Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Classroom shortage

This was my column yesterday. Sorry for the late post.

The opening of the school year happens in two weeks’ time. We all know this because the department stores and everyone else who stand to profit from this annual event have been reminding us in many subtle and not-so-subtle ways. Not that we need reminding; it is an annual event that comes regularly, pretty much like clockwork. Whether we like it or not, kids need to go back to school. The only thing that is variable is the specific date in June when it happens. This year it falls on June 11.

I do not mean to sound callous but the opening of the school year and the expenses that come with it are expected. It is not an emergency. It is not something that happens unexpectedly.

Thus, just like child delivery, parents have had time to prepare for it. I don’t understand parents, who whine on public television about how unprepared they are to deal with the financial requirements that go into paying tuition, uniforms, school supplies, and other miscellaneous expenses.

I can understand the occasional uproar over tuition increases although running to the media to complain is hardly the solution. Schools are required to consult parents before imposing any tuition hike and I know that most schools do conduct meetings with parents or their representatives before they implement any adjustment. The problem is, not many parents actually bother to attend Parents-Teachers Association meetings, or get involved in school activities. If parents want to have a say on the issue of fee increases, there is a more logical and more productive way of doing it. They can form stronger lobby groups and in general foster more collaborative relationships with school authorities.

Unfortunately, educating our children is very often a task that many think is the exclusive domain and responsibility of government and the school authorities. Parents, media, and other social organizations forget that it is supposed to be a collaborative effort. And this problem is very painfully brought to the fore every single time the opening of classes comes around, which is when the annual blamestorming, the traditional fingerpointing and caterwauling happen.

So next week, let’s all brace ourselves for the annual national torture of being told just how inadequately unprepared we are as a country to provide quality education to our kids. The sad part is that once classes have started, the furor eventually dies down and all the problems seem to simply disappear as if they never existed in the first place. Until the next opening of the school year happens, in which case, we go full circle and go through the same exercise all over again.

It is almost enough to make one wonder if we truly are serious about solving the perennial problems plaguing the educational system.
There are many problems that beset our educational system, but three easily come to mind during this time of the year, mainly because these are the ones that are given more media mileage. These are the shortages in classrooms, teachers, and textbooks. In this column we will discuss the most controversial which is the classroom shortage.

Every June, the media, the politicians, the civic leaders, the parents and the school children caterwaul about it. In fact last year, there was this whole ludicrous public discourse over the President’s display of her legendary temper over then Department of Education officer-in-charge Fe Hidalgo’s supposed fudging of the numbers. If we recall, the President gave Hidalgo a public dressing down for not sticking to the Malacañang formula which supposedly licked the problem of classroom shortage by applying a 100- students-per-classroom ratio instead of the usual 50 students per classroom.

That particular incident struck me as not only counterproductive, but really tragic because it could have been a great springboard for a more enlightened discussion of more creative approaches to solving the problem of classroom shortages. But as usual, we got engrossed on the drama and the controversy.

Of course, we have a shortage of classrooms in this country! We have a high population growth and our social infrastructure can’t cope with the population growth. (An interesting digression: Since the rich Catholic Church also happens to be in the education business—many Catholic schools are ran by dioceses—one would think that they would go the extra mile by offering free or at least greatly subsidized quality education since they are the ones who are adamantly against population control in the first place. But no, the Catholic Church is in denial about the incumbent accountabilities attached to its various advocacies.)

Anyway. As I was saying, we all know we have a shortage of classroom. But then again, since we seem to make do with whatever classrooms we have during the whole year, one wonders if the problem is really that significant in terms of its impact on learning and the educational system. I don’t think so.

As a teacher, I do conduct my classes inside a classroom but I do so only because my classes happen at night. Can I conduct my classes just as effectively—or perhaps even more productively—outside of a classroom? Of course. I conduct a lot of high impact outward bound training programs outside of training rooms. But even while holding classes inside classrooms, we try so hard to bring the discussion and the content outside of the four walls of the classroom. We make sure that the cultural, social, even anthropological context are right. In other words, the learning objective is always to extend the walls of the classroom outside to the real world, to establish a balance between theory and application.

Looking back, my most powerful learning experiences as a student involved teachers who prepared us for lifelong learning, teachers who had a knack for applying theoretical concepts to the real world. I remember a biology teacher in high school, who would regularly bring us outside to study real plants and animals, who would give us assignments that allowed us to regularly explore, apply, implement.

Today, one of the most successful high schools in the country (located in Bohol) employs a different educational system— one that encourages their high school students to spend no more than a few hours each day inside a classroom. Instead, they are taught to conduct studies, perform experiments, read, interact—all of which happen outside the classroom.

I am not saying all these as a means of justifying the classroom shortage. Nor am I saying that we should not fix the problem. We should build more classrooms. And it should be a task that should be shared by everyone.

But there are many ways to address the problem and having a shortage of classrooms is not and should not be a hindrance to learning. In fact, it can be a blessing in disguise if only teachers and parents are creative enough.

But I guess that is really where the problem is. Our problem is that we don’t have enough teachers who are competent enough to go beyond the traditional methods of teaching. It is easier to just complain and whine and cast the blame somewhere else instead of being part of the solutions.

2 comments:

goin2college said...

The idea of a hands on high school sounds really cool. I wish my school was like that.

Miss F said...

Hi there. Not only teachers, parents too. Nowadays, parents are informed about the Brigada Eskwela (this campaign to clean classrooms before school starts) - they just show up on the first day (para makapirma) but very very few actually participate in the actual cleaning. This is not an argument for cleaning classrooms, my point is that:

Parents want to give their children a good education so their kids will be successful- but they are not too keen on making real effort to make it work. Perhaps they just wanna leave all the work to the government or the teachers.

As for teachers, a big factor to consider is- what motivates someone who's taking up BS Education in college? It's probably not love of learning or desire to impart knowledge to the new generation. Most people nowadays think very low of teachers due to the low salary (at least in the Philippines). so it is the unambitious ones who take it up- those who probably don't have the passion or the calling.The ones in the provinces- whose parents told them, "mahirap mg-paaral ngayon, wag ka na magdoktor, mag-teacher ka na lng"

Seriously, you can't believe the quality of teachers in public schools nowadays. History teachers who can't locate Cambodia in the map! English teachers with atrocious grammar! teachers who just sell tocino and make the students copy on the blackboard all day long!