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Mechanical, overburdened education

/ 05:04 AM October 17, 2019

My complicated relationship with teaching has gotten curiouser and curiouser over the past few months, beginning last June when my father, 67, began teaching in the same college seminary where I teach. He graduated high school in St. Peter’s Seminary back in 1969. Now a retiree with more than 40 years’ experience in government service and two masters’ degrees from UP and Ateneo, he’s teaching political science to precollege students, K-to-12 grads who are transitioning to seminary life.

Teaching runs in our blood. Lola, Papa’s mother, was a teacher who became an assistant superintendent of Surigao del Norte. Three of five of my siblings each taught at one point in their lives. And while I have no Education units and am saddled with existential questions on what it means to teach, I hold literature and writing classes in one of the two universities in Butuan, and the homey college seminary where our uncle, Papa’s brother, serves as rector.

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I’ve been in school for more or less all my life, and I’ve been teaching for at least four years now. People have often asked me about how monotonous academic life is, claiming that the things we’re supposed to teach don’t really change school year after school year, and that the academe is an ivory tower detached from the “real world.”

I agree to some extent, but one of the things I’m learning as I teach side by side my own father is how reality is shaped so much by the way our educational system works — or doesn’t. Things were different in his time, he says. Things were different, too, in my time as a student. And things still seem to be changing now that I’m a teacher. I’d say the academe is not an ivory tower, and more a short stack of Jenga. It’s only as good as the base it stands on, and as sure and as tall as the players who pull the blocks.

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There does prevail a certain view of the education sector, especially after the implementation of K-to-12, as having its head in the clouds. The annual celebration of Teachers’ Day seems to set us apart all the more. This disconnectedness seems to be a running theme across many aspects of our educational system. A couple of weeks ago, the country celebrated Teachers’ Day on different days. Here in Butuan, we witnessed our local Department of Education (DepEd) hold one of its Teachers’ Day celebrations—in a mall.

And while there’s a conscious effort for a more connected “outcomes-based education” (OBE), the DepEd and the Commission on Higher Education (CHEd) seem to lean on realities far from home, or overtly Manila-centric, since the outcomes they expect are geared toward producing exportable, “globally competitive” graduates. One look at OBE and we see that we’re doing away with the idea of “students”—thinkers, in essence—and are now more in the business of producing cogs for a machine.

At the core of this disconnect, I believe, is the passive-aggressive approach the DepEd and CHEd have toward reading. In not so many words, the teacher’s task is to “make reading fun,” or to look for edgier ways to invite students to read—like watching movie adaptations, coming up with glittery scrapbooks and costumes, and/or making use of social media. It’s everything but reading and reading well.

In lieu of actual reading, what is cascaded in all levels are other rhetorical acrobatics and point systems in order to align with buzz words like “technology,” “globalization,” “connectivity,” “streamlining,” etc. This corresponds to the removal of Filipino in the curriculum; the popularity of beauty pageants of all sorts; grades based on Facebook “likes” and “shares”; no homework on weekends, and the like.

It’s a very mechanical view of schooling, with teachers these days not expected to be rigorous thinkers but rather “popular” celebrities in their localities who can somehow have the paperwork signed by their superiors. And government offices related to education seem to act as absentee parents trying to make up for their shortcomings by imposing an inordinate litany of paperwork and requirements on teachers, along with miles of red tape and tons of wasted time.

This should be easy to understand for those on top: Lessen the paperwork, increase our pay, and we’ll all have better teachers and learners.

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DLS Pineda finished his undergrad and master’s degrees in UP Diliman before moving to Agusan del Norte to teach. Tweet @dlspineda

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