There is no Excuse
Bewildered and daunted all of us might be, the problem we face is not an excuse. In fact, there are no excuses.
In the past three months, I have gone around the country, visiting regional and division offices, discussing with teachers, students, parents, local executives and other stakeholders. In that little time, I've been exposed to the innermost realities of the problem we face. The move I discover problems, the more I find solutions.
Last week, I came to Region 8, one of our poorest regions consisting of Samar and Leyte. Unperturbed by the storm, I visited the top performing school in the National Achievement Test for high school. I went there, intrigued by how, such a poor region could've bested the more privileged schools in the metropolis, which enjoy better facilities and resources from bigger education fund allocations.
I found my answers after endless rough roads to Northern Samar. Deep within its valleys and at the end of its first class bad roads, is a remote high school-the Lope de Vega National High School - that topped the National Achievement Test, with a score of 86% against the national average of 44.36%
A modest school on a hilltop, which does not have the resources, nor the facilities but only the commitment of teachers, the collaboration of students, an engaged community and a supportive local government.
Region 8 ranked 1st in the National Achievement Test for 4th year with 5 of its schools and 6 of its divisions in the top 10. It also ranked 2nd in the National Achievement Test for Grade5 with 3 of its schools in the Top 5. In the High School Readiness Test, it belong to the top 10 and in the Self Assessment for Teachers, it ranked top 4.
Right there, was a Region excelling despite their circumstances. The lesson is clear: Having no resources is no excuse not to attain excellence.
THE SCHOOLS FIRST CONVICTION
Today I stand before you, ever more confident.
Because the stories of Lope de Vega and Region 8 - very real stories - reinforce the solution that I've been advocating all along - that is, if we put schools first in every community, then we might just have a formula to solve the problems in education.
Schools First, this is my conviction.
Let not the DepEd bureaucracy be the center of our education system but let it be the schools-where learning happens. Let every school shine on it's own, no matter its circumstances and resources.
THE KNOWLEDGE-BASED ECONOMY
At no time in the history of the world knowledge and information been so valued as a commodity.
Today, the global economy is driven by knowledge. Powerful are those who have access to information, and who make good use of it with technology.
At no time in the history of the world had there been so much opportunity to make it big by simply tinkering with a computer and the internet from a garage.
Everywhere, job opportunities are about technology - web developers, programmers, systems analysts, encoders, graphic designers, IT managers, network administrators, etc.
WE COULDN'T QUALIFY
The list goes on and on that the problem is no longer the lack of opportunities to start a new business or be employed. Rather, the problem now becomes our lack of qualification and the infrastructure to take advantage of them.
As the entire world moves along with the information age, we may be at the edge of being in the losing end of the digital divide. Because we are not prepared for ICT work. Because our education system is unable to produce knowledge workers.
CHALLENGES IN PHILIPPINE EDUCATION
I have said it time and again that we face serious challenges in Philippine Education.
During the National Educator's Congress in Bacolod a couple of months ago. I reported the facts. Only eight thousand students out of 1.2 million are ready for high school. Some 41,000 out of around 51,000 teacher have inadequate proficiency in the English language. For every 100 elementary pupils, only 60 graduate and only 32 eventually finish high school. The national average of our student's achievement ranges only between 44-51%. The Trends in Math and Science Survey reported that we ranked 36 out of 38 countries or 95 below international average. Not only do our students score poor in Math and Science, which are prerequisites in working the technology. They, too, lack the ability in something as basic as reading and comprehension - they are unable to write and speak in English - the language of technology.
It is not only now that we know for this. For over 3 decades we have been facing this dire situation. While we may have gotten away with this in previous years, the crisis is indeed haunting us today.
By schools, I mean the community of teachers, parents, students, principals, local executives and ngo's.
Schools First means Student First. Let every teacher spend productive time with every student, without being distracted by search competitions of sorts, or selling tickets, or worrying about her living expenses. Train her where she needs improvement, polish here competencies. Reward here performance; let standard be based on how well students have learned from her, and not on what credentials she has attained. Allow teachers the opportunity where they can be the best of what they're there to be - teaching.
On our part, we shall work on taking them out of the Election Board of Canvassers, find ways to give them more performance incentives and even raise standard by increasing their marketability both locally and internationally.
Sa bawat eskwela, and estudyante at ang guro ang una, sila ang bida.
Schools First means Community First. Let every community take ownership and accountability of their schools, of their students. Let every school be run collectively by parents, local executives, teachers, students, principals, administrators, NGO's and other stakeholders. Let them determine the needs of the schools and find ways to address these. Let then engage themselves in making sure that students enroll in school, stay in school and achieve in school. After all, every youngster is the responsibility of the community to which she belongs. More importantly let the communities influence the values of their young.
SCHOOLS FIRST MEANS BRINGING ICTs IN SCHOOL
By putting schools first, we bring ICTs to every school. By putting students first, we produce knowledge workers as early as grade school and high school. By putting teachers first, we enable 5000,000 more talents as knowledge workers - as trainers, educators and users of ICTs. By putting community first, we engage PTCAs, local executives, NGO's and local business to invest in providing ICT infrastructure in schools.
Allow me then to share with you 4 basic policy directions by which ICTs will be integrated in education through the Schools First Initiative.
Within this policy framework are prerequisites that I feel we should deal with first, as we bring ICTs in learning.
- 1. Relevant Curriculum
First and foremost is the need to make our curriculum relevant.
The task is way beyond simply putting computers in schools and connecting them to the internet. It requires a change in paradigm on how we could educate our young.
Today's knowledge-based economy demands an education system that can cope with its rapid and constant need for new and continuously developed skills. Further, it demands highly analytic, creative talents that can deal with multiple task across various expertise.
For example, a web developer will no longer survive with mere knowledge of html - the basic language of the web. He now hat to learn Java, ASP or PHP programming and Flash animation among other emerging web technologies, if he wants to keep pace. It's also an advantage for him if he can do graphic design as well. Yet more important in his work is his ability to thing systematically and create a logical content structure for his website which he has to translate into a user-friendly interface. Not to mention, he has to understand the content he's purring in that site. If it's about coffee beans, then at the very least, he needs to read up on coffee beans.
Hence, there is that demand for student-centered learning. This means students should be then empowered to teach themselves. That is, show them what competencies they need to develop; show them what they can achieve give them space to determine what they think they should work in teams; challenge them to formulate solutions and most importantly, let then set their pace. This kind of empowerment readily involves them in their own education and gives then a sense of ownership.
This is how ICTs enhance learning. Open any educational software for children and see for yourself this process. In no time, you will find yourself engaged in the course because the technology has build with you, a learning partnership.
This is how we can develop young knowledge workers in basic education - by making them experience the environment of the digital workplace-self-empowerment learning.
Therefore curriculum should be geared towards a student-centered learning process that creates a learning partnership with the teacher, consistent with how technology engages the student in learning. This needs to be established before technology is integrated as an enabling tool for learning, otherwise, it would be disastrously conflicting.
Further, the curriculum should be developed with electronic content in mind. Learning materials should no longer be limited to print. They should also be easily packaged for the web, or CD-ROMs, multimedia presentations or even video animations.
Imagine if we can put textbook content, course outlines and teaching aids on a DepEd intranet which students can easily access from any computer at any time. Also, have their performance ratings posted their, which they can regularly check on. Imagine what ownership they will have for their learning and what motivation they will develop to educate themselves. We could make this real.
Current efforts to monitor and evaluate the use of ICT in teaching and learning across subject areas include:
- the validation of instrument on the use of ICT in teaching and learning, with assistance from UNESCO Bangkok:
- inventory of ICT courseware used in Philippine public schools (also with assistance from UNESCO Bangkok); and
- DepED-Bureau of Secondary Education study on effect of ICT use on the quality of students' learning.
Students First means creating a conductive student-centered environment that can accommodate the use of technology in their learning.
- 2. Capacity to teach and administer ICTs in education
Our second policy direction is to make sure our teachers can teach about, and with technology.
According to the Profile of ICT Capabilities of Elementary and Secondary schools in the Philippines, one out of seven schools have teachers who are computer literate. Only 4.774 or 36.368 school heads receive training in ICT and 46% of them indicated their need to be trained.
It's unimaginable to integrate ICT in education if our teachers do not even have the basic competencies in using and teaching with ICTs. Much worse, it's impossible to make them use ICTs if they feel threatened by its because of their lack of appreciation for it. Hence, training of teachers, and school heads even is an impressive prerequisite.
In providing them with ICT training, teachers should be allowed to build on their natural tendencies in using technology. Train them on computer programs which they can be best at. They should also be trained with the same student-centered framework, that they may appreciate the changes in the curriculum, particularly their redefined roles of building learning partnerships with students, with the use of technology.
The threat of being replaced by technology should also be addressed-that technology is merely an enabler in learning and teaching, and the teacher remains to be the facilitator in an student-centered environment.
School heads, should also develop a level of proficiency in using ICTs. Technology could greatly enhance management and administrations of schools, by simplifying database and communications systems. They should also get training in ICTs.
Imagine if DepEd had on its intranet, self-paced IT courseware for teachers, Imagine if they could create simple websites and put their lessons online. Imagine if DepEd had a digital map of it's database, where information about school profiles and student performance is made available on the world wide web. Imagine how efficient the teaching-learning process can be, and how fast school officials could make informed decisions. We could make this real.
Current efforts to build teacher capacity to use ICTs in teaching include;
- Intel Teach to the Future Program
- National trainers' training program for the Master Trainers (MTs) on the use of ICT in teaching and learning.
- Regional/School-based training for Practicing Teachers (PTs) whereby each trainee will teach 20 other teacher.
- Partners in Learning (PIL) by Microsoft Philippines
- IT Academy Centers for teacher training on computer literacy thru Philippine Business for Social Progress (PBSP) as a service provider
- Empower ICT pilot project in 5 science high schools in NCR.
- e-curricula teacher development of courseware in English, Science, Math and Social Studies (by FIT-ED)
- SchoolNet Project (3 pilot public high schools in regions V, VII, & NCR with assistance form UNESCO Bankok)
- DepED-BSE teachers' Help online
Teachers First means enabling them with technology to be the knowledge workers that they already are.
- Accessibility and availability of ICT equipment through stakeholders.
The third policy direction is to make ICT to be widely accessible and available by engaging stakeholders.
The issue of access and availability of ICT equipment is not all discouraging. 66% of schools have electricity (including elementary schools); 82% of high schools have computers (2004) and 13% already have internet connectivity (2001).
The task at hand is how to bring the numbers up to 100% availability and access.
Ongoing efforts currently include:
- DepED Computerization Program (P110M GAA per year consisting of 11 networked computers per recipient school)
- PCs for Public Schools Project (P600M yearly grant form Japan Government thru DTI consisting of 20 stand-alone computers pre recipient school).
- Partners in Learning (PIL) IT Academy Laboratories (3 pilot regions & 1 regional science high school in NCR consisting of 40 networked computers per laboratory from Microsoft Philippines)
- Discounted PCs for Public School Teachers (3 pilot regions III, IV-a & NCR i.e., each teacher gets 1 computer package at P15,000.00 payable in 3 years)
Admittedly, DepED does not have the capacity to bring in ICT equipment in schools, and maintain them. Much of the initiatives undertaken involved the participation of other stakeholders who invested in ICT infrastructure.
In the same manner, communities, in taking ownership of their schools, should be engaged in providing equipment. There are many ways this can be done, the most obvious of which is to conduct fund-raising activities, as IT companies to sponsor or adopt schools, solicit from local chief executives, etc.
But what is more important is how the community helps in building and environment of learning with the use of technology. For example, one common distraction among students are internet cafes or gaming stations within the vicinity of their schools. Imagine if the community can negotiate with these small business a scheme where they can provide learning enhancement for students through the use of their facilities.
The idea is for the community to be accountable for the proper exposure of their young to ICTs in their communities.
Besides the availability of ICT equipment, access to it should be made easy for students and teachers. Guidelines for the use of ICT equipment in schools shall not be prohibitive but should rather encourage interest.
Imagine if every school had an ICT laboratory built and managed collectively by the PTCA's, students, local executives, and local businesses in the area, with the support of IT companies or Community First means engaging stakeholders to build a learning environment where technology is readily accessible and available.
- School-Based ICT in Education Program
The fourth policy direction is to have School-Based ICT in Education Programs for every school. The integration on ICTs in each school should be determined by them.
Alongside their achievement targets, schools must identify areas where ICTs can enhanced learning and what appropriate technologies should be used. Corollary to this is prescribing the curriculum changes and teacher training needs based on the school's setting and context.
This way, schools do not merely ride on the hype of being "high tech", but intelligently determine realistic ICT key results areas in their system. This way, infrastructure need not be elaborate, but are proportionate to the targets of their respective ICT in education programs.
To provide a forum for the sharing of experiences on the use of ICT in education, the following programs are currently being undertaken:
- Intel Teach to the Future Program
- National awards for excellence on the use of ICT in teaching and learning
- National forum for school heads on managing the technology environment in the school
- Partners in Learing (PIL) by Microsoft Philippines
- National ICT skills competition
- National awards for teachers, school heads and students
- PIL website
- DepED-BSE BEC Caravan: Celebrating best practices in teaching and learning
- DepED-CSCA/BSE Student Technologist and Entrepreneurs of the Philippines (STEP) ICT skills Olympiad
Imagine if every school functions as a natural breeding ground for knowledge workers through and effective ICT in education program, then we might just already be providing our young with very promising futures.
Schools First means putting schools in-charge of integrating technology at their own level, given their own context and setting.
Ready or Not, HERE ICT COMES!
Whether or not our education system is ready for ICT integration, we have no choice but to face the challenge.
The development of the processor - the power behind computing - increases geometrically- that's why such short a time, computers have evolve from Pentium 1 to Pentium 4, from DOS to Windows XP, from laptops to Tablet PC's, from static text and graphics on the internet to real time video and teleconferencing, and seamless exchange of information on the world wide web.
Indeed there is no excuse.
BUT LET US BE WARY OF HASTE
But let us not be hasty. Let us not be overwhelmed and be reactionary with the exiting movement of ICT's.
Rather, let us first set targets - measurable results, plan strategically and be proactive with the steps that need to be taken.
Let us not be hyped and fail into trap like that of the cellphone craze where we change and upgrade phones on impulse just because there are new models. It would be tragic to later on discover that the cellphone we bought for so much money, is not useful to our needs at all.
When I went to the hinterlands of northern Samar to Lope de Vega, I promised them a prize for their achievement - a computer laboratory with internet connection.
Just imagine, if a high-performing school such as Lope de Vega,-with highly motivated teachers, intelligent students, and an engaged community - would have access to the vast information offered by the internet, and the skill they could develop with their computers, then what knowledge workers could they be at an early age.
LET US FACE THE CHALLENGE HEAD ON
The situation we face in Philippine education is definitely not bleak and hopeless.
Rather, the situation we face is an opportunity.
Today, we have the opportunity to empower each and every Filipino, to educate himself and pursue his dreams because technology could level the playing field, and education could equip him to compete and succeed.
Let us not ignore this task, let us put schools first, and bring technology to every school.
We can only imagine so much. We need to face the challenges head on today.
Maraming salamat at mabuhay tayong lahat!