Postscript to World Teachers’ Day
In his article titled “Elevating the Teaching Profession,” published in the Winter 2009 issue of The American Educator, US Education Secretary Arne Duncan said that people remember their favorite teachers decades later because “they light a lifelong curiosity, teaching students to solve problems like a scientist, write like a novelist, listen like a poet, see like an artist, observe like a journalist.”
Duncan argues that because they exert such a profound impact on student growth, “teachers should be amply compensated, fairly evaluated and supported by topnotch professional development. Yet teachers today are not accorded the respect they deserve—and teaching is still not treated as a profession on par with other highly skilled professions.”
If this sounds like something we have all heard before, that is because we have. The call to restore the dignity of the teaching profession has been repeatedly sounded by numerous entities from various sectors over the past five decades. For example, in the late 1950s when he was still a senator, John F. Kennedy made an impassioned plea to make the teaching profession a field of endeavor where “real opportunities for advancement await those whose contribution is of the highest caliber.”
The call has been consistently resonant, especially here in the Philippines, where the decline in the overall quality of education has been increasingly significant and proven extremely difficult to arrest. Education reform advocates both here and abroad may hold divergent views on priority areas, but the consensus remains that the road to a high performing education system is a long and unforgiving one.
Eggie Apostol herself felt as much when she spearheaded the launch of the Education Revolution in 2002. Dr. Maria Lim Ayuyao, president of the Eggie Apostol Foundation, has time and again called on all citizens to help bring back the glory and prestige that our communities used to accord to the “maestra.”
The Education Revolution draws a lot of impetus from the experiences in teacher formation that Chinit Rufino shared with us back then. She found it quite heartbreaking that many Filipino families believe teaching is a poor career choice. Dr. Evelyn Mejillano and Dr. Celia Adriano, both esteemed education professionals from the University of the Philippines, describe the situation with the patently condescending phrase: “Mag-titser ka na lang.” (Today Rufino is the program director of Mentoring the Mentors, an experiential and highly interactive teacher formation program that she developed for the Eggie Apostol Foundation together with Mejillano and Adriano and Lirio Ongpin Mapa. Mentoring the Mentors is presently being managed by the Marie Eugenie Institute.)
Education reform is a complex issue and there are so many approaches available. Fortunately it is now relatively easier to learn from the best.
Singapore, for instance, offers a wealth of information with regard to achieving and sustaining a high-performing education system. Year after year, Singapore has consistently occupied the top spot in the Trends in Mathematics and Science Studies (TIMSS) tests. The United States ranks somewhere in the middle, at around 15th place. Since it started participating in TIMSS, the Philippines has languished in the cellar.
What is Singapore’s secret? To be blunt about it, they don’t have any.
In their very detailed exposition titled “Beyond Singapore’s Mathematics Textbooks,” published in the Winter 2009 edition of The American Educator, Patsy Wang-Iverson, Perla Myers and Edmund Lim W.K. say that “Singapore’s academic strength lies in its national commitment to quality education and the overall coherence of its educational system.” They point out that “Singapore’s commitment to education begins with a first-class curriculum and the nurturing of educators at all levels.”
Singapore has a very fascinating national curriculum and educational structure, and we will talk about this in greater detail later. For now, let me focus on what Singapore does to make teaching an eminently viable career opportunity. First, a single entity—the National Institute of Education (NIE)—is the sole provider of teacher education. There are many viable options for individuals contemplating a teaching career, but the NIE has very stringent criteria. For instance, to be a candidate for one of several teacher education programs, one must belong to the top one-third of the graduating class in a university. The NIE and the Ministry of Education then interview candidates “to determine their suitability to work with children and youth.”
If the candidate successfully goes through this qualification process, the real work begins with a pre-service program that Iverson, Myers and Lim W.K. describe as designed to “help individuals begin their journey to become reflective teachers with an evidence-based practice.”
Becoming a teacher in Singapore is indeed a long and rigorous process, but the rewards far outweigh the sacrifice.
We cannot overemphasize the fact that our students can only be as good as the teachers who teach them. Duncan says, “Students cannot afford to wait another decade, while adults tinker with issues of teacher quality. It is time to stop tweaking the system. It’s time, once and for all, to make teaching the revered profession it should be.”
This, I submit, is how we should thank our teachers.
Butch Hernandez (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the executive director of the Eggie Apostol Foundation.