Education for What, and for Whom?

The next two days, I will be busy with the pre-summit and summit on agrarian reform, sponsored by the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines and the Rural Poor Solidarity. I have been asked to listen to the presentations and workshop reports, and attempt a synthesis at the end.

But this Sunday evening, my thoughts are on education.

Part of the reason are some ideas about education in Richard Bolles’ What Color is Your Parachute which I finished reading in Naujan, and re-read on the way back to Quezon City yesterday.

The other reason is the commentary of Eugenia Duran-Apostol ( which Rainier Ibana posted in the PPE21C Yahoo Group ) where she talks of the need to make education “relevant.” She cites with approval Pepe Abueva’s question to those who want to uplift the quality of Philippine education: “Education for what, and for whom?”

I wonder what was the reaction of those who listened to her talk. Her commentary is based on the speech she gave to the leaders of the “57-75″ Movement and the representatives of six LGUs where education alliances have been organized under the auspices of the movement.

The 57-75 Movement seeks to improve the average scores of Grade 6 students in the National Achievement Test ( NAT ) from the present 57 to 75 in five years. The strategy is to organize education alliances in towns, cities and provinces. I noticed that Synergeia is represented on the Council of Leaders. This makes sense since Synergeia has pioneered this approach to education reform.

When I first met Nene Guevarra, president of Synergeia, she was still program officer of Ford Foundation. She formulated her program framework for education as “Building a constituency to make education work.”

Nene Guevarra’s innovative strategy was to get mayors and governors who are Galing Pook winners and convince them to apply their leadership to the field of public basic education, using their powers under the Local Government Code. Mayors and governors chair the Local School Boards which decide on the use of the Special Education Fund.

Building a constituency of course means getting the whole community involved. In addition to the LGU and the DepEd (teachers and principals), the Synergeia approach seeks the collaboration of parents, higher academic institutions, NGOs and business.

Nene explains that her training as an economist makes her insist on “metrics.” ( She does not use the term itself; I picked it up from an article on Bill Gates’s approach to philanthropy. ) All efforts and interventions must have measurable outcomes, e.g. improved reading skills, and improved NAT scores.

Because it is able to report measurable results, Synergeia has managed to mobilize funds from a variety of sources even after Ford Foundation ceased operating in the Philippines.

During our annual Synergeia retreat, some questions do come up about these measurements.

One is about the integrity of the NAT scores. A Synergeia mayor said that he once offered 500,000 pesos prize money to the schools in his town whose students would show the greatest improvement in their NAT scores. To his surprise, none of the school principals and teachers wanted to use the NAT results as basis for awarding the prize. “They must know something about the NAT that we don’t,” he said with a knowing grin.

Whatever our questions about it, NAT is the only test that is administered nationwide and every year, which makes it useful to compare the performance of schools and to check progress.

The other recurring question about measurements is related to the theory of multiple intelligences proposed by Howard Gardner. IQ tests have been criticized for limiting “intelligence” to two – linguistic and logico-mathematical. To a great extent NAT and similar tests limit themselves to the same two intelligences. But again, there are no tests as yet that are “intelligence-fair.”

The ALS nationwide test for high school equivalency has also been criticized as biased toward “classroom competencies,” even though many of the out of school youth will not pursue higher education. In fact the DepEd has developed a “portfolio assessment” as alternative. But officials say is difficult to administer, even if there were a bit more funds for the Bureau of Alternative Learning System (BALS).

The discussions on measurements of learning will continue. But until alternatives become available, education advocates have to work with what is there, even if they are inadequate.

And there are even deeper questions we must ask. Not just how to measure student learning, but what should students be learning in school?

The questions ( and answers ) are posed differently by Eggie Apostol and Richard Bolles.

Eggie asks: ” Wouldn’t we want our schools to imbue our future generations with an unshakable sense of right and wrong? Wouldn’t we prefer that our teachers inculcate in our youth positive civic values like
citizenship and respect for the rights of others?”

She adds further: ” All the effort that we are expending now is not just so we can carve out a good education system. I really believe that we are doing this because we are a nation in search of our soul.”

Rainier picked up the phrase “searching for the nation’s soul,” I guess because he is a philosopher. I wonder if anyone of the 57-75 Movement campaigners reacted ( or at least thought ), “Those are fine ideals, but our movement wants to focus first on measurable results, like NAT scores.”

E-Net Philippines, which re-elected me as its president last April 25, is a civil society campaign network advocating Education for All ( EFA 2015 ). We appreciate and learn from the good practices of Synergeia in improving the performance of the formal school-based education system. To have a chance of achieving EFA, we need those kind of collaborative partnerships and alliances in every province, city, town and barangay.

What E-Net offers to the movements for education reform is our framework of EFA which includes not just the F – formal basic education, but also E – Early Childhood Care and Development, and A – Alternative Learning System.

But in a conference in Manchester last year, the education minister from Uruguay posed a provocative question to those of us who are part of the Global Campaign for Education, which is campaigning for the goals of EFA 2015, and usually cite that between 70 to 80 million children of school age are not in school and between 700 to 800 million adults are still illiterate. These are not his exact words, but I recall him asking: “Do we presume that the existing educational system is OK, and all we need to do is insure that everyone can enter it?”

In the preface to his book, Richard Bolles lists “three essential life skills” which a good education should give us, and which unfortunately few graduates learn in school:

1. How to choose and find a job – that matches your gifts, skills and experience; gives you the income you need; makes you happy; and gives you a sens of purpose in life.

2. How to chose and find an appropriate partner – principles for the heart and principles for the mind that make relationships more likely to happen, more likely to endure. How to find and value friends.

3. How to think and make good decisions – including knowing the way in which work, money, sex, and religion become playpens throughout our lives, wherein each of us acts out and spells out who we really are.

Explore posts in the same categories: Book Gleanings, Education for All, Lifelong Learning

One Comment on “Education for What, and for Whom?”

  1. Anonymous Says:

    education for whom? there are schools – public and private – that impose projects upon projects on pupils and students. and these projects are costly (and mostly irrelevant) – for poor students on scholarships and from low-income families. at the end of a day parents would ask if indeed their children are learning anything from the schools when most of the time they’re being asked to produce costly projects.


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