Monday, December 18, 2017
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Commentary

Yes, teachers can make a difference

When Wendy Kopp—who founded Teach for America (TFA) in 1989 after proposing it as her undergraduate senior thesis at Princeton—was the luncheon guest of the Makati Business Club and the Management Association of the Philippines, she did not need to delve into any educational philosophy. All she needed to do was share her personal journey.

In her senior year in college, Kopp observed with a degree of discomfort that the “me” generation she belonged to was being aggressively recruited to work in large business corporations. She wondered about it and thought out loud: Do all of us really just want to go to Wall Street? Is that all we want out of life? Why was there no aggressive campaign for the field of education (which, she felt, was a neglected area)?

Kopp’s thesis developed a plan to create an elite teacher corps to address educational inequity in the United States, with a firm commitment to teach two years in a public school. Upon seeing her proposal and the need for a $25-million subsidy, she was asked how she would raise that. Kopp did not know how, and all she could think of was the philanthropist Ross Perot, her fellow Texan. For the first year, TFA had 489 teacher-applicants; in 2013, there were 57,000 applicants from among the top college graduates for 6,200 faculty positions.

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Twenty-three years later, the concept has grown into a global network in 26 countries, under the Teach for All umbrella, of which Kopp is CEO and cofounder. The most recent partner-countries are Bangladesh (for 2014 teacher placements) and the Philippines, Japan, Nepal, Mexico, and New Zealand (for 2013 teacher placements).

Kopp cited three lessons that continue to be affirmed from the experience: one, that there are remarkable similarities in the nature of educational inequity problems the world over, so solutions may be shared; two, that, yes, transformational change is possible and teachers can make a difference; and three, transformational leadership is at the core of the solution toward excellent education for all.

For those of us in the audience impatient to see immediate reforms in the sector, it was initially discouraging to be reminded that initiatives such as TFA and Teach for the Philippines (TFP, which is just taking off in June) will undeniably have an impact, but in and for the long term. But indeed, if there is no other way, when to begin but now?

TFP and its inaugural cohort of 54 fellows now training at the Ateneo Summer Institute for their Quezon City public school assignments, along with the new K to 12 Law that gives teeth to ongoing reforms by the Department of Education and the apparent growing consciousness and vigilance among the citizenry for a responsible government, buoy our hopes.

And lest I had given the impression that the fellows are only from Metro Manila, there are four who deserve special mention: Angel Maire Ysik of Sultan Kudarat State University-Access Campus; Katherine Bonsato, Bicol University College of Education; Kit DG Q. Pabiona, West Visayas State University; and Ryan Anthony Bestre, Benguet State University. Bestre has had an initial reality check in a preview of challenges he and his colleagues face: “emerging readers, parents who may not be as invested in their kid’s education as you would like them to be, and issues with bureaucracy.”

TFP cofounder Lizzie Zobel narrated a light and revealing moment at the Ateneo workshop. The elders witnessed professor and sociologist Randy David being mobbed by the fellows as though he were a rock star, even without his motorcycle—and felt much reassurance. They called it the “Revenge of the Geeks.”

* * *

How can anyone resist an invitation as unorthodox as this to a conference on children’s literature for parents, teachers, librarians, and creators and lovers of children’s books?

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The invitation reads: “Once upon a time, in an unassailable fort, an invisible kingdom, a secret galaxy, lived a child—you. You were a rebel, a fairy, an alien. … This summer, you will turn the pages of a good children’s book, and find yourself in that extraordinary place you once left behind.”

The “NBDB (National Book Development Board) Little Lit Festival: A Coming of Age” is the first conference in partnership with the Museo Pambata that will focus on children’s content, a vital aspect of the book publishing industry. It will be held on May 30-31 at the Museo Pambata on Roxas Boulevard corner South Drive in Manila.

The conference will bring together sectors interested in quality content for children. Among the confirmed speakers are Ken Spillman from Australia of the Jake series, Candy Gourlay, London-based author of “Tall Story,” Christopher Cheng, Australia-based creator of picture books, Myra Garces Bacsal, clinical psychologist and lecturer at Singapore’s National Institute of Education, and Adam Jimenez and Felicia Low-Jimenez, coauthors of “Sherlock Sam.”

The festival fee is P1,500 and covers lunch, snacks, and a festival kit. For inquiries, contact Nalyn C. Castillo of Museo Pambata at 5360595 or Camille V. Dela Rosa of NBDB at 5706198 local 809.

Neni Sta. Romana Cruz (nenisrcruz@gmail.com) is chair of the National Book Development Board, a trustee of Teach for the Philippines, and a member of the Eggie Apostol Foundation.

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TAGS: Commentary, education, Neni Sta. Romana Cruz, opinion, Teachers, Wendy Kopp
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