The food brings in votes for politicians. We have very little evidence it improves nutrition."

OUCH! All the more reason Congressional feeding programs (if augmented by pork funds) can benefit youthful minds only if the food were redirected to the nursing mothers.

Further evidence of the pernicious effects of poverty and hunger on the learning process and education:

The Food and Nutrition Information Center of the US Department of Agriculture publications library includes abstracts on Nutrition and Hunger ---

● Malnutrition in mothers: Complications for pregnancy was found to significantly affect later school performance. Birth complications also significantly affected later school performance Of the social factors that influence health and nutrition, level of maternal education was found to have a significant effect on school performance of pupils. Prenatal and postnatal conditions were found to affect school performance of children. Sustainable human development will therefore start with effective education of women which will produce a multiplier effect on succeeding generations. Investment in female education is an effective means of improving the quality of children, their school performance and their future performance and quality of life in adulthood.

● An abstract on the role of increased blood glucose in improving memory function for subjects who ate breakfast. Morning fasting was found to adversely affect the ability to recall a word list and a story read aloud, as well as recall items while counting backwards. Although failure to eat breakfast did not affect performance on an intelligence test, it was concluded that breakfast consumption preferentially influences tasks requiring aspects of memory. In the case of both word list recall and memory while counting backwards, the decline in performance associated with not eating breakfast was reversed by the consumption of a glucose-supplemented drink. Although a morning fast also affected the ability to recall a story read aloud, the glucose drink did not reverse this decline. It appears that breakfast consumption influences cognition via several mechanisms, including an increase in blood glucose.

● Studies by Tufts University's Center on Hunger and Poverty show conclusive links between nutrition and children's cognitive development. Cognitive defects can result from complex interactions between malnutrition and "environmental insult s" that come from living in poverty. Poor nutrition has long term consequences.

● The literature on the long-term effects of nutritional deficiencies in early life is reviewed.. There is substantial evidence that reduced breast-feeding, small-for-gestational-age birth weight, Iron and Iodine deficiency, and protein-energy malnutrition (PEM) are associated with long-term deficits in cognition and school achievement. However, all these conditions are associated with poverty and poor health, which may account for the association.

When Synergia Foundation, an NGO that aims to improve the quality of public education in selected rural communities, implemented its project in Tiwi, Albay, it discovered that a significant number of children were either too malnourished or too sick to attend school.

Now comes a fresh report of a study that suggests exposure to ultrasound can affect fetal brain development. Researchers say the findings, in mice, should not discourage pregnant women from having ultrasound scans for medical reasons, and experts say it is too soon to extrapolate the findings to humans. Some previous studies have suggested that ultrasound may delay speech or cause genetic abnormalities in humans, but experts say these results have not been replicated The teeming millions of the poor are safe as they cannot afford to indulge in this luxury of the rich. So only the progeny of the rich and powerful tend to have retarded brains, and these are ubiquitous.

How to raise a smarter child - What to feed, teach and do with your children in hopes of a big return

It was once thought that intelligence was completely determined by genetics. It now turns out that isn't true. The environment a child is raised in and whom a child is raised by play huge roles in determining how smart and socially adept he or she will be. There are two things that are underrated in parenthood — nutrients and love. But there is no guarantee that children grow up to be brilliant, charismatic and attractive — nor that those traits will bring them happiness.

Proper nutrition not only helps kids be healthier, but feeds their brains. What should not be overlooked is the nutrition that comes in the womb. After that, breastfeeding for at least a year is important to administer essential nutrients to a baby. And also because it's wonderful and a great bonding situation for a mother and her child, although there is no scientific data that claims a baby will be smarter if he/she is breastfed.

Many experts also suggest that while I.Q. levels are important, emotional intelligence, or how a person reacts in social settings, is critical as well. Normal, everyday play and activities, such as building a fort or going to the supermarket, are conducive to learning because they are social and meaningful.

Competency testing

Parental protectiveness can be carried to harmful extremes. This is true in the stance taken by parents who fought tooth and nail the grading system that tags (in their selfish view) their children with deficiency or failing grades, and then demand a lowering of the standard passing grade. The coercion includes intimidating teachers with harassment or threats of harm or court suits. Consequently, the National Aptitude Test over the years was steadily lowered from the old 75% passing to 50%, then to25% and finally to zilch, zero, complete abolition. With nothing to gauge student competency --- no NEAT ( National Elementary Aptitude Test) obstacle --- this appalling state of affairs allowed many elementary pupils to breeze through to high school, , but later found a dismal number of High School grads barely passing college entrance exams and then have to take remedial courses to keep up with peers from private schools. The irony is that parents now pay for the make-up courses, on the subjects neglected in free primary and secondary school.

One popular University that kept the entrance test as part of the admission process was alarmed by the rise in applications rejected: 20% in 1995/96, 23% in 1996/97, and 40% in 1997/98. And those that were accepted were thought to be inadequately prepared for tertiary level courses. So the school redesigned the curriculum to adjust to the lower plane of preparedness by focusing on remedial courses. In short, repeating some subjects taught in high school, and in effect sacrificing tertiary level courses. But this time the student pays the tuition from his own (in reality, his parents’) pocket

Education reform

Successive administrations, aware of the alarming decline, attempted remedies. The last Education Commission studies undertaken several decades ago concluded that teachers:

Live below the poverty line.

Are no longer the brightest and best of our young people. (Couched in polite terms. The barefaced truth is that the lowest achievers from secondary schools comprise the prospective teachers.)

Have low levels of aspiration, resigned to teaching for the rest of their life. (A good number have quit to pursue more lucrative calling as housemaids in Hong Kong.)

Are poorly trained; barely qualified to teach. (This is not entirely their fault. Education Department hired them with full knowledge of this fact, but loath to admit that they’re scraping the bottom of the barrel.)

Are burdened with non-teaching assignments (administering elections give them extra pocket money, so does census taking. Burden indeed.)

This nation’s clamor for educational reform is not unique. The mighty superpower USA some years back, when faced with economic and technological challenges and the stark reality of failing SAT grades, was jolted into re-examining its educational policies.

In 1983, the U.S. National Commission on Excellence in Education released its report “A Nation At Risk”. It sounded the alarm with a stinging sentence: “If an unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on America the mediocre educational performance that exists today, we might well have viewed it as an act of war.” In June 1990 the National Center on Education and the Economy published its report on the skills of the American workforce titled “America’s Choice: Choose a highly skilled work force (to guarantee the quality of life now and in the future), or be a supplier to the world of low-skilled, low-paid workers (to guarantee becoming a second-rate country).”

Educating Supermaids

The rhetoric strikes too close to home for comfort, in view of about eight million Filipinos working abroad (OFW), mostly in manual jobs. The 34,000 OFWs, mostly unskilled domestic helpers working in Lebanon, were brought into sharp focus in July 2006 because of the Israeli-Hizbollah (Lebanese) conflict. The hostilities forced a hasty evacuation of foreigners including Filipinos, and the emergency created yet another unemployment problem for the Filipino repatriates. But not entirely. The nation, endowed with gifted leaders --- an imaginative chief executive (who conjured the concept of an Enchanted Kingdom and intimates close connections to Heaven), a dynamic educator system TESDA (Technical Education and Skills Authority) and well-heeled OWWA (Overseas Workers Welfare Authority) were quick to respond. In swift succession, President Arroyo ordered all 30,000 (or whatever) OFWs evacuated from Lebanon, revealed the “supermaid” concept at a roundtable she hosted in Malacañan, declared that the domestic help who fled Lebanon will be retrained by TESDA, and these “supermaids” redeployed in safer areas in the Middle East. So now it is official: the formal educational system would include training domestic helpers. (I am titillated by the probable wording of the graduation certificate: SUPERMAID?) The Palace was mum on the potential sequel to the movie about domestic helpers of Hong Kong, most of who were former teachers.

After the first 5000 or so OFWs repatriated under the mandatory evacuation, the crowd at the collection center in Beirut thinned out. It has become apparent that the remaining tenacious majority prefers facing the uncertainty in the hazards and dangers of war in Lebanon to the inexorable certainty of poverty at home.

Early Speech Learning

In the past, education was briefly described as learning the three R’s, meaning reading, writing and ‘rithmetic, the basics of literacy. After acquiring speech, the ability to read and write the visual form of language, along with the concept of quantity, are the fundamental skills for expressing ideas and communicate with others. Formal education in the classroom is the system established for obtaining experience (the best teacher) thru a planned series of exposures,

These experiences are impressed into the memory banks of the brain, and become long lasting with usage and practice. The brain is the control center of the body and, like modern day computers, receives, processes and sends signals to every cell and organ of the highly intricate web of interconnected systems of the human body. Memory is the ability to normally recall the facts and events of our lives, and this takes place in three stages:

First Stage: Encoding. This is when a person takes information in.

Second Stage: Consolidation. This is when the brain takes the information it encodes and processes it so that it gets stored in certain areas of the brain.

Third Stage: Retrieval. When a person recalls stored information in the brain.

Experts generally agree that a baby develops its language center in the brain equipped with an innate sensitivity to patterns of sound in human speech and for the understanding organization and production of speech. But this equipment, to become functional, may still require the effects of experience (the best teacher, remember?).

The babbling of most babies sounds the same during the first six months. Soon thereafter, the child begins to learn his native tongue by experimenting with and imitating the fundamental sounds he hears. Between the ages of one and two, the child combines words to produce meaningful sentences. By age two, children have a vocabulary of 300 to 600 words. Children master language thru practice. By the age of five most children have completed the basic language acquisition process. Changes in grammar and the polishing process continues at least until the age of ten.

Unfortunately, malnutrition’s insidious effect on the brain of the child before 2 years of age is irreversible. If cognition is impaired at the most absorptive years at preschool, the damage lingers at school. Poverty and hunger has taken its toll before any beneficent feeding programs can be implemented and wasted.

Then things become really complicated when the Filipino child enters grade school — he/she is forced to learn the two official languages of the country, Filipino (aka Tagalog) and English. Learning Filipino is no problem for pupils in the Tagalog region but tough for those outside the region. Building a vocabulary for the two alien languages strains the child’s learning process, since the child has little chance to practice once outside the classroom. (To urge pupils to talk in English, some schools in the past ruled that speaking in the native tongue within school premises is forbidden.).

Education Matters: Physics

In my schooling days (in the pre-atom bomb era), I was taught the subject of physics by a teacher who in turn was taught that matter and energy were fundamentally different, and that they cannot be destroyed, only dissipated. Modern physics is now taught that matter and energy are interchangeable, that one form can be transposed into the other. The particle of matter electron and its anti-matter pair, the positron, can be created as a pair by the decay of a photon, or quantum of electromagnetic radiation. And there is more.

Energy is defined to have four fundamental forces: electromagnetism, the strong force, the weak force, and gravity. As if this was not complex enough, scientists have divided matter into 200 subatomic particles that respond to at least one of these forces.

So, what do present day teachers teach their students about the science of physics? This question naturally follows in the wake of news that our youth who participated in a multinational contest in Science and Math garnered the second lowest ranking in the event. One could easily be inclined to conclude that, as the maxim states, if the pupil has not learned, the teacher has not taught. Then again, one could finger the textbooks written by non-academic authors. If the revelation of gross errors in printed reviewer material for NEAT ( National Elementary Aptitude Test) is any indication, there is ground to doubt the accuracy of the facts printed on textbooks used in the public school system. (The NEAT was the passport for entry to high school.) It was discovered that the material is littered with errors of grammar, fact and spelling which can’t all be attributed to typos.

Local Government Code requires that one percent of real property tax should go to public education. This means that rich cities and municipalities can afford to provide better education to their constituents, and the poor in underdeveloped communities are at a disadvantage. Poor spending on public education is one of the biggest factors for the high dropout rate in underdeveloped communities

Relearning English in public schools

A recent survey released by Social Weather Stations showed a considerable decline in Filipinos’ self-assessed proficiency in English over the past 12 years in all aspects — reading, writing, speaking and understanding the English language. The percentage of people who said they have no proficiency in English rose from seven percent in December 1993 and September 2000 to 14 percent. The results were not unexpected. But surveys are not needed to see how much English proficiency has declined in this country. Foreign investors who have long considered English proficiency a plus in hiring Filipino workers, have complained about the decline in this skill. Call center vacancies cannot be filled because applicants lack the required proficiency in spoken English, prompting investors to take their business to other countries.

Filipinos’ proficiency in English went on a slow decline since native English speakers (American teachers dubbed The Thomasites) turned over the task of teaching the language to locals (in pursuit of the Quezonian principle of a government run like hell by Filipinos.) The slide in proficiency became precipitous after English was abolished as a medium of instruction in schools in an effort to promote the development of Tagalog-based Filipino as a national language. The move failed to achieve its objective. The Filipino taught in schools was not conversational. Residents of provinces where Tagalog is not the main dialect resisted efforts to develop the national language. The result: Filipinos have lost proficiency in both English and Filipino. Instead of becoming truly bilingual, we have created Taglish, a mishmash of English and Tagalog words and phrases. It is now acknowledged that the theory of “using Pilipino (aka Tagalog) as the medium of instruction would increase comprehension among other things and deliver better educated Pinoys” is a miserable flop. Meanwhile our regional neighbors go the other way – emphasizing English instruction to better equip their people to compete in today’s globalized world, going so far as formalizing the policy. Even China and Vietnam are investing on teaching their people how to speak and write in English --- and often hire Filipino English teachers, further depleting our country of English teachers. The waning of our English-speaking and writing skills is causing loss of job opportunities.. Thousands of our graduates remain unemployed and many are unemployable here or abroad because of inadequate English language skills. Thousands of good jobs requiring ability to communicate in English are unfilled. Only three out of 10 applicants for call center and other back office jobs are hired because of this problem. Recent surveys indicate the rejection rate has reached 96 percent. This urged the European Chamber of Commerce to set up a project wherein they provide English language training for some of those rejects to get a good number of them hired after. DepEd openly admits part of the problem is lack of teachers. A high percentage of current teachers have poor English skills. That’s because the younger teachers are products of the Pilipino curriculum we have had until recently. The older Filipino English teachers have left to work abroad. Obviously, there is a need to train teachers. The American Chamber of Commerce, working together with the Makati Business Club and the Philippine Normal University had a pilot group of teachers trained by DynaEd, a computer based interactive language and have actually gone into the classrooms in selected public schools.

In UP even the valedictorians and other honor graduates of the public school system had difficulty adjusting to UP’s rigorous academic requirements. (Personal experience taught me this stringent fact. I distinctly remember having to take the UP college entrance examination instead of being exempted because I graduated from UP High with high enough passing grade, all because I was one day late in registration.) UP had to institute remedial classes in English and Math before some of the students could be expected to perform at expected UP levels.

Building a culture of quality education

In our 1987 Constitution the flagship provision on education says: “The State shall protect and promote the right of all citizens to quality education at all levels and shall take appropriate steps to make such education accessible to all.” Accessible means affordable.

The World Bank report on Philippine education, titled "Improving the Quality of Basic Education," succinctly states that "inputs into the education system have been either of poor quality, insufficient in amount, or not in the right mix." The document also points out that "many processes (e.g., teacher recruitment, deployment, in-service training, and promotion) are unwieldy and ineffective, and support mechanisms are not in place to help teachers do their job or students from impoverished or disadvantaged backgrounds attend good schools. Now is a good time to respond to the education crisis. Many other developing countries have been investing heavily in their educational development, leaving the Philippines to face tougher competition in the global economy."

"It takes an entire village to educate the child."- African proverb

In its latest undertaking called the "Schools First Initiative," the Department of Education identified the apparent alienation of public schools from the community as a major factor in the sub-par overall academic performance of today's public school students.

Advocates of sustained community involvement to help stem the crisis in our education system have emerged, especially in the aspect of quality education. In the belief that quality education is the best weapon against poverty, the concept challenges the community to commit their contribution in actively assisting DepEd by choosing a specific neighborhood public school. The proposal is to start by learning as much about the current state of the selected public school. The basic information about the target public school is quite accessible-as public documents-from a variety of sources. The Department of Education website at is a good place to start. More detailed information can be obtained from the Basic Education Information System (BEIS), a facility developed by former Undersecretary Juan Miguel Luz.

It is highly probable that volunteers will be jolted by what they will discover: substandard facilities, overcrowded classrooms, poorly motivated teachers; the list goes on and on.

After the initial information gathering, the next step is to get more people in the community talk about quality education: what it means and why it is important to the community, and not just to the teachers and the principal of the public school. The focus of these preliminary community talks goes beyond just raising funds to build better school facilities. Of course, these things are also important, but finding creative ways to help the children "learn for life" should be the primary goal. For example, being able to really read and comprehend-and not just mouth the words-is a basic "life skill." The DepEd says, by Grade III, the pupil should already be an independent reader.

The inquiry into the state of public education in one’s community will uncover a multitude of reasons why Jose or Josefa-already in Grade VI-seems to find difficulty reading newspapers. The idea is to first make other people in the community aware of the problem. Putting together an organized education initiative that is premised on performance can come later. The goal is to build a culture of quality education.

The World Bank report mentioned earlier also says, "This is the important thread that needs to be woven [into all other efforts to improve basic education]. Many Filipinos are confused about what is meant by quality education. Many equate it with education credentials despite evidence that credentials do not necessarily correspond to learning competencies. Many also think that resources in schools (e.g., more computers, nicer buildings, more teachers) [are] a guarantee of good education despite evidence that well-endowed schools do not always deliver good instruction, while many poorer schools do. Building a culture of quality is to emphasize competency rather than credentials or inputs. It means defining performance targets and assessing performance against those targets, and regularly examining why those targets are not reached and what needs to be done."

The feud between private school owners and the Commission on Higher Education shows how difficult it is to upgrade the quality of education in this country. Not long ago, CHED officials warned that medical schools whose graduates keep flunking professional licensure exams would be shut down. The CHED warning was issued after the Professional Regulations Commission reported that the percentage of graduates who pass the exams has been falling nationwide from a high of 95 percent a few years ago to an average of 54 to 56 percent. A day before the warning was issued, however, the regional trial court of Dagupan City stopped the CHED from phasing out programs of colleges and universities with a low passing percentage in licensure examinations. The temporary restraining order was issued upon the petition of two Dagupan-based universities. In a country where TROs are anything but temporary, more families could waste hard-earned money to send children to substandard medical and nursing schools before this case is resolved with finality. English as a second language

In response to one of her articles (How’s Your English?), I was on the verge of sending the following message to a renowned columnist, but desisted.

Dear Mare Solita,

My English is fine. At least I had no problems communicating in British English with colonial colleagues when I was a manager abroad.

After resettling in Pinoyland, I issued an imperious decree in my household … only English is to be used in speaking to the children, starting from pre-speech baby blather age. This decree comes from an Ilocano, married to a Pangasinanse, and residing in Visayan-speaking region. In effect, English became our children’s native tongue which later eased their dialogues and discourse with American schoolmates in the Company school exclusively for children of executives. Much, much later, College English 101 then became a piece of cake.

At this point, may I point out the fact that Filipino schools teach mainly standard or classical English. Idioms and metaphor, almost totally neglected, are commonly used in conversing with fluent English speakers and probably the reason you can’t see those 56,000,000 fluent Pinoys. Stuffy English is the style used mostly in legal documents, scientific journals and corporate correspondence, and by haughty Pinoy PhDs.

May I also point out that some talk show hosts and guests stammer, usually tacking the crutch expression uh to word or phrase ending (which means that the tongue is going faster than the thought.) The various stammer speech of Pinoy English are word repetitions and crutch words such as you know, lugar, di ba. Formal speech training can correct the maladroitness. Do-it-yourself self help can also help by recording a reading session and playing back the recording and noting the awkward stammers.

The smart, inventive Pinoy created such unique words (non-English or not listed in any English language dictionary) as aggrupation, ─ a congregation (probably from the root word group); fiscalize ─ act as conscience; ream ─ a carton of cigarettes; salvage ─ to murder; roger ─ a term used in voice radio communications meaning yes, understood, or affirmative. (Derived from WW II military parlance which is the phonetic for the letter “R” and in radio telephony meant “received”. The updated phonetic for “R” is romeo.) Donno ─ means don’t know; pumping ─ the interpretation of the pumping motion in copulation; irrigardless ─ regardless; usher ─ escort or guide (bet collector). These pidgin innovations do not at all enhance the English fluency reputation of Filipinos

On the TSE and the way we mangle and savage English pronunciation, I vividly remember an episode in primary school. The teacher was relating the tale of the boy (shepherd) who cried wolf. To emphasize the lesson, she asked each pupil to draw the boy watching a flock of sheep and the menacing wolf. My drawing was funny, but the teacher was not amused. Interpreting sheep as “ship” as pronounced by the teacher I drew a boy watching a banca (the ship). From that unforgettable embarrassment, I certainly learned the value of correct pronunciation. — and how Filipinos acquire their peculiar accent.

It might interest you to know that in an article on English published in U.S. Atlantic Monthly, it states that the largest population of English speakers in the world after the United States, the United Kingdom, and Nigeria is India. Nowhere is the Philippines even mentioned as an English speaking country or even as a second-language country. But, if its any consolation, Pinoys apparently have enough pidgin English vocabulary to dodge the U.S. INS or snare menial jobs abroad

Our schools teach mainly standard English syntax and rudimentary vocabulary. For Filipino English to escape from being considered pidgin by the major English speaking nations, perhaps a bit of polish and pizzazz is in order…idiomatic expressions, even a bit of slang.

How’s Our English? As I mentioned earlier, this question was posed by a renowned professor in a public speech and mirrored in her column. The topic relates to declining Filipino competitiveness in the global job market as our distinctive advantage in speaking English deteriorates while other non-English speaking nations aggressively pursue a policy of teaching English as an adjunct to economic policy.

Indeed, how good is our English as a spoken and written language, being one of our two official languages (the other is Filipino a.k.a Tagalog)? Viewed from the average Pinoy eyes, pretty darned good. This smug opinion, one could say, is obviously from one who knows no better. The reason is that there is no standard to which Pinoy English (grammar, pronunciation, accent, syntax) can be measured. There are three major versions of the English language: American English, Australian English, and their parent English English, on top of the colonial variants in Canada, India, Hong Kong, Singapore, and numerous African countries. Now we can add the Filipino version to the babel. By the way, if ever SARS visits this English speaking country again, it would be well to remember that the disease is transmitted by means of droplets by coughs or speech. In English, the letters p, t and k are pronounced with an exhalation of breath (aspiration) that could produce droplets.

Pinoy OFWs seem to get along fine in their host countries, proof enough that Pinoy spoken English is comprehensible and understandable. But in oral tests for nurses seeking jobs in the U.S. it is reported that only five percent pass the test. Written English is an entirely different matter altogether. An unexpected foe to Pinoy proficiency in English comes from advances in technology --- the cell phone. The “thumb generation” has devised new English word abbreviations and acronyms to economize texting, and in the process corrupt spelling. Use of corrupted words often enough makes the corrupt word correct, but written correspondence would be horrendous.

Diploma mills and Instant diplomas

A press release from Catanduanes Rep. Joseph Santiago lists the top and the worst nursing schools, indicating a total of almost 56,000 nursing school graduates took licensure tests from 1999-2003 but only slightly over 27,000 of them, or 49 percent, passed the tests. Half of the local nursing school graduates, conferred and armed with diplomas, were not good enough to be nurses. They paid dearly for the years they spent studying to be nurses but the education they got from government certified schools were just not good enough. They were robbed by diploma millsThere are a host of diploma mills in this country, but even the substandard education they offer is expensive. Those who want a cheaper college "degree" pronto, or who can’t manage to graduate even from the diploma mills, go to Manila’s counterfeiters, who can fabricate diplomas for anything from hairdressing to engineering and law. Some Pinoys enroll in a university for about a year, and then buy a fake diploma for the course they enrolled in from the counterfeiters and apply for work overseas. Some OFWs have found themselves in trouble after their deception was discovered by employers. These counterfeiters are simply behaving in accordance with the law of supply and demand, but it exacts a price: the country’s image of reliable labor. Recent reports said some employers overseas have complained about the fake qualifications of Filipino workers. Growing competition for jobs overseas among workers from developing countries demands that the anomaly must not be allowed to continue. Filipino workers have already lost one of their biggest advantages – English proficiency, and now are also losing another competitive edge due to the deteriorating quality of education. Fake diplomas are one more millstone added to the load of the Filipino overseas worker.


THE DEPARTMENT of Education and the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) are contemplating the return of the defunct National College Entrance Examinations (NCEE). The test would address the decline in the quality of college graduates and would also help high school students determine what to take up in college as the test would measure their skills and aptitude for particular courses. DepEd envisions more vocational and technical courses among students in the basic education system (elementary and high school).Secretary Lapus has a formidable and daunting task of resolving the ills of the education department so that it can carry out its mission of educating millions of students who will later be the citizens and workers of the republic. He said that the top item on his agenda would be the provision of "quality education" to all the students of the country.

He will have to find ways to strengthen the teaching of English, Mathematics and Science where students have scored miserably in tests and international competitions. He will have to focus on the teaching of English, without degrading the progress attained in the propagation of the national language.

The National College Entrance Exam (NCEE) must be revived. because some young people may not have the aptitude for a college education and not really meant to do white collar jobs. Instead, open more vocational schools to cater to students whose aptitudes are different from those who enter college.

Upgrade the skills of the teachers.

Launch the Adopt-a-School program to renew the interest and support of the private sector for education.

Innovate --- attract private sector volunteers to teach at their chosen school-to-aide, even using unconventional methods to attain desired goal of competency and practice spoken English.. Encourage Internet Cafes to add educational games to their repertoire and software programs from selected free and safe Websites.

Ask for a bigger budget and ask Congress to pass a law requiring Pagcor to allocate 10 percent of its annual sales to the Department of Education. Enforce the Local Government Code provision requiring local governments to contribute 10% of the Real Property taxes to the local Education Department. Attend to the recurring problem of shortage of classrooms, desks, textbooks and dictionary, thesaurus references.

Make a quantum leap in the curriculum by adding two years to the present ten. The best and most affordable way is when the child is 4-5 years old the time when their minds are most absorptive. Make free kindergarten (2 year pre-school) compulsory in public schools.

Prospects for a Better Educated Citizenry

For most of the students in the mainstream of academe, except perhaps for the pupils in primary grades 1 – 3, it may be too late to salvage the current crop. The irretrievable loss of brain power of those who suffered poverty and malnutrition is beyond the economic and time constraints that government can capably succor. Limited funds would best be cost-effectively applied to the feeding of future citizens in the womb and the nursing mothers of under two year olds.

Adding the desired two years to the system is best instituted tacked on before the established grade 1.

Maxims and Quotes

Early in this piece, I quoted a maxim to illustrate a point. These language tools have profound value in education. It would be a pleasant challenge for Normal Schools to inject these as part of their curriculum. Here are some random selections.

(*1)You can never underestimate the stupidity of the general public. - Scott Adams

(*2)Everyone is entitled to be stupid, but some abuse the privilege. - Unknown

(*3)Good judgment comes from experience, and experience comes from bad judgment. - Barry LePatner

(*4)A lie told often enough becomes the truth. - Lenin

(*5)To make your children capable of honesty is the beginning of education. — John Ruskin

(*6)Under capitalism, man exploits man. Under communism, it's just the opposite. - John Kenneth Galbraith

(*6)It is said that power corrupts, but actually it's more true that power attracts the corruptible. The sane are usually attracted by other things than power. - David Brin

(*7)Education is a progressive discovery of our own ignorance. - Will Durant

To repeat what others have said, requires education; to challenge it, requires brains. -- Mary Pettibone Poole

Education's purpose is to replace an empty mind with an open one. - Malcolm S. Forbes

Education makes people easy to lead, but difficult to drive; easy to govern, but impossible to enslave. — Henry Brougham

"I used to think I was poor. Then they told me I wasn't poor, I was needy. Then they told me it was self-defeating to think of myself as needy. I was deprived. (Oh not deprived but rather underprivileged) Then they told me that underprivileged was overused. I was disadvantaged. I still don't have a dime. But I have a great vocabulary." - Jules Feiffer

The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift. Albert Einstein

The pen is mightier than the sword. BUT Actions speak louder than words

Silence gives consent, or a horrible feeling that nobody’s listening. — Franklin P. Jones

Words can sometimes, in moments of grace, attain the quality of deeds. — Elvis Weisel

Arithmetic is being able to count up to twenty without taking off your shoes. - Mickey Mouse

I'm convinced there's a small room in the attic of the Foreign Office where future diplomats are taught to stammer. - Peter Ustinov

BUMPER STICKERS (Those witty/naughty sayings embedded in plastic and stuck on rear bumpers of cars.)

If you can read this, thank a teacher

Ignorance is nine tenths of the law

Youth is fleeting, but immaturity can last a lifetime.


Lester said...

Wow.. if I were a newspaper or magazine editor, I'd hire you. Your writing is so thorough and well-researched.

I agree with you that we should reinforce the learning of the English language in our schools. This is being done in private schools but the public schools are falling behind, far behind.

I would even go for as arguing that we should use English as the medium of instruction. I wrote about this in my entry, Mother Tongue and Lingua Franca and I posted it here:

Anyway, this inequality is also evident in the use of Information and communication technologies in schools. Students in private schools have access to well-resourced IT labs while their public school counterparts don't. I fully agree with Sec. Jesli Lapus's plan to upgrade the technology in public schools is a big step in the right direction.

Often we ask ourselves why the rich is getting richer and the poor, poorer... We need not go far: just drop by your local public school and the nearest private school and you'll understand why.

Till next time :-)

Manila Bay Watch said...

Good heavens, Orly - you've got a gold mine of information here on top of which, this is an outstanding piece of writing.

Question: In one of the threads, you mentioned that you were already a senior citizen? Senior as in retired after 56 or over?

Don't still know, or perhaps didn't pay attention but did you join PN in the 50s?

OK, gotta get an eyeshut.

(Am not through reading your articles yet - will be back.)

orly_habari said...

Affirmative to both questions.

orly_habari said...

Thanks for the valued comments. Sorry for the late response - got engrossed in posting online previous opuses. Do drop by again.