Monday, August 29, 2011

The Road to Nagasaki

The Atlantic ran a photo series of the battle of Midway and for the Aleutian islands where the Japanese invaded the "US" during World War II. The article can be found HERE.

The photo below is my favorite. It portrays the chaos of battle brilliantly. Four Japanese airplanes are in the scene, two little more than dots in the distance. A fourth you can't really see, but you can observe the smoke arising from the ocean where it crashed. The airplane in the foreground has just dropped a torpedo aimed at an American warship.

I remember as a youngster watching the "Victory at Sea" series of black and white films about the Pacific naval battles. They were set to a classical music theme, and, of course, were intensely patriotic for the American cause.

Most Americans are familiar with the Bataan Death March, but not the battle for Manila. Many Filipinos are critical of the way America waged war: relentless power and destruction. The final battle in Manila was for the Intramuros, where the Japanese had tied Filipinos up on the outside of the buildings as human shields. They hoped to forestall the relentless bombardment they knew was coming.

But the US was in a hurry, so they rained artillery shells like, well . . . rain.

The two atom bombs dropped on Japan were simply an extension of the same war strategy that said the Japanese will never surrender, so we must defeat them with force. This was the lesson learned on island after island in the Pacific, and the Aleutian islands, where Japanese would fight to the end, then kill themselves rather than surrender. The Atlantic photo series has a gruesome rendition of this.

Many blame the US for dropping the two atom bombs.

They don't blame the Japanese.

Same regarding Manila.

I find that interesting.

Usually a battle is a reflection of a series of events that have much deeper meaning. It is a transaction, an event, isolated from the chain of meanings that lead to war, or the strategies for fighting that war. If you adopt the strategy of ending the war as quickly as possible to prevent massive loss of life, you rain artillery on Manila and drop A-bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

The discussion should be about that strategy.

Not the specific battles that were its execution.

And, even deeper, one should probe the frictions that led to war in the first place. Where, exactly, was the first mistake made? And who made it?

I'm not a student of the war, but I suspect numerous mistakes were made by both the US and Japan leading up to the war. After that, the clash of cultures and hates could not stop anything but brutal submission, one to the other.

Manila was simply the largest city on the road to Nagasaki.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Aesthetically Speaking . . .

I like the skies in the Philippines, away from the big cities. The big cities remind me too much of Los Angeles back in the days when a fine layer of brown grit hung over the entire city.  Huge gulping mouthfuls  of diesel exhaust is not my idea of sweet.

The Philippine skies are somehow deeper than the arid blue expanse that arched over the Colorado plains in the US where I grew up. The mountains are very different, too. Here they are smaller and muddier, lava and red clay. And richly green. The US Rocky Mountains are taller and rockier, made largely of gray and sandy granite (pronounced gran'-nit, not gran'-nite). The greens are darker in Colorado, sometimes almost black.

I miss pine trees from time to time, especially around Christmas.

I don't miss the snow or ice. My once frostbitten ears no longer ache here, and, besides, I never learned to ski. I broke a toboggan with my ass once. We veered left, went off a small cliff and I punched right through the wood. We slapped the sled on the back of my '57 Nash Rambler with the seats that folded all the way down, and headed to a warm fireplace. I limped to the sofa and sat gently.

The Rambler seats are a story for a different telling.

But the skies here are fabulous, moving cloud sculptures, carrying a lot of moisture that condenses and falls by the ton. I caught a rainbow in front of a range of green, cloud-draped mountains the other day. Fantastic. And sunsets are like Van Gogh in his crazier days deciding red and orange and pink should be plastered across the entire upper canvas.

Filipinos run around looking for heroes, looking for reasons to be proud. Chasing boxers and movie stars.

I don't get it.

All they have to do is look at the landscape. Or the seascape.

My most enjoyable place is down by the pier in my hometown, 5:30 in the morning, looking out toward China. Islands in the distance. Green, cloud-whisked mountains to the north. Never the same cloud sculptures. Always a pleasant breeze. Air fresh and pure off the West Philippine Sea. A variety of boats, so natural here and strange to me, plying the choppy or calm waters. Boats in Colorado are called canoes.

Cherish is not a word that comes easily in the Philippines, I think.

Or we wouldn't see such abuse of the land and the oceans here.

Dynamited coral. Desert oceans.

Clear-cut foresting. Mudslides washing the mountains to the bottom of the seas.

Mining that rips the mountains apart and throws the leftover poisons into the nearest river.

Warm springs that can't be enjoyed for the shit-laden runoff that sits in them.

People run around looking for a God to worship and don't realize He sits right outside the door, in a view that strikes harmony like a jolt of lightening across the soul. He is in a clump of coral, orange or blue, inhabited by the richest diversity of sea life on the planet.

Harvested for money.

God is MIA in the Philippines. Kidnapped. Held for ransom.

He has been plastered into a statue behind the altar, in a building made of cement.

I suppose what is missing to many Filipinos is perspective, especially those without money. They have not traveled to other lands. They live where they live, and have been there so long they don't see what is there. They only see the need to find a way to eat today.

If they could see it, really really see it, they would understand the word "cherish".

They would have no need of heroes, for they would recognize that they have been blessed with the richest, most ecologically diverse, most beautiful place on earth. There is no need to prop that gift up with manufactured glory, with artificial pride, with a hunt for something other than what is right outside the door.

Glory is there.

God is there.

I thank Him for the gift, the lift He gives my spirit, every day. I cherish it. Right out there.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

"Beam Me Up a Teacher, Scottie!"

This is a fifth in a series of JoeAm's far out commentaries on the Philippine education system. So far we have established the following groundwork:


Article 1 points out that Filipino kids are broadly under-developed intellectually and skill-wise because the school system is so busy trying to keep its head above water. It is punishing Filipino kids by withholding knowledge. It is teaching them what to memorize, not how to compete. See:  State Sponsored Child Abuse

Article 2 proposes a striking new agenda that builds personal character, critical knowledge, and the will and way to succeed. The five disciplines are:

  • Mathematics
  • English and Chinese (Mandarin)
  • Discovery
  • Aspiration
  • Computers

You can read about the content of these five disciplines at: The Philippine's Reach is Too Short to Grasp

Article 3 deals with the objection that "such dramatic conversion is impractical". It describes the  "Moon Model" upon which a new style of education is based, requiring: (1) national commitment, (2) problem solving and will to succeed, and (3) technology. It proposes to overcome the "impractical" barrier by moving stepwise toward the new program:

  • Establish "Mission Control", a central computer and internet based leadership and communications hub.
  • Convert 7 classrooms to the new program.
  • Give each student a tablet computer and hook the classroom up to Mission Control via the internet.
  • Start pushing teacher's guides, lessons and exams out to students and teachers from Mission Control; there are no paper text books or exams. There are no fees or uniform requirements.
  • Select the next 70 classrooms to convert the following year and get teachers trained up; then the next 700 classrooms for the following year.

This article can be found at: Sending Philippine Schools to the Moon

Article 4 deals with the objection: "My God, the cost of all those computers and internet access!! No way, Dude!".  It calculates out the cost to computerize one classroom (P700,000) and 111,000 college track classrooms from grade 6 to grade 12 (P77.7 billion). It considers ways to fit the program into the DepEd's budget:

  • Implement the program in stages that can be managed within any budget. Call it an "honors" program at the outset.
  • Negotiate reduced "educational purpose" prices for hardware and internet time from vendors.

This article can be found at: "One Giant Leap for Filipino Kids"

This is Article 5. It discusses a few nuts and bolts, including the role of the local teacher in the centralized, internet-based instructional format. It will be followed by Article 6, revealing the "Big Secret" that will ensure that Filipino kids become the best of the best of the best, or "all that they can be".

The local teacher will be exceptionally important in the new centralized instructional framework. But gone will be the role of standing before a packed classroom of bored, sleepy and inattentive kids laying down the rules, of telling them what they are to memorize, of writing on the chalkboard lessons that most will forget by next week, and of lecturing them on what to think.

The new role will be to extract from each child his innate ability to learn and grow based on his pace at picking up internet lessons.

  • Lessons, study aids and exams will come from Mission Control.

  • Students will be assigned the responsibility to self-study, and will be given individualized coaching and counseling to help them progress.

  • Students will also learn to speak, listen, lead and concede by participating in small-group learning situations so they can self-discover within a constructive group.

When the program is fully operational, the teacher's lecture time will be less than one hour in the morning and one in the afternoon. During the early "one-class-at-a-time" phase, the teacher will teach in the morning and work with Mission Control in the afternoon to perfect teaching methods and help fine-tune lessons and the centralized program. Mission Control will compile an internet-based teacher's guide based on inputs from local teachers.

When the program is fully operational, two separate classes will rotate through each classroom, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. Most of the one-hour lecture time will be dedicated, not to giving knowledge, but to challenging students and directing them on how to work with internet lessons and student study groups.

Most student learning time will be outside the formal classroom. At home, or in designated study rooms at the school or off premises. The challenge for the school principal will be to provide students with space for self study or small-group working sessions. The local PTA may be able to suggest private homes or commercial space that can be used to supplement school space (guidelines to be developed by Mission Control).

Criteria for selection of teachers will include:

  • Fluent in English speech and writing.
  • Fundamental knowledge of computers to keep computers operational and linked to the internet. Able to teach spreadsheet, word processing and internet fundamentals.
  • An open mind. A "can do" problem-solving attitude.
  • Skilled at counseling. More capable in the Socratic method of questioning than declarative lectures. Able to direct and inspire children to find their own solutions.

Technical knowledge of mathematics, science or history is no longer as pertinent, as these skills will reside at the center where lessons are constructed.

Criteria for selection of schools for participation will include:

  • Balanced geographic distribution across the Philippines.
  • Starting from the major population centers and working out.
  • Availability of Globe, Smart or other wireless broadband service.
  • Appropriately skilled teachers.
  • Appropriate facilities for classroom and self-study space.

Criteria for issuance of computers to students will include:

  • Written agreement, signed by the student and his parent(s).
  • Promise to use computers only for school work (not games, chatting, internet roaming, etc.).
  • Penalties for violation of agreement: one warning, then expulsion from the honors program.
  • Internet connections will be spot-monitored from central.
  • Continuing sincere effort, responsible behavior and good grades: one warning, then mandatory withdrawal from the honors program.

Criteria for selection of students for the honors class will include:

  • High grades (e.g., top 25% of all students).
  • Demonstrated ability to speak and listen constructively.
  • Trustworthy and reliable (high attendance record; no disciplinary problems).
  • Solid foundation in English (can read well; may or may not speak fluently).

These criteria will be widely publicized so students (and their parents) know what they must do to qualify for the program as it expands.

Next up: "The Big Secret", or how to grow knowledge faster than a speeding bullet while gluing this whole program together.

Friday, August 26, 2011

When Grief Has Nowhere to Go

Hong Kong citizens are angry at the Philippines.

The Philippines is the place where hostages in a bus to get shot. And it is the place from which no apology has issued forth.

Expressions of regret and condolence have been issued by the Philippine Government. But not apology.

Perhaps this is the reason. Please allow me to slip into the chair of the Presidential spokesperson, but speak more frankly than he would.

We intended no harm. What do we have to apologize for?

A madman murdered innocent people. Not us.

Our view is simple. In the chaos of a tense and bloody scene, our men on the ground did the best that they could. There is no need to apologize for that. What is important is our acts going forward. We will provide better training for our police and a better crisis command structure. That is our commitment.

What is happening in Hong Kong is a media frenzy. It is mob mentality stoked by grief with no place to go. Hong Kong is going through a fit like any mother would if her son were needlessly shot. Throw plates at the wall. Smash the TV with a bat. Explode. Let it out.

Only today, the Philippines is that wall. And it is made the traditional way. Of cement.

I have mixed feelings about this.

I always instructed my young daughters, as they grew older and learned the ways of things, to stop apologizing for their acts. If they intended no wrong, but things went wrong, there is no reason for shame. That is no reason to go weak, to accept blame. Motives good. Outcome wrong. No apology necessary.

How, exactly do you write an apology to Hong Kong?

We, the Philippines, apologize for how poorly trained our emergency response people were, from the leadership to the men who tried to break into the bus, provoking the gunman to shoot. We wish the decisions had not been made as they were made. We are incredibly sorry for your loss.


We apologize for not having the time to get our best people in place to deal with this situation better. The circumstances got the better of us, and we are sorry for that, and for your loss.

I dunno.  It's hard to do. Critics of the President would want him to say "I'm sorry I am incompetent for having incompetent people on my staff, and for all of us botching things royally." But he hardly had a direct hand in that. And, like an Army Colonel sticking up for his men, he has gone to the wall for his people. There is something admirable in that.

I am reminded of my time as an American in the Philippines when the Philippine media, for three years, would not let the Nicole incident fade from sight. Anger ran deep and wide in the Philippines under the assumption that an innocent Filipina had been abused by a sex-mad American serviceman.

Conclusions were drawn about America as a society, and they were not pretty. Filipinos wanted the American Embassy and Army to cede to Filipino outrage; apologize, if you will, by turning over the offending soldier. The US refused to do that, preferring to let the legal remedies play out. In effect, that is what President Aquino is doing. If anyone on his staff broke the law in the bus incident, that person should pay the appropriate penalty.

As the situation with Nicole played out, we discovered that she was not exactly innocent. That, indeed, she and her back seat "date" Smith were both drunk and irresponsible. The incident ended with a huge fizzle, as the courts overturned Smith's conviction (on the basis of Nicole's belated confession that she made up a story to assuage her mother's anger), the US spirited Smith out of the Philippines and Nicole migrated to the US to seek everlasting happiness.

The big media bubble was so much hot air, a reality of its own making, having little to do with what happened. The truth is that these were two immature, irresponsible people who did not deserve one column inch on page A12, much less three years of headlines.

Shame, grief. They are such powerful emotions.

They have the capacity to conquer common sense. They are the mirrors in the funhouse that distort what they reflect.

I don't blame President Aquino for not wanting to apologize.

The Philippines intended no harm. How can you apologize for good intentions that went bad? To grovel in shame, when only one or two people should carry the blame, and the shame.

But decisions were made. They turned out tragic.

The reason to apologize has nothing to do with compassion. But the simple recognition that the longer this draws out, the steeper the price the Philippines pays, in terms of hostility from Hong Kong and how it affects trade and tourism and things we can't know about.

For me, personally, in this instance, I'd apologize for the poor decisions as a matter of compassionate diplomacy. Not out of shame.

Accept responsibility.

Turn the page.

But be ready for another blast of anger that it took so long to issue the apology.

Hong Kong has lots of plates. Lots of anger.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Why the Philippines Should Arm Itself to the Teeth

An essay on patriotism. I start with some esoteric ramblings. Work with me, eh? It sets up my points regarding the US and Philippines.

Infestation of Kelp in 
San Francisco Bay
I rather see our social condition as liquid, not static. Each public utterance is a molecule in search of a companion thought in someone's mind. Upon arrival, it morphs into substance. So our thinking become part of the universe of thought, a sea of social convention.

As a society, we are not constant, but ever evolving, like waters receiving clear or muddy runoff, downpours from the sky, or leakage from glaciers intermixed with boiling volcanic waters. We are infested with original thinking shaped by information and ideas from others. Our knowledge is like a bed of kelp that grows outward in the direction of nutrients and good temperatures. 

Our seas generate waves of opinions and values that lap into neighboring waters. And we receive tidal currents from abroad, generally serene and pacific, but sometime riding on angry storms.

Our nations are collectives, homogeneous of origin. Each is unique, its people influenced by the same history and family ideals and government dictates. But between nations, we differ, one culture from the other. We cannot understand how others could get it so wrong. But the answer is simple. Our historical perspectives, our thought processes, are vastly different, one nation to another.

Infestation of the Asian Snakehead
 Fish in America's Fresh Water Lakes
If you observe the US over the past 200 years, you will see a social condition on the move, and the direction is currently not good. From its origins, the US had continuity of immigrant spirit, people with the courage to leave their homeland because of religious or class (money) discrimination, determined not to emulate the same conditions in the new land. Thus was born the idea of "from many, one". E pluribus unum.

Infestation of Zebra Mussels 
in the Great Lakes
The US waged war with itself to preserve the principle of equality for all. That was the great Civil War. After that, the nation's unrestrained but substantially law abiding competitive zeal led to the mechanization of industry, and the mechanization of defense . . . and war. Following came the modernization of social values that outlawed discrimination for the artificial reasons of race, gender, religion, age or physical condition.

But my how the storms raged. In the Philippines and Cuba against Spain in the late 1800's; then against the Philippines. In Europe, twice. In Asia: Korea and Viet Nam. In the Middle East: Iraq and Afghanistan.

Along the way, mechanization became anchored to technology, on little chips of mineral through which electric decisions pass by the trillions, "one or zero".

And the technology generated a giant new kelp bed. Runaway ideas. Sound bites. Deceits. News that is entertainment, a reach for audience and profits, not unfettered information or honest interpretation. The collective of skewed public utterances became a wild, uncontrollable infestation within a pool of good intent. And the system got clogged in divisive, partisan gridlock. In debates that poison.

Infestation of Manipulative
 Ideologues in the US Congress
Today unthinking people in America, chewing mightily of some narrow-minded ideology, claim a good and earnest President is a "destructive force" in America.

They seek to undermine their own Commander in Chief.

Patriotism in America has diminished. It has morphed into some narrow idea that my way is the only way, and he who is against me is against America. It is one step from treasonous. E unus pluribum, or somesuch.

That's how muddied, how polluted, the American social sea has become.

The Philippines is different.

Isolated within surrounding waters, its social seas have remained constant for centuries. Little pools of behavior, tribal or feudal, walled off from one another by the limits of the land. 114 dialects. Good Lord, it is the land of Babel, literally.

Two great storms brought American social values to the Philippines. The Philippine American War and World War II. The Philippines was forever tainted by imported ideas. And the mix was bad. It created a nation of schools, but little was taught there of free thought or fairness or ambition. Obedience was taught. It became a nation of laws, and a Constitution, where laws were routinely ignored by the powerful or imposed for personal gain. It became a nation of commerce, where bribes were the oil that lubricated production. And that production was for self, not union.

The placid sea of separate social waters, tribes on islands, became a roiling mess of self-interest morphed onto a bastard democratic process, a confused stew of a nation.

You are what you are, and you cannot go back. You cannot push America out of your history. You cannot easily lever Ego and self-interest out of the Filipino psyche.

You can only try to direct where you go from here.

How to create order out of chaos and teamwork out of individual play.

I was interested to see how the Libyan rebels started to move from a haphazard collection of undisciplined rage to an army of strategy and discipline. They knew what they had to do, but struggled to get there. The rebel leaders tried to organize into a government, failed, and started anew. The fighting forces began to collect under respected leaders, and think ahead. But remained fractured.

But some began to organize, think and act strategically rather than transactionally. With a determined focus. How to seal off Tripoli. How to take Tripoli.

Almost two months ago, Tripoli residents, young men with families, who opposed Qaddafi were identified and pulled away from the fighting to organize as a specialized army to be used specifically to conquer Tripoli.  The fighting rebel residents returned the other day to a home that welcomed them, because they were Tripoli, reborn. Thus, Libya tossed off the yoke of a tyrant.

The Philippines is by and large a lawless land that pretends otherwise. But it has a lawful president at the helm now. He reveals the amateur that he is from time to time, yes. What president does not, under the glare of everyday spotlights and automatic condemnation by those rubbed raw by his election victory? Or those sweating under the glare of his anti-corruption push? But President Aquino also reveals that he has principles and insights into how to build a modern nation.

  • Work earnestly to create a peace with Muslim rebels. Negotiate, don't lay down the law. Explain, listen, be sincere.

  • Pass an RH bill and other socially progressive legislation. Modernize national values.

  • Relentlessly pursue the corrupt and re-key the culture as honest and forthright.

  • Build a functioning military. A real navy. A real army. A real air force. Operate within a reasonable budget but move on a determined path. Move forward.

  • Build a constructive bridge to China. Set the contentious Spratleys aside for now and get a framework of cooperation established.

The other day, the Philippine Navy launched a new warship. The crew trained in the US and learned the ways of the ship quickly. Of course it did. This is a seagoing nation. A nation of people who know how to execute if given clear direction.

And in that little kernel of discipline and achievement, we can see a new way forward. Not a war-mongering Philippines, as Proud Pinoy would want. But a disciplined Philippines. A Philippines with forward looking goals and plans, with purposeful actions, not selfish, disorganized reactions. Acts aligned within a strategy. Not transactions conducted because they seemed good at the time.

A nation with an idea that it indeed can be one, and proud of who it is. Not for its boxers or singers, but for its discipline and principles.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

"The Joke's on Me"

I occasionally run into trouble with people who don't grasp my offbeat sense of humor or tendency to embellish an opinion with literary exaggeration. It is mostly with men that I have the problem. And one female blogger I cross paths with from time to time.

Indeed, sometimes it is my fault. The joke is lame or misses the mark altogether, or the literary stretch is so esoteric that only I can understand it.

Some Filipinos can bend minds with the best of them, of course. Observe the wit of Mariano's comments, beneath the acerbic style, and you know he sees around corners, for sure. Or take the many Filipino writers who express amazing impressions of the Philippines and its people. I recently enjoyed Miguel Syjuco's 2010 novel "Ilustrado" for its cross-cultural, cross generational study. Talk about layers upon layers. Not humor, but intrigue. Insight. And a whopping twist at the end. Hard to read. Fun to conquer.

But  so many times trying to exchange humor is like brains flying past one another with only a gust of wind to show for it.

 I haven't quite worked out the dynamic yet as to what is going on. It has little to do with schooling, I think, for some who don't get my eccentric expressions are well educated. Maybe their education is in technical subjects instead of the humanities, I don't know. Or perhaps they never caught George Carlin when he was in his prime, breaking every conventional thought process known to mankind. They have not gone through the essential mind-stretching process that most Americans experience.

I dunno. I see Jonathan Swift's "Gulliver's Travels" in National Bookstore, amongst a selection of Fairy Tales with Morals for kids age 4 to 8. I wonder how Filipinos would deal with Swift's "A Modest Proposal", in which he proposes that Ireland eat its babies as a way to cure the population/poverty problem that existed in Ireland at that time. And you thought young Artist Cruz stirred up trouble.

That poor Chinese satirist said the Philippines was a "nation of servants" and the reaction was much like Muslims react when their Prophet is the subject of cartoons. Absolutely shrieking at the culprit. He probably got death threats. Even though there is a basis to extend the mind far enough to declare the Philippines a nation of servants, as an exaggeration, for literary effect. But many minds can't get there from here. They won't even try stretching, or can't. They don't seem to understand that not every word written  is intended to be a literal truth. It is intended to have meaning.

It wouldn't be much of a big deal except it is the lack of out-of-the-box thinking that keeps the Philippines decades behind the rest of the modern world in just about everything. It is a reactive society, not a brainstorming, planning society. Not a stretching society.

I suspect that part of the difficulty is that Filipinos rarely read, outside what they have to do for school. How many Filipinos have read that wonderfully funny and dry-witted gem "The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency", set in Africa,  written by  Alexander McCall Smith? No, the title would turn them off, for no guy would carry about a book with that title and risk being ridiculed by his classmates. Even though the book was written by a man and is truly hilarious. And touching.

The finely honed risk of personal shame suppresses literary reach.

Or how about "The Spellman Files" by Lisa Lutz? Again the humor positively roars throughout the book, but sometimes it is strewn amongst the serious lines of a murder mystery. Would the humor be missed? Would the book never be picked up? It is, after all, a tad silly, and written by a girl. Not really macho.

How many watched John Cleese romp through the  grandly wild, double-entendre style of the BBC's "Fawlty Towers"?  Or if that is too ancient, how about Stephen Fry?

Did the "Life of Brian" not make it to the Philippines because of its mockery of the story of Jesus? Talk about stretching convention. The whole Monty Python series was ribald and  sacrilegious and funny as hell.

You have to have a warped mind, indeed a well-read mind, to catch a lot of the jokes in these and many other works. Read "The Devil's Dictionary" by Ambrose Bierce if you want some serious bite to your humor. Never mind that the 1800's commie-pinko dude trekked off to South America and was never heard from again.

Much of my enjoyment in writing comes from engaging in wordplay to get away from the constraints of conventional thinking, to express new perspectives and directions and to offer arguments that have a bit of kick to them. Also, frankly, I amuse myself with a nifty twist of words that pops out of the cranial container for reasons I can't explain.

I tend to think I am so obvious in my exaggerations that people won't take me seriously.

But they do.

What's a guy to do?

Write drivel? Say things the same humorless way Ilda would say them? Deny the enjoyment the human mind can get from humor? Or the satisfaction the eye-opening pop a finely crafted sentence can offer?

Well, here's the deal.

I'll keep writing what I write,
And you keep reading what you read,
If ne'er the twain of us shall meet,
We'll naught the twinkle of good humor greet.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

"One Giant Leap for Filipino Kids"

This is a fourth in a series of JoeAm's far out commentaries on the Philippine education system.


Article 1 rather impolitely, for blunt impact, accuses the Philippine government or being state sponsored child abusers for failing to encourage each child, through the education he receives, to be the best that he can be. Millions of kids are empty vessels or partially full urns. They ought to be overflowing with knowledge and capability. This article is found at:  State Sponsored Child Abuse

Article 2 proposes a striking new agenda that gets away from memorization of useless facts to the building of personal character, critical knowledge, and the will and way to succeed. The five disciplines that anchor classroom instruction are:

  • Mathematics
  • English and Chinese (Mandarin)
  • Discovery
  • Aspiration
  • Computers

You can read about the content of these five disciplines at: The Philippine's Reach is Too Shortto Grasp

Article 3 deals with the objection that "such dramatic conversion is impractical". It describes the  "Moon Model" upon which a new style of education is based, requiring: (1) national commitment, (2) problem solving and will to succeed, and (3) technology. It proposes to overcome the "impractical" barrier by moving stepwise toward the new program:

  • Establish "Mission Control", a central computer and internet based leadership and communications hub.
  • Convert 7 classrooms to the new program.
  • Give each student a tablet computer and hook the classroom up to Mission Control via the internet.
  • Start pushing teacher's guides, lessons and exams out to students and teachers from Mission Control; there are no paper text books or exams. There are no fees or uniform requirements.
  • Select the next 70 classrooms to convert the following year and get teachers trained up; then the next 700 classrooms for the following year.

This article can be found at: Sending Philippine Schools to the Moon


This is Article 4. It deals with the objection: "My God, the cost of all those computers and internet access!! No way, Dude!".

Let's start worst case, assuming full retail prices are paid and no educational discounts are received from vendors: Per classroom technology needs: 23 tablets, five PC's, one lap-top. Estimate 2 hours of internet access per day per tablet and laptop, and 10 per shared PC.

Please understand that I am exactly where you are on this. I'm learning as I gather these facts. I admit I have an agenda: to succeed. But not to try to fool anybody. I hope you will also use these facts, not to justify giving up, but to help figure out how improvement can be practically achieved.

Hardware cost:

  • Tablet: P10,000 times 23 divided by a useful life of 3 years gives an annual cost of P76,667.
  • PCs: P20,000 times 5 divided by 3 is P33,333 per year.
  • Laptop: P30,000 times 1 divided by 3 is P10,000 per year.
  • 29 Globe or Smart modems at P1,250 each with 3 year life: P36,250/3 = P12,100.

TOTAL HARDWARE COST per classroom per year is P132,100.

Internet time:

  • 24 computers times 2 hours per day times 270 days (9 months, 7 days per week) = 12, 960 hours, times 20 pesos per hour, or P259,200 for the year.
  • 5 computers times 10 hours per day times 225 (9 months, 6 days per week) = 11,250 hours, times 20 pesos per hour, or P225,000 for the year.

TOTAL INTERNET COST, retail, is P484,200 per classroom per year.

TOTAL TECHNOLOGY COST per classroom per year is P616,300.

Add in teacher expense and figure a nicely easy to remember P700,000 per classroom to run the program.

 It will cost P4.9 million per year to send the first 140 students on to a life rich with opportunity and promise.

Hard lesson and its implication: Internet time is costly on a retail basis. It is important to negotiate a student rate with Smart and Globe, noting that the schools are creating a vast customer base of internet hungry future customers for these two networks.

Mission control cost:

Oh, hell, plug it in at P150 million per year, increasing at 20% per year. I have not scoped that out yet. It gets spread out and is less relevant as the number of classrooms increase.


"Okay, Joe, you unbearable optimist, you overbearing problem solver. How are you going to get THAT kind of money, huh? Huh? P4.9 million per year for 140 kids? That's P35,000 per student, fer cripesake!"

Calm down, dude. I'm giving it to you straight. Worst case is retail. Indeed, those costs are large, but consider quality. Do your want your college-track kids to be Lexus or Yugo?  Right now they are tricycle.

Let's shine some statistical perspective on things.

  • The total DepEd budget in 2010 was P171 billion. DepEd requested a doubling of this amount for 2011 to get rid of the teacher and classroom backlogs and reach the international standard of 1 teacher for 35 students. The approved 2011 budget is 207 billion, up 36 billion or 21% from 2010.
  • There are expected to be 20.2 million public school students in 2011. The DepEd budget calculates out to P10,250 per student. That's all-in, teachers and everything.
  • Total number of high schools in 2010: 6,650. Total number of public high school students: 7.1 million. JoeAm estimates the number of high school classrooms  to be: 158,000.
  • The Alliance of Concerned teachers say shortages nationwide are as follows: 54,060 teachers, 4,538 principals, and 6,473 head teachers; also 61,343 classrooms. 
  • Textbooks in inventory for 2011: 92 million, of which 5.7 million are to be ordered in 2011.
  • 5,409 high schools have computer labs; 3,820 have internet service. (Many computers are broken, old and not working from JoeAm's personal experience.)
  • Fees collected by the schools are not known (by JoeAm) at this point. They are possibly significant and under a non-discriminatory policy of open, free education for all, would go away.
  • JoeAm estimates the number of college-bound students in grade 6 to 12 to be approximately 5 million, spread across 111,000 classrooms.

Given the backlog of teachers and classrooms, and the rampant birthing that continues to take place in the birth-control resistant Philippines, one must come away from these statistics with a certain sense of hopelessness if the current approach is the only approach considered: build classrooms and hire teachers and provide mediocre instruction to kids who cannot afford to escape to private schools.

So if I were in DepEd, I would look hard at a different approach. Applying the above cost numbers, we can calculate that the total cost to computerize all 111,000 college track classrooms at full retail cost is P77.7 billion.

Joe Am's Out of the Box Factoid #1: The entire purpose of centralized internet Moon Model is to reduce the demand for teachers and facilities. Lesson-presentation, testing and grade-issuance is predominantly electronic and entirely paperless.  Indeed, with home study and the Big Secret to be revealed in the last article here, students will be in the classroom only 50% of the time. Sometimes less. Indeed, the teacher to pupil ratio will go UP, and up dramatically, to 1:100 or more. The Philippines can toss out the international standard of 1:35 because it will be leading the world to new approaches in education by promoting an extraordinarily efficient use of teachers and facilities.

JoeAm's Out of the Box Factoid #2: We are dealing only with the 5 million students heading for college. However, similarly innovative programs and "resource light" instruction programs can be instituted for trade-track and elementary school students.

Funding of the early four years of the program should be easy to accommodate. The prospective gains are so huge it would be a crime (abusive) not to pursue the improvement. Slow the hiring of teachers. Slow the building of classrooms. Start focusing on quality of instruction and productive use of the classrooms that exist now.

Negotiating a 25% student discount for computer hardware and internet usage fees would reduce the full program cost substantially. Aim for an all-in program cost of P58 billion.

The scale of the program is entirely flexible. Although not the preferred approach, it could be formulated as an honors program only for the top students. Halve the student population accepted for the program and you bring the cost down to P29.5 billion. Imagine 2.5 million super smart, super skilled kids  on an ultimate path to excel in college and fill the most vital science, commerce and government jobs in the nation. About 350,000 graduates each and every year, able to match or exceed the public education skills of other modern nations.

I suppose the ultimate question is, where does the nation seek to go strategically? What is more important, guns, butter, roads or brains? The US made its billion dollar investments in a moon landing to build technological and defense supremacy. It succeeded and remade the world, introducing the High Tech era.

The 2011 Philippine national budget already places a high emphasis on education, but it still can't keep pace with the population-induced surge of enrollments. Are there places in the national budget that could be shifted to education to get more students into the high-tech curriculum? You decide based on the 2011 budget:

Billions of Pesos
 2011 Budget
      2012 Plan
Education, Museums, Etc
Other Social Services
Defense (domestic)
Roads, Communication
Public Order, Safety
Agriculture, Natural Resources
All Other Expenditures
Interest Payments

My own impression is that the Aquino budgets make good sense as to weighting and trends. Education already receives generous support. Other areas need funding, for sure. DepEd's request for a doubling of funding is impractical and reflects the discouraging notion that the only way to succeed is to throw money at the problem, without changing anything.

Given the budgeting realities, I would suggest a commitment to fund the Moon Model - or something like it - is not only advisable, it is essential, or the education system will most assuredly continue to be bogged down in mediocrity. Or outright collapse.

The cost of four years of the Moon Model, or around 7,777 classrooms, is a minor sneeze in a P300 billion program. Implement it and make an annual assessment of progress, costs and benefits. Annually determine how many new classrooms can be funded. Initially call it an "honors" program.

I would also work on building less resource-intensive elementary and trade-track programs using the disciplines learned in the honors program. That is, applying technology to reduce teaching and facilities load. The Big Secret yet to be revealed will present some ideas as to how this can be done.

As the moon astronauts could not anticipate the rapid computerization of the world, we cannot fully appreciate how Philippine education can be enhanced by a core program aimed at using thoroughly modern resources to generate thoroughly intelligent high school graduates.

Students who can, indeed, be the best that they can be.