COMMENTARY: We Don't Need No (2 more years of) Education. By Joey Ayala

QUEZON CITY (MindaNews/01 January) — I hated school as a kid.  Many a morning I’d have to be dragged off, kicking and screaming, to the cursed halls of education and sameness/vagueness where another perfectly good day would wilt like an anonymous flower in a floor-wax-and-chalk bouquet at a wake in honor of irrelevant knowledge.

Who cares where Tennessee is?  (Not a Grade 1 boy in the Philippines in the 60s.)  What the hell is a dollar?  What kind of dumb name for a dog is Spot?

Then I discovered the Library.  Joy!  I took out one book a day for maybe a whole schoolyear, three on Fridays to see me through the weekend.  Heavy on fantasy and serial adventure.  Fairy tales, Wizard of Oz, Tarzan, Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew… no wonder I tend to think in English.  My name wound up on the bookworm list tacked up on the library door.Today, book-buying and reading are part of my life.  I get a lot out of books and have two general classifications for them: entertainment and livelihood.   In actuality, however, these two overlap.  When I read entertainment it informs my work, and when I read to learn and satisfy my curiosity, I am entertained.

I don’t remember learning how to read, don’t remember anyone teaching me.  Maybe, as kids, we just figure it out somehow because no one can really learn anything for us – which also means that ANYONE can facilitate the learning of reading.  Sure there are specialists, but the point is: you don’t need to be a Teacher with a Degree in order to facilitate learning.  The first degree-holder in the world probably just invented the degree for him/herself or so that he/she would have something to sell.

But I do remember that reading, writing and storytellingwere things my PARENTS did.  They had lots of books and they weren’t just for show.  Also, books became an ESCAPE from school.  I read through my Reading and Language textbooks way ahead of the class.  Got bored the rest of the year.My grades sucked. I enjoyed reading for its own sake and luckily my folks never equated my pagkatao with my grades.

So, as far as those additional 2 looong years of more school are concerned – I feel the effort to improve Philippine Education would be better spent addressing PARENTS and EDUCATORS.  Why?  Because the EDUCATIONAL SYSTEM and the EXPECTATIONS of PARENTS and EDUCATORS no longer match the realities of the real world. It takes a while for institutions to adjust to reality – let’s start adjusting teaching and parenting styles before we add to school-time.  Simply adding time to a system that is already found to be faulty will probably just increase our education-related problems.

There’s nothing wrong with the kids.

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Many teachers complain that kids nowadays have short attention spans.  Here are four ideas that might help give fresh insight into this phenomenon.

The first idea is this: given two people of different ages, the younger person experiences an amount of time as LONGER than an older person would experience the same amount of time.

If you are 5 years old, 1 year is 20% of your life.  If you are 50, that same 1 year would be only 2%.Asking a 5-year old kid to sit still for 5 minutes is proportionateto asking a 50-year old to sit still for 50 minutes.Remember how, when you were in grade school, that 40-minute Math class seemed to stretch into infinity like a number line?  Boooooooring . . .  And now that you are much older and not necessarily wiser, doesn’t it surprise you to find that it’s suddenly Christmas time again?  Parangkailanlang…

The second idea is this: younger people have had exposure to information of a HIGHER DENSITY than older people and, thus, are used to FASTER, MORE COMPACT data-flow – think full-color, full-orchestral music with mind-boggling graphics animation and bang-bang action movies.  Think computer games.  Glossy hi-tech layout magazines.Instant communication via texting.

You, on the other hand, may have been thrilled by sound-only radio drama and black-and-white television.  You may have actually received telegrams and letters many days or even weeks after they were sent… and you may have considered it exciting!

The third idea is this, and it has nothing to do with age: when a person is confronted with a lecture or a book or any other kind of input or experience that is irrelevant or unpleasurable or not-understandable, that person will shut it out or ignore it or fidget and look out the window or scratch certain body parts that have suddenly become irritated or get sleepy, or all-of-the-above.  This is normal.  Everyone does it, including teachers and parents.  So, do you punish the victim of ineffective communication or do you re-think the method of a lesson’s delivery?

The fourth idea is this: because educators and parents are obviously of a generation different from the students’, the concept of WHAT IS IMPORTANT is not 100% the same.  Older people will remember World War II experiences and may refer to them – younger people will think World War II in terms of Tom Hanks in Saving Private Ryan or Tom Cruise in Valkyrie. Older people might think that getting high grades and landing stable jobs are linked – younger people may have noticed that the truth is way different, that high grades just means “good at tests and exams” and “stable job” means working with horses.  Mag-a-artista na lang ako. The challenge to elders is to learn what kids hold as important and to use those things as LEAD-INS TO LEARNING rather than as things to label “useless” or “frivolous” or “a waste of time”.

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The concept “Schools of/for Living Traditions (SLTs)” such the ones found in certain Mindanao villages seems to me like a step in the right direction as far as education systematizing is concerned.  Grow curricula from local and specific needs and capabilities.  In this way there will (theoretically) be greater harmony between students, educators, parents, and local realities.  Let’s move away from the “factory mode” of thinking – the idea that school is for producing somebody’s employees. [This piece was written for the first issue of  OUR Mindanao, the monthly newsmagazine  of the Mindanao News and Information Cooperative Center (MNICC) which runs MindaNews and www.mindanews.com. Singer-songwriter Joey Ayala is a Mandiriwa engaged in SiningBayan -the art of nation-building. He is current chair of the National Committee on Music under the National Commission for Culture and the Arts, Chair of the Filipino Composers’ Development Cooperative, and President of Bagong Lumad Artists Foundation, Inc. Visit www.joeyayala.com and www.blafi.org].

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