Attention @govph and @DepEd_PH : Success is staring educators in the face

By Joe America,

Let me be blunt. I hope by the end of the article, you will excuse me for being so.

I don’t like the way the Philippine public school system operates.

I think millions of kids are getting short-changed. They are not getting the best education possible to inspire them to learn, or to gain a level of knowledge that can compete in the job market against Chinese or American graduates. If my child were in public school, I would be heart-broken and I would be angry. Very angry.

Here are the horrid statistics: Average class size, 45 students. Classroom shortage across the nation: 61,000. Teacher shortage across the nation 54,000: Water and electricity hookups needed: 116,000.

Now, I think Department of Education people are fine people. Hard working, well-intended. Not paid enough. Their burden is enormous. Sisyphus had it light by comparison.

But it seems that educators are bound by convention. The Head of the Department of Education sees the solution as a bigger budget in order to catch up. Alas, the size of the budget he needs would put the Philippines into bankruptcy right along side Greece. It is simply not possible to catch up using the current model of classroom instruction.

In this day and age, we have something called technology. To the point, tablet computers and the internet. Our kids think they are for playing games. For chasing dragons across the countryside or racing cars through the desert. Our educators think they are a big headache to get into operation.

I have a different vision. Millions of public school students with a computer and internet access, receiving their lessons at home or working at a cafe or study hall sponsored by a local business. They visit the school once a week to coordinate activities with their counselor. There are no more teachers in their classroom. Only counselors. Counselors handle as many as 100 students each.

The impact? Pressure is relieved on the need to hire teachers and build more classrooms. Education is improved. Students don’t sit ignored in class memorizing useless things. They are engaged in team exercises and computer challenges. The are held back by no one, able to advance at their best pace.

Imagine hundreds of teachers in Manila at a huge call-center site. Developing lesson plans. Supervising grading that is done by call center workers. Reading papers. Providing one-on-one counseling, via the internet. Local teachers are re-trained as counselors, providing assistance on use of the internet, planning team exercises, providing parental guidance, and making sure students are up to speed on their lessons.

As with anything dramatically different, it is natural to start raising objections. To say why it won’t work.

But that would reflect a surprising attitude among educators who ought to be among the most capable of people at creativity and problem solving. Who ought to be the most receptive to finding unconventional way of doing things. A way with a future.

I assure you that any objection can be met with a solution. IF YOU WANT TO FIND A WAY.

“We don’t have the budget to give millions of students computers.”

    Ah, but you can get 50 “honors classes” geared up with computers and internet access to pioneer the project and learn a lot. Say 2,500 students.

    At least 2,500 students will be accelerating their pace of learning, learning how to work on computers, how to schedule their own time, how to work with other students in team exercises, as leader or follower. The next year, it can be 10,000.

    10,000 kids with real opportunity. Explorers. Innovators. Just what the Philippines needs to compete.

    One step follows another, in the right direction.

“Our teachers are not computer literate.”

    Maybe so, but some students will quickly become so, and can help other students as a part of their lesson plan. The students may end up teaching the teachers. Central tech assistance will always be available.

“The home is not a good place to study for many students. It is a small bamboo house shared by 10 people. It may not even have electricity.”

    School classrooms will be freed up for use as study rooms. Or local businesses can be recruited to provide study space. If the community commits to the program, space will be available.

“We are struggling now to put internet connections into our schools. How are we supposed to get millions of kids hooked up?”

    Globe and Smart provide broad nationwide wireless coverage. Lean on them to provide an “educational rate” to students, with the school district paying connectivity charges. Computers are to be used for lessons only, not for social networks or game-playing.

“This is just a pipedream. It’s crazy”

Ah. Do you think so? 250,000 students in the US today study at “virtual schools” without attending classrooms. The number is up 40% from three years ago. Read this Wall Street Journal article:

The choice is stark. Continue the current overcrowded, under-staffed conventional program. Continue to lag the world. Or leap to a thoroughly modern approach and go directly to the head of the class.

If you aspire to give students a top-quality educational platform, you don’t do it the way it is being done now.

When the new model is shown to work, money will move quickly from building classrooms and hiring teachers to buying computers and internet time. Kids will be engaged, they will be excited, they will learn.

And you know what? They are worth the investment.


Joe America is a retired banking executive living permanently in the Philippines with his wife and son. He was on the Board of Directors for a private elementary school in Los Angeles. The school was attached to a major liberal arts college and served as a laboratory for new teaching methods. He blogs at