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Unexplored causes of the Pisa debacle

/ 04:20 AM January 05, 2020

After a conference with principals and teachers, they came to the conclusion that what was needed for education to improve was 1) give teachers time to teach; 2) give the students time to learn; and 3) improve the textbooks.” This was from Solita Collas-Monsod’s column, “What’s needed for education to improve?” (12/7/19).

The scenario was very ‘80s. The most important factor that did not come out from that teacher’s conference to improve education was the dwindling number of good teachers. There have been many studies showing that positive education outcomes are almost solely predicated on the availability of quality teachers. Fr. Bienvenido Nebres’ observation that “math performance of K-to-12 graduates today is worse than those graduates of the past” is a testimony to this theory. In the two or three decades after the World War II, the pool of would-be teachers came from a steady supply of people whose career options remained unchanged. Then, in the following decades came computerization, technological breakthroughs (especially in communication, renewable energy, climate mitigation), business process outsourcing (call centers), among many others. These and other paths as a result of globalization opened up many other career options for potential teachers. The computer industry alone became a magnet for would-be math teachers. And why not?  It’s the same number of required years of university studies (even less), with the option to work from home, and best of all, far bigger earnings.

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Math teachers? That means membership in the most marginalized profession (in the Philippines, that is) and poverty for the rest of your life. And where are the English teachers? Try the call centers. What else is new today for teachers? Caregiving and domestic help around the world. In Canada, domestic work can give you landed immigrant status after only two years. So why not, right?What is the common thread among these teachers or would-be teachers? Better pay, of course.

Another unexpected competition as a career option for would-be teachers is nursing. While nursing has always been there, globalization and demographics have changed the game. Demand for Filipino nurses abroad has never been as high as it is today, but not so much for teachers. Again, better pay and migration are the driving forces of this new path. The latest pay increases for nurses is proof of this. Pay incentives for teachers, however, have not kept up.

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While we are talking about the diminished number of good teachers, the recent cry for 10,000 more teachers may be symptomatic of a bigger supply crisis. Could a bunch of highly dedicated professionals overcome the flight of the very best to other professions? The “dedicated” teacher of old forced to adapt to today’s teaching paradigm is not an efficient use of teachers’ cognitive energy. Coaching sports, leading a choir, church work or decorating a classroom will not improve reading or math scores. And extracurricular activities are best handled by volunteer parents.

Dynamism and empathy are better measures of a good teacher today. Teaching and textbooks should not define today’s teaching (what I said earlier as very ‘80s), or it becomes education at its most stifling. Try critical thinking, creativity, communication and collaboration (the 4 Cs ).  Also, today’s students need a lot of emotional support. In my 10 years in elementary and high school, I do not recall a single teacher ever asking me: “How are you today”?

We can go on and on with the inadequacies of classroom methodology and teacher training, but for now, start paying teachers a living wage, or it’s doomsday worse than our 79 out of 79 Pisa (Programme for International Student Assessment) ranking.

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Edwin de Leon, M.Ed. ([email protected] ) is a retired science teacher and high school principal.

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TAGS: career options for teachers, Commentary, Edwin de Leon, Pisa, reading comprehension, Teachers
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