Saturday, September 22, 2018

Uyboco: The Basics (Part 2)

Freethinking Me

JUST how basic is “basic education?”

While people may complain about incompetent teachers, lack of physical facilities, too much homework, and so on as some of the problems of basic education, I think the more fundamental question is what exactly do we mean by “basic” and who determines what those basics are, and how do we know that they are really that?

One of my readers reacted to what I previously wrote in a previous article, Teaching Too Much: “You...included subjects like geography, mathematics and some science subjects in the trivia category. How can young people make sense of the world when they don’t even know basic geography? Climate change, which is an existential threat to us all, is difficult to comprehend if you don’t have some scientific awareness. Understanding The Scientific Method is also very useful if you need to deal with fake news etc.”

My response was that I didn’t say that the subjects themselves are trivial but that a lot of the material presented in them are trivial to those not interested in them. And just who decides what the “basics” of geography are? What do we have to teach about geography that people cannot absolutely live without? Is memorizing the capitals of countries important? How about knowing what countries are in what continent? Is that essential for survival? Can a kid not make sense of the world if he doesn’t know that Uganda is in Africa?

Speaking of geography, how about teaching kids how to navigate and go around their own town or city? I don’t know of any school which teaches this extensively although this seems to me a more useful and basic geographical skill than knowing what a latitude and longitude are. Put a kid down in the middle of San Pedro Street. Even if he memorizes all the places of the countries in the world map and all the regions and their provinces in the Philippine map, he’ll have a big problem if he doesn’t know enough to make his own way home. At that moment, everything he might have learned in school about geography would be trivial, wouldn’t you agree?

You can take any subject in the supposedly basic curriculum and I can ask the same kind of questions for every one of them. But I suppose the heart of my objection is this -- that there is no set of basics that will apply to everybody. What is basic depends a lot on what the child wants in a particular situation.

For example, a nine-year-old kid playing video games suddenly gets interested in programming his own games. So of course now, he has to learn how to read and he has to learn some elementary programming structures like if-then statements, loops, functions, and so on. That will pretty much be basic for him at that point and he would be pretty motivated to learn all of those.

But what do we do at school?

“Listen, kid, it’s all well and good that you want to learn how to do all those things, but right now, you have to sit your butt down on that chair first and listen to your teacher discuss how to multiply fractions, and then your science teacher will come in to discuss the different kinds of rocks, and then your music teacher teach you how to read notes in the F-clef, and then your Filipino teacher will tell you about pandiwa and pang-abay and then your English teacher will discuss gerunds and infinitives...”

The typical kid’s response?


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