Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Uyboco: The problem with education (Part 1)

Freethinking Me

AROUND two weeks ago, a national paper reported that one of our senators was alarmed at the “deteriorating” state of our education and competency of our teachers, citing declining percentages of graduates this year versus previous years, as well as passers of the Licensure Examination for Teachers (LET) -- all this despite pouring half a trillion pesos into the education budget. He then concluded that the relatively new K to 12 program must be fixed and executed properly.

I do agree that K to 12 needs proper execution, and a proper burial afterwards.

The problem with education (and I use it here to mean our system of schooling) is not the lack of funds or its mismanagement, not the lack of classrooms or textbooks, not poor teacher training, nor any kind of “fixing” to the curriculum. The problem, at its very core, is this -- it is the wrong tool for the job.

Remember that our system of education was inherited from the American system of compulsory public schooling, which in turn traces its roots to the military state of Prussia -- whose chief aim was to “to produce mediocre intellects, to hamstring the inner life, to deny students appreciable leadership skills, and to ensure docile and incomplete citizens — all in order to render the populace ‘manageable.’”

This system worked very well at that time because it was during the Industrial Revolution and having docile and manageable workers was very good for factories which needed thousands of workers performing routine, boring and robotic tasks. You wouldn’t want an assembly line worker getting creative with his work and producing something different every time, would you?

Another factor at work was access to information at that time was quite limited so there was a need for “learned” teachers to be the “fount of knowledge” for the students. Universities became deep repositories of information depending on their library collection and roster of professors.

But it has been over a hundred years since that time. We now have robots dominating factories and even consumer-grade robots cleaning swimming pools or houses, cooking, or serving coffee. The internet has opened up vast repositories of information to anyone interested to look them up. The cellphone has become a tool with multiple applications that you can use to navigate, to use as a calculator, a flashlight, a gaming device, a camera, to send messages, to read books, to find a restaurant, to order stuff, oh and yes, you can also use it to talk to other people over long distances.

All these changes have happened, and yet we are still stuck with an educational system designed to produce factory workers and employees. We are still obsessed with standardized tests when it has become more and more evident that people aren’t standard at all. In fact, look at the entrepreneurs and the innovators of society -- a lot of them are your bottom-of-the-class students, “problem” students or even dropouts. They don’t fit well into a system designed to stifle their originality.

No, the educational system doesn’t need fixing. A hammer is designed to drive nails into wood, and it is a fine tool for doing so when you have a handful of nails. But now what you hold in your hand are screws, and no amount of “fixing” will turn the hammer into a screwdriver. You need to throw it away and get the proper tool.

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