Why do we send our kids to school? Do you ever think about that?
Do we send them to get them out of the house and out of our hair?
Do we send them because everyone else does, and because, generally, we think school is a good thing?
I ask these questions because if we don't understand what we hope to accomplish by sending our kids to school, I don't know how we structure the best education for them. I rather think that, in the Philippines, the top educators don't think much about why kids are in school. They are too busy administering the standard curricula, getting text books, making rules, building classrooms and hiring teachers.
They see solutions only in a bigger budget. Not in reconfiguring education to improve what students learn, and to give kids the opportunity to be the best they can be.
It seems to me that there are four benefits kids get out of school:
- Knowledge: History and science give us a perspective on our world. It is generalized information that can be put to good use in understanding why it is important to trek down to the polling place to vote or wash our hands before eating.
- Skills: Mathematics for most people represents a skill. How to add up the cost of the shopping list or calculate the risks of investing in this or that. Welding is a skill. Science is knowledge.
- Discipline: Will we follow the rules or not? Do we have the routines in place to achieve a goal, like passing an exam or getting a paper written well and on time? Or later on, being self-motivated and productive on the job.
- Socialization: Will we engage other people directly, or manipulate the situation to favor us, or beat the shit out of someone who we perceive has slighted us? Do we have the confidence and aptitude to compete for success?
Now the level of emphasis given to some of these areas ought to vary depending on the "Development Platform". In the youngest years, all kids should receive the same fundamentals, with emphasis on discipline (good study habits) and socialization (how to find harmony in process and happiness through achievement). Later, the Platform might change as a child's "interests and aptitudes" become clearer. The curricula should adjust according to what the goal is.
The two basic Development Platforms are:
- College track, or, in primary school, getting the discipline and knowledge needed to succeed in the next step of education.
- Trade track, or getting skills, discipline and knowledge in place to perform tasks for an employer who values individual productivion.
If we reflect on how to develop kids, we can observe that the Philippine public education system from kindergarten through high school has some profound flaws. These are flaws apart from the shortage of classrooms and teachers. They are correctable. Let me recite a few that I think have profound effect.
- Knowledge that is irrelevant. Take the table of elements. How relevant is it to know the symbol for Silver is Au and why it is isn't Sl. And what element number it is? Why should hours of a student's time be spent memorizing the table versus five minutes spent understanding how to Wiki the table and 10 minutes grasping what it is used for? The point here is that this is not the 1950's and knowledge about how to get information is more important than the information itself. How do you teach the internet if your classroom has no computer? How do students compete with students around the world who DO learn computers? The Philippine teaching method is 1950's. Today is 2011.
- Skills that aren't. It does no good to try to teach a person who thrives on manual productivity how to calculate cosines. It does no good to try to teach an aspiring oceanographer how to paint or kick a soccer ball. It does a lot of good to test a student for aptitude and put him in a program that fits. One curriculum does not fit all.
- Discipline that is not. How can it be that so many kids graduate and go on to adopt the corrupt morality of favoritism that undermines Philippine well-being and productivity? The kids are taught to obey, follow the rules and learn by rote, but somehow way too many emerge to cheat, to connive, to take the easy way. Now a part of this is the social framework into which they are thrown, favor based rather than capability based. But a part is that they are not taught to aspire, to compete, to brainstorm and organize solutions, or to cherish the pride that comes with adhering to upstanding principles.
- Socialization that fails. The one mystery to my western mindset is why Filipinos are unkind to each other, lacking in basic consideration and courtesy. The nation seems to situationally sort people into powerful and powerless and it is considered acceptable for the powerful to trample on the powerless. Blaming, excuse making and knocking down successful people and practices are common reactions from the powerless. This is NOT an upward bound social framework. I believe Kids should be taught elements of character. Kindness, thoughtfulness, personal ethics. Ambition that is exercised honorably. Independent thought. I believe a caring, aspiring culture is a productive culture. It is a rich culture. Introspection is important. Denial is counterproductive.
I'd recommend the Department of Education rethink why kids are in school. And get out of the 1950's.