I HAVE BEEN greatly and intensely interested in the effort to capacitate our teachers. As all of you know, I am an academic. I have been teaching for more than 50 years. I come from a teaching dynasty, where many family members are teachers. I am deeply aware of the continuing development that must happen during the professional life of a teacher.
Before I respond to the recommendations of the Task Force on NEAP Transformation, let me emphasize first the need for us to understand the teachers of today, as a context to any professional development program. On this point, let me share my observations of the teachers then and now, based on my personal exposure to them throughout my life, and presently as Secretary of Education.
When I came into the Department I realized that even as NEAP still has to be transformed, our teachers are already transformed. Somehow the public has a notion of what our teachers are like and what our education system is like. Public perceptions of public education and private education have remained constant: the teacher is underpaid and overworked, and the quality of public education is inferior to private schools.
Even our main channels of communication with the public, the members of the mass media, are also imprisoned by their experiences of education when they were students. Our notion of education is shaped by our respective experiences. Our idea of a teacher is one of devotion, suffering, and exploitation.
In the distant past, teachers in the Philippines came from the middle and even the upper-middle class. It was the main profession that women were encouraged to engage in. They had their towering hair-do, and came in their proper dresses and shoes, and their lady-like behavior.
My observation is this has already changed. What motivates the teachers of today to decide to become a teacher? During my visits to the various regions, I ask the young teachers: What made you decide to take up education? A common answer is education is the most affordable course that one can take, unlike medicine or law. I recall very few who said they really love teaching, and would not have chosen any other field.
Another question I ask is: Why did you move from the private school to the public school? The answer has always been because the salary and benefits are higher in the public than in the private schools. In studies we did, what teachers spend their borrowed money on today is different from the time when my mother borrowed money to send us to school and university. There are many other things that teachers now spend their money on. One of these things, I can tell you, is travel abroad. I have signed thousands of applications to travel abroad on personal leave. They go to Iceland, to Denmark, make a tour of Middle East, the Holy Land. Name any country, and chances are there is a teacher who has visited it.
The point I am making is that teachers have changed. It is now relevant to ask what motivates our teachers, and what our education institutions teach them. Yes, we still have the noble ones, the suffering ones, and the patient ones. But those whose voices are the loudest, the most strident, are different from the teachers that we used to know and whose image we have retained.
I may not be the most popular Secretary of Education among the teachers because I tell them what we are learning about them, but it is important to know and understand where they are right now in order to know how we may further capacitate them. We need to realize that we get our teachers who already are the product of their families and environments, their demands and expectations, their ambitions, and the education by the colleges and universities they graduated from.
Thus, the task of NEAP to develop teachers to meet the Department’s needs is formidable. We don’t really have big ambitions on dramatic conversions among teachers; we just want them to be more competent, and equally important, devoted to their profession.
We do not have grand illusions about how much we can impact at this stage of their careers. Maybe we cannot get the teachers that we used to have when we were in grade school, but through the NEAP transformation, we hope to develop teachers in the service who are able to respond to what the country needs. It is to have the skills and the attitude that enable them to give their best. It is to realize that there is nothing more satisfying, there is nothing more fulfilling — and I know this because I have been teaching for more than 50 years — than touching people’s lives as a teacher.
My interest is in NEAP being able to contribute, in some way, to the broadening of the perspective of our teachers.
Within this backdrop, I welcome the recommendations of the NEAP Task Force. Your plan is to start in the 2020 budget, but I think once the President approves the 2019 budget, then we can already identify items of expenditure which are related to training and capacity building that we can already utilize for NEAP transformation. We should not wait for next year; we should start now because the problems and challenges are already here, now. The thing is for us to get going.
On specific aspects of the recommendations, I would like to make the following comments.
I agree with the idea of creating an Advisory Council. It is always good to hear insights from outside, and from those who have been there, and who have travelled the journey and perhaps suffered for making proposals to further enhance education. It is also always good to hear from our clients. It will be good to even have a teacher in the governing board.
I am much more interested actually — aside from the legal, financial, or organizational aspects — in the curriculum, on what we will teach our teachers.
I fully agree with the view of Prof. Miguel Luz, former Undersecretary of DepEd, that it is not only the technicalities of teaching that we need; it is also more about learning and development.
One Master Teacher who writes a blog, perhaps one of the most strident critics of the Department, said that teachers have to be given special attention because they are the source of all knowledge. I do not agree because there are so many sources of knowledge now. And our learners get them and absorb them at a much faster rate.
I keynoted 12,000 teachers in an expo on technical advances in education, and it is amazing how you can develop 21st century classrooms where you don’t use blackboards anymore. We use smart boards. Libraries are now very compact because they are largely electronic. Knowledge is readily available to a learner and also to the teacher.
This tells us that we don’t have the monopoly of knowledge and wisdom at this time, because there are many other sources of new knowledge and wisdom. In Cavite as the NEAP Transformation Report is being presented now, there is a Science and Technology Fair where our Senior High School students are exhibiting their work and their creations in Science and Technology. Our learners are winning in international contests in research. We had a winning team in 2016 whose members had asteroids named after them. They are winning in contests in robotics, in mathematics. We are also winning in choral competitions, in dancing. No, we are not the only source of knowledge and wisdom.
The function and job of the teacher now is to guide, to lead our learners in finding answers to current questions and evolving solutions for them, and to deal with change. We also give value to extra-curricular activities. If we want our children to learn how to analyze, to assess and think critically, they have to hear both sides, or as many sides as there are of issues. We have to teach them to decide for themselves. This is what we want our teachers to teach our students, in addition to the usual memory work that we used to do in our time.
Aside from techniques in teaching and in assessment, I think we need to give our teachers a review of the Philippine administrative system. We have to know who else is out there. We should know what their situation is, and we should know how each of us contribute to the overall goal of national development. I want an overall outlook of what the place of education is in the past, the present, and into the future.
And then the state of our grammar. Some might find it insulting, but I think we also need to review the English usage of our teachers, as well as other languages.
Finally, we need to address the context of where our teachers are now, which I expounded at the beginning. I am excited about the results of ongoing studies on teacher motivation. Why do teachers today want to become teachers? Why do they want to stay? Why are they transferring, by the hundreds, by the thousands, from the private to public schools, even as a section of teachers in public schools are screaming of their sufferings? We have to at least make sure that our teachers are aware of these. These are important so we know what additional knowledge, what additional insights, we should put into the curriculum for professional development.
I don’t know if we can change attitude, but we all know that we only have one great teacher, who is truly the source of all our knowledge. He was not called “Your Highness,” or “Your Majesty”. He was just called “Teacher”. That is what teacher is all about. The thing is I want us to get going because we are recruiting more and more teachers. We have no idea where they come from, what their motivations are, what their expectations are, and what gaps we should be considering.
On the specific question on some overlap on the mandate of NEAP and the Bureau of Learning Delivery (BLD), I believe that what BLD is doing now can be absorbed by NEAP. It would be good to have one singular office for this. Of course, we have to be consulting, not only BLD but other bureaus and services of the Department as well. Lecturers can come from BLD, as well as from other units. We have teachers with global, regional, and national awards. They come from different areas. We should utilize their talents, creating new ways of teaching, and making subjects more exciting. These teachers are doing these on their own, and should serve as models. They should share whatever they have. I am also willing to lecture in NEAP.
On the transformation process, I should mention that at the transition stage for NEAP, I intend to put NEAP under my direct supervision, especially since I have specific interests on how we should capacitate our teachers.
But I agree with the idea of Atty. Magtanggol Gunigundo that we should think eventually in terms of a more autonomous institution, but with the very active role of the Department. It is very similar to Singapore. The chair of the education policy is the Minister of Education, who is also the chair of the training institution which is more or less an attached agency. So, the Minister of Education in Singapore is in a very comfortable position with respect to education policy, curriculum, instruction, and then to all the other stages of the training of the teachers, completely harmonized, and that is how it should be. But we also don’t want a dictatorial Department of Education where everything is decided by the Department. It is always good to listen to those who have been there before us, and to those who are most familiar with the needs of our teachers, because times are really changing.
Organizational relationships are very important and crucial in the success of an institution, and I further agree with the idea of Atty. Gunigundo that ultimately, a law to ensure the continuity of NEAP as an institution is more binding than a Department Order or even an Executive Order. I agree that we want an institution that is able to continually recharge and respond and recognize that changes really happen every day.
In sum, I am very amenable to all the recommendations of the Task Force, subject to necessary refinements as we implement them. We have been reflecting for how many decades, and the time for reflection is already over. For me, NEAP transformation is a go.