Sunday, March 1, 2015

Challenges in Education in an Integrated School

San Vicente IS to the World Series
 Challenges in Education in an Integrated School
An Interview with Miss Beatriz R Riotoc
Principal, San Vicente Ilocos Sur Integrated School

Dr Abe V Rotor
In defining a principal in our time, some sixty years ago, he was strict, in fact very strict, the mere mention of his name, made an erring pupil virtually sweat out of fear. For the word by itself was associated with strict discipline. He was the like of Mr. Sebastian Ruelos, our principal then, who believed that the school is but a step away from home, and the teachers are the alter ego of parents.  It was not unusual to see him carrying a symbolic stick in his daily routine on the campus. 
San Vicente Integrated School today as it was during my time some sixty years ago - same building, same playground. Where has education changed and gone? One can only surmise what lies ahead of these school children. It is the duty of us, we who have spent the formative years of our lives in this school, to guide our younger brothers and sisters, our children, and grand children.     

The picture of a principal has changed in many ways since then.  She is the like of Miss Beatriz Retoria Riotoc today.  She represents the women dominated field of education, earning her way to the top with a deep commitment to the teaching profession as a vocation to the point of considering teaching as a ministry. It is on this level that one like her is committed to a personal educational philosophy. 

But to understand ones philosophy in life and career, you must draw out the threads from a ball of years-long experience, so to speak, about the person. It is not an easy diagnostic research, since many teachers, particularly the younger ones have yet to develop a particular philosophy clearly their own. Educators call this eclectic, a transitional kind of philosophy, characterized by the adoption of various methodologies - personal and adapted – with the end in view of attaining a particular objective or goal. 
An integrated school has the elementary and secondary levels combined into a continuous system; whereas, in the conventional system, elementary and high school are separate entities.  Under the new curriculum (K to 12), San Vicente Integrated School presently has 548 pupils in the elementary (Kinder to Grade 6) and 247 in the secondary (Grade 7 to 14), assigned to 35 teachers, 24 in the elementary and 11 in the secondary.   

On the other hand, there are teachers identified as perrenialists or authoritarian in their field of expertise and methodologies. But with the expanding fields of education more and more teachers are pursuing other philosophies such as realism, idealism, and existentialism. 

Miss Riotoc, for one, is a realist, and an idealist as well. This can be traced to her background having been raised in a rural community, by a close-knit family where work, education and discipline are primordial values. She is a product of private and religious institutions (St. Paul College of Ilocos Sur and St Louis University in Baguio), and a state university (University of Northern Philippines, where she finished a master’s degree in education). As a homegrown model in her teaching career in lineage, culture, language and education, it is not difficult for teachers and pupils under her care to adjust to real life situations.  

But times have changed and change is accelerating. Miss Riotoc may be traditional, if you call it that way, if you are living in the city where conditions are not only changing fast but transient in many ways, what with students flocking in from various regions and classrooms are not getting bigger, and students' diminishing attention to lessons and incidence of breakdown in discipline as real problems reminiscent of the 1987 movie, The Principal.

The movie was a big hit because the plot depicts the eroding discipline in many school campuses in the US.  A high school principal played by a tough guy, James Belushi, slugged it out with the hardened school gang members disturbing the peace on the campus. He won their respect at the end. The happy ending upholds the school’s principle and thrust in education given the worst scenario.  

We don’t find such scenario in our schools, much less in the countryside. Not to the extent as depicted in the movie. The epilogue leaves an important lesson to school authorities.  It poses a great challenge to a school principal like Miss Riotoc as disciplinarian, catalyst to learning, vanguard, guardian, friend - roles perhaps no other profession can claim to be as many, as urgent and as vital. 

Education and History

Things have changed. "Spare the rod and spoil the child," has taken a more lenient course. "Dali mas palo, Señor," became a butt of expression since the end of the Spanish era which lasted for nearly four centuries. Physical punishment faded out with the Thomasites - American teachers whose aim was to gain allegiance of Filipinos to a new master, who dominated us for fifty long years as a Commonwealth of the US.  

Then the Second World War broke, and the world was left in ruins.   

The colonial masters had nothing left to exploit, the era of colonization came to an end, only to give way to a New World order, even as new nations proudly raised their own flag of nationalism, the Philippines among the first. The neophyte nations found themselves in internal conflict, while nations needed to align themselves with stronger ones.  Soon the world found itself divided.  

The Cold War began, polarizing virtually all nations into two warring ideologies - democracy led by the United States on one side, and socialism led by the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics or USSR, on the other. 

The two superpowers were mortal enemies bent to destroy each other, together with their respective allies. A Third World War was a Damocles Sword ready to fall with the passing of each day for a suspenseful period of nearly half a century.   

Then in 1989, the world entered into a Neo-Renaissance. The Cold War ended with the dissolution of USSR, the re-unification of Germany, so with North and South Vietnam. China had opened its door to the world, and became a laboratory to test the compatibility the two conflicting ideologies - socialism and capitalism. Other close societies followed.  Modern communication and transportation shrunk the world, so to speak, into a Global Village. All over the world, exodus to cities created complex urban centers, while new frontiers of settlement and business opened.  The world’s population began to increase in geometric progression. Homogenization began to erase the boundaries of culture, politics, religion, race, education, and practically all institutions of society – and progressively continue on.  

We have embarked into Postmodernism, which our world never before experienced, or dreamed of, which sociologists aptly define as "living tomorrow today." We are living in a fast changing world, swift and chartless.  Our world and Humanity will never be the same again. 
So, where does education come in?  The task is gargantuan that no field or level of education can afford to be passive. Education is addressed to all, in all walks of life, because we are all teachers in our own rights,    

A good friend of mine compared an educator with a conductor of an orchestra.  He said, “A school principal is like a composer-conductor of a full orchestra cum audience in a big hall. To prepare for such an event, first of all she must be an efficient teacher herself. She must be a good organizer and administrator.  She is an expert, a master teacher by educational attainment, experience and accomplishment. With these qualifications, she must develop the teachers in her school to become efficient and effective as well. Each one must gain mastery and confidence.  She must know her role. The school becomes the hall.  The audience is composed of schoolchildren, parents, and members of the community. Here comes the big event.  With confidence and precision the baton master conducts the orchestra and play beautifully and harmoniously the music of teaching and learning with the hall reverberating with awe and approval.”   

What then are the areas of expertise a teacher must develop and master? Miss Riotoc places top importance to faculty development in these fields: 

  • Subject Matter Expertise, mastery of the subject 
  • Instructional Expertise, efficiency in methodology and delivery 
  • Communications Expertise, two-way process between teacher and students 
  • Classroom Management expertise, orderliness and discipline  
  • Diagnostic Expertise, sensitive to signs and symptoms attendant to learning
  • Relational Expertise, good relationship, cordial and friendly.

We admit that there are many things that cannot be learned – and even if we do, the more we are led to wonder, puzzled yet humbled by the enormity and magnificence of the world we live in. It is like going up a mountain.  The higher you go, the wider and farther your eyes can see but cannot decipher.

Where does education start, and where does it end? The Binhi principle gives a symbolic explanation.  The teacher is the biblical Sower (Parable of the Sower). She sows the seed of knowledge, and provides it with all the necessary conditions for its growth and development so that it will bring in bountiful harvest. In another analogy, the teacher is the lamp holder in the night.  She holds it proudly and high this lamp of knowledge, and passes its light onto the waiting lamps of others.  They too, shall pass on the light until the world is illuminated. The light to the world is the collective light of knowledge of humanity, adapting Rizal's concept of education as the source of enlightenment and freedom.
Where does education start and end?

“Give man a fish, he eats for a day.
Teach him how to fish; he gets fish for a lifetime.”
                                                      - Old Chinese proverb

This old Chinese proverb illustrates the value of education.  There are however many interpretations and far-reaching implications.  Here the student is taught critical thinking, research, multi-disciplinary and holistic learning, ethico-morals, literature (The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway), religion (The Shoes of the Fisherman), history, biology, ecology, and other fields of endeavor.

Here are ten selected answers of students who participated in the discussion: 
1.    Dole out is a palliative measure. It breeds mendicancy.
2.    Development of skill in fishing is important with science and technology.
3.    Fishing is big business and industry, but who are getting rich?
4.    Observe fishing laws, we will deplete our lakes and oceans.
5.    Man as hunter has not changed. He still is - is a modern day hunter.
6.    Among the marginalized sectors of society are the fisher folks, yet the sea is vast and deep, rivers and lakes are just around.
7.    Fish only what you need, conserve.
8.    “Tragedy of the commons” in free-for-all fishing, like mob.
9.    Give to the poor, elderly, and the sick, (Matthew 25)
10. Eat fish; you will live healthy and long.

With a given topic, education opens many doors to learning as shown in these ten answers. Education is endless, there is always something new to discover, even by serendipity. It leads us to all parts of the earth. On the other hand, it teaches us humility. Even a genius like Albert Einstein, Man of the Last Century, humbly responded when asked what else he didn’t know, “I know only a little about the atom, God knows everything else.”

Current Issues that Challenge a Teacher 

However good a teacher is, or any leader for that matter, she is aware that these are but general statements of truth and wisdom. They are seldom scrutinized or raised in debates. And yet in the very core of these motherhood statements lie vital issues that now and then creep in surreptitiously in the middle of the night and disturb the good sleep of  teachers, educators, scholars, governments .Take these cases.
  • How can social media enhance education? Can e-learning suffice and not require one to go to school? 
  • There is an explosion of knowledge, but how much can we absorb? How can we separate the grain from the chaff from a growing heap of knowledge?  Which leads us to a coined word, infollution. (AVR). 
  • Infollution or Information Pollution – how can we clean up the garbage in cyberspace, sanitize learning before it contaminates and spreads into epidemic? 
  • Whatever happened to the family where the principle of trinity is put to practice - the family where society begins, where its foundation lies?   
  • If “a little learning is a dangerous thing,” so with too much learning. While Darwinism has gained acceptance in the biological world, how can it apply in politics and commerce without disturbing society?  If science is good why does it create a Frankenstein. 
  • And values? Socrates is too far out and too old to remember his teachings, Plato is "too pure", the Church is divided and the faith alienated. Transience of domicile and purpose in life has changed values radically, perhaps irreversibly.  
  • Who many are aware of the phenomenon of autotoxicity or progressive self destruction? Not so many, others adamantly do, that nature's laws when violated result in unimagined destruction likened to an Armageddon. Today we are not only witnesses, but victims, of  global warming, species extinction, mass poverty, epidemic diseases, and others. . How are these be taught in school, and "save the world."  
  • Return to basic does not mean fundamentalism, today's root of conflict and  terrorism (ISIS, Buko Haram, Al Qaeda, Hamas)  that threatens world peace. Isn’t good education enough to lay down the basics of life and living?  
  • The 3Rs of Literacy (Reading, wRiting, aRithmetic) cannot meet the criteria of today’s requirement for literacy, a challenge posed to schools, to social media and globalization. Scientists argue whether or not our world is getting truly literate.  If literacy is the magic wand that bails a person out of being poor, why is it that half of the world’s population remains poor?  (While the other half has more than it needs.)  

  • Strengthening the interconnectedness of home, school, church and community as the four pillars of a true and lasting education.  

The New Curriculum   

Mis Riotoc as a bona fide Ilocano, true to the culture and tradition of the place, shares with me certain predicaments attendant to her position as teacher and school principal. I must say these are not comfortable issues.

Take the case of revising the curriculum by adding two years to the existing one. It's a paradox, it came when social media has overtaken in many ways education itself, when communication is at fingertip, from direct dialing to e-mailing.  And texting has long replaced the telephone, in fact it has developed into a popular pastime. Palm size gadgets in many trade names have virtually placed the holder at the center of information from all corners of the world. With the state-of-the art of electronic gadgets whole volumes of encyclopedia, in fact whole libraries, universities and museums all over the world open up on the monitor screen in a matter of minutes, if not seconds. GPS tells direction, Google earth maps the world in any given place.  Directories, games, whereabouts, entertainment, etc., are virtually unlimited. Information can be stored more than one may need in a lifetime.

Increasing the years of schooling could not have been inadvertently timed  with economic downtrend affecting our country and globally, with high rate of unemployment, and widespread poverty. (Fifty percent of the population are living below the poverty line); our per capita income is among the lowest in the world, a far cry from those of the US, Europe, and Asian countries like Japan and South Korea whose educational system was used as reference in revising our curriculum. 

Extended schooling takes a heavy toll not only in terms of additional expense on the part of low income families. Two years of lost opportunity for children to contribute to the family's income, exacerbated by increasing longevity of the older family members, have placed an added burden on the narrowing working group. 

Teachers are already overworked, now the whole educational system is undermanned, ill-equipped, ill-funded, and apparently unprepared. I can only imagine how teachers courageously grab the helm of the ship and take the children to safety, and to where their bright future awaits them. And yet teachers are romantically glorified in the like of the "Unknown Soldier" of their obedience. compassion, diligence, sacrifice to the point of  being living martyrs.  

Education and Formative Conscience

How does education of young children mold not only their mind, heart and spirit, but their conscience, the seat of ethico-morals of everyday living, which former UST Rector, Fr Tamerlane Lana calls formative conscience

Does it ring the conscience when we destroy the environment, waste food, pollute the air, unkind to the old, indifferent to general welfare, commit dishonesty, abandon our children, and the like?  
 Functional Literacy
A tribesman living in the of Kalahari Desert in The Gods Must Be Crazy,  turned out to be the teacher of a lady teacher, a PhD holder at that. “To where the wind blows a predator can sense you,” he warns in his native tongue, then he wet his finger with saliva and raised it up for a few seconds like a barometer. “It is not safe to be here,” He urged his special guest to move to safety. To which we ask, what is literacy?

What is literacy when a culinary expert fails to produce a precise boiled egg using modern gadget? When producing rice is more theory than practice, succeeding to produce half of the targeted crop yield?  How many children fail to reach functional literacy level that enable them to understand the world around them, interact with people, understand events, take good care of themselves, raise families of their own properly. 
  A memorable visit to the school where I finished elementary education in 1953. Receiving the books I authored for the school library are Miss Retoria Riotoc (center), principal and Miss Seferina T Reclusado, master teacher. Right: With a sense of gratitude I presented the award I received - the 2015 prestigious 2015 Fr Jose Burgos Achievement Award, an honor I share with my alma mater.  

Integration and Functional Literacy  

Here's an example of cross-disciplinary integration with an English teacher and mathematics teacher using an example for subject integration. The English teacher wrote on the board. :
             The class says the teacher is good.
             The class says, "the teacher is good."
             The class, says the teacher, is good.  
The placement of the comma (or its omission) changes the meaning of each sentence. On the part of the Math teacher, she adapted the above example into a mathematical expression.
              2 + 3 x 5
One student answered 25, while another answered 17.  She let the class explore the correct answer. Then the teacher organized the figures 
             (2 + 3) x 5 
Integrating language with mathematics is not new.  It is used in coding and decoding secret communication.  General equations can be derived from integration such as fermentation and oxidation, two important biological processes. Demographic studies adopt integrated formulas, so with dialectics and philosophical inferences. 

Education must take us back to our heritage, the valued wisdom of our old folks. Whatever education is today characterized by new curriculum, distance education (e-learning), accreditation to “Center of Excellence,” high-tech, and the like, education must be integrated by all means into the holistic attributes of man - Homo sapiens (the Thinking Man), Homo faber (Man the Maker), Homo ludens (the Playing Man) and Homo spiritus (the Praying Man). 
 In parting, Miss Riotoc cited the great Mahatma Gandhi, Man of the Last Millennium. "You must be the change you want to see in the world." 

And to the Greatest Teacher of all who walked the Earth, education is alive, very much alive, in all of us; it is the way of life. ~  

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