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How to future-proof our schools

In her New York Times column entitled “Education needs a digital upgrade,” Virginia Hefferson  says that if you have a child entering grade school this fall, “chances are just that good that, in spite of anything you do, little Oliver or Abigail won’t end up a doctor or lawyer—or, indeed, anything else you’ve ever heard of.”

Hefferson made this comment in the course of her review of the book “Now You See It” written by Duke University professor Cathy N. Davidson who is, in the words of Hefferson, “one of the nation’s great digital minds.” (Davidson is co-director of the annual MacArthur Foundation Digital Media and Learning Competitions. She has written or edited about 20 books by now, most of them focused on technology and the digital age, as well as learning and cognition.)

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Davidson contends that “fully 65 percent of today’s grade school kids [in the US] may end up doing work that hasn’t been invented yet.”

Many modern education theorists contend that the basic education system we now have is  anachronistic, as its basic design was intended to meet the learning goals of the Industrial Revolution.

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Hefferson says that “during that period of titanic change, machines suddenly needed to run on time. Individual workers needed to willingly perform discrete operations as opposed to whole jobs. The industrial-era classroom, as a training ground for future factory workers, was retooled to teach tasks, obedience, hierarchy and schedules.”

Notice that in this context, “classroom” refers less to the physical structure than to the teachers and learners occupying it. That being the case, what does that make of our classrooms, particularly in our public school system?

In his most recent State of the Nation Address, President Aquino said that right now we need P130 billion just to “build all the classrooms this country needs.” He went on to say that  the envisioned public-private partnerships that he outlined in last year’s Sona  “will enable us to fund our plans for education. We will be able to expand our basic education cycle from seven years to the global standard of 12 years. We can build more classrooms, and we will fund service contracting under the Government Assistance to Students and Teachers in Private Education Program (GASTPE).”

But we obviously have so much to do before we can even think of having a digital-age ready education system. Before Filipino school children can even think of going online and expressing themselves and their ideas, they need to be able to read really well first.

The Department of Education’s Department Order 74, which makes Mother Tongue-Based Multilingual Education (MTBMLE) a core education policy, has provided us with the impetus to do just that. Implemented properly and in earnest, DO 74 enables our education system to systematically improve reading competency through all grade levels.

170+ Talaytayan, the country’s leading MLE advocate, and the Eggie Apostol Foundation are both very pleased to note that MLE training activities have begun in earnest. In fact, things are moving much faster than originally anticipated a year ago. Understandably this  has been causing some degree of apprehension among teachers.  That’s because learning new methodology and being given the responsibility of producing teaching and reading materials in the local language or L1 can be a daunting task for anyone.

As of this writing, experimental materials in more than 15 major Philippine language groups have been produced.  These materials of course still need to be edited, checked for naturalness and then tested in the classroom before mass printing, to ensure that the books are error free and culture-sensitive when they are printed or reproduced.

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Orientation meetings to discuss the DepEd’s new MLE policy are being held with parents and education stakeholders, as frequently as possible.

Invariably, the local communities have responded by identifying gifted writers and illustrators who can help in materials production and by using creative, low-cost, low-volume production methods  to make the reading and teaching materials available.

MLE efforts like these may seem very Third World and so far removed from the so-called Digital Age. Maybe so, but we need to go back to the basics if we want to qualitatively improve our school age children’s reading and comprehension skills, as this is the building block upon which all learning is based. More importantly, strengthening reading competency is the best way that we can prepare our children for a world were one’s ability to communicate and collaborate with other cultures is the key to success.

Hefferson underscores the sentiments of all education reform advocates when she said that “we must stop disparaging digital prowess just because some of us over 40 don’t happen to possess it. An institutional grudge match with the young can sabotage an entire culture.”

As Davidson put it: “Pundits may be asking if the Internet is bad for our children’s mental development, but the better question is whether the form of learning and knowledge-making we are instilling in our children is useful to their future.”

Dr. Ricky Nolasco ([email protected]) is the president of 170+ Talaytayan Inc. Butch Hernandez ([email protected]) is the executive director of the Eggie Apostol Foundation.

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