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Education reform in an innovation-based economy

Two years before the 2010 presidential hopefuls formally filed their certificates of candidacy, major education reform groups like the Philippine Business for Education, Synergeia Foundation, Ayala Foundation’s Social Action Center and Eggie Apostol Foundation started holding roundtable discussions and consultative meetings with education stakeholders. Our aim back then was to see if a meeting of minds could somehow be made toward crafting a simply articulated education agenda that any presidential candidate could integrate into his or her campaign platform.

In a statement drafted by Mario Taguiwalo (who has since passed) on May 25, 2008, we said: “Despite the many who are able to secure good and satisfying education, we have brought attention to the many more who remain mired in lifelong poor educational outcomes due to no schooling or to insufficient schooling or to bad schooling. Our education system is broken and it has been broken for most of our people for a long time.

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“We have done right to raise education reform as an effort demanding sustained commitment and effort by entire communities at local and national levels. And many concerned groups and individuals are making education reforms the focus of their civic action, public discourse, cause-oriented activism and social mobilization.

“But there is still too much wrong, bad and harmful education content being propagated in our country’s learning systems. Some are factually and scientifically wrong; others offer misguided or prejudiced views; yet other teachings make people helpless rather than empowered, confused rather than enlightened, weaker rather than stronger. Many education enterprises in both public and private sectors are still primarily moneymaking operations selling diplomas or credentials unrelated or irrelevant to authentic educational formation or delivery of education with lifelong value.

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“We are still too often distracted from the urgent tasks of education reforms. Scandals, controversies, disputes, fear of change, protection of vested interests still divide, confuse and alienate us. Too much of the education enterprise, particularly our government’s education agencies and the professional education bureaucracy, are poisoned by politics of the worst kind—self-serving, corrupt, shortsighted, expedient, and driven by patronage. Too many decisions in appointments, funding and policies are still made on the basis of what they do for politicians rather than what they do for education outcomes.”

President Aquino heeded the call and made the 10-Point Education Reform Agenda the core of his presidential campaign. Philippine education has indeed moved forward during his administration, despite having to navigate through competing social, political and economic forces, or, as Taguiwalo described it, “like a motley flotilla of frail boats and bancas sailing through a raging typhoon.”

However, many of the points that we raised in the 2008 Education Reform statement still ring true today, even with the passage of reform-driven education legislation like the K-to-12 Law, the Kindergarten Law and the Ladderized Education Act.

This means that it is time once again for education stakeholders to revisit their core advocacies through an education summit. There’s one that will be held on May 14 at the FUSE building on Roxas Boulevard, Manila. The hopeful aim, as before, is to enable presidential candidates to see their way clear to a no-nonsense education agenda.

The tentative talking points for the May 2015 education summit are: the institution of a national integrated career examination to help Grade 10 students and out-of-school youth in their career choices; the reactivation of the National Coordinating Council for Education; the implementation of ladderized education and an equivalency system; and possible amendments to the Higher Education Act of 1994 to enhance the Commission on Higher Education’s responsiveness to emerging global higher-education trends in today’s innovation-based economy.

Such a trend is discussed in a research paper from the Brookings Institution titled “Building an Innovation-Based Economy” and written by Darrel M. West, Allan Friedman and Walter Valdivia. The authors cite leveraging digital technology “to engage young people, personalize learning, improve learning for nontraditional students, facilitate social networking and collaboration, and provide new platforms for learning through interactive processes.”

They add: “Many schools remain structured around a schedule based on a 19th-century agrarian society and a 20th-century industrial model, and do not address the needs of a 21st-century information-based economy.”

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The authors advocate a mastery-based approach, which in itself is nothing new. In fact, mastery is an explicit objective of any education system. What is new is that through tech-driven distance learning, “students who demonstrate mastery of educational materials are allowed to advance in virtual instruction based on their interest and ability.”

Contrast this with the “time-based” approaches many schools still use to this day, which assume that if students have enough face-time with instructors on a particular topic, most of them will meet minimum performance standards at the end of the course. Wells, Friedman and Valdivia argue that this logic is flawed at both ends of the education spectrum: “There are some students who need more time to master specific subjects and there are others who can learn the material in a shorter period of time.”

Butch Hernandez ([email protected]) is the executive director of the Eggie Apostol Foundation and education lead for talent development at the IT & Business Process Association of the Philippines.

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TAGS: Ayala Foundation, education, Education reform, Eggie Apostol Foundation, K to 12, Kindergarten Law, Ladderized Education Act, Philippine Business for Education, Social Action Center, Synergeia Foundation
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