In a recent speech, the Department of Education Secretary Leonor Briones challenged education stakeholders to create “innovative and daring” ways of teaching that will have a positive effect on Filipino learners.
Both in the United States and the Philippines, the subject of reading skills is debated. In 1966, the book Why Johnny Can’t Read was released with a follow-up in 1983 titled Why Johnny Still Can’t Read. Less than a year ago, an article on the same topic was published in the U.S. while only few days ago, an article in a Filipino publication brought up the same issue. Clearly, literacy is and should be a constant focus topic in the education debate.
However, the concept of literacy in the 21st century does not only imply reading. Today, literacy also entails areas such as technology, media, coding, and more, which is easily forgotten and neglected by education stakeholders, including in the U.S.
LEARNING FROM THE U.S. MISTAKES
Proficiency (definition and assessment is a topic for another text) in several of these new types of literacies–many which are connected with technology–is often critical to becoming successful in the global, high-tech economy that’s growing in the Philippines. More technology companies are established such as e-commerce and call-centers that specifically demand hi-tech skills from their workers and job seekers. However, based on discussions I have had with some high-tech companies in the Philippines, there is a lack of qualified hi-tech workers in the country to meet the growing demand.
Just like in the Philippines, the need for skilled high-tech workers in the U.S. is significant and growing while the supply of the same is low. The supply and demand problem in both countries starts with inadequate technology education in the public school system, something OffCrowd has pointed out about the Philippines and that I notice regularly as a technology educator here in the U.S.
Over the last 20 years, the U.S. has put enormous resources into hardware and internet access in schools while to a great extent ignored technology education, which has led to the U.S. being greatly dependent on high-tech workers from foreign countries while hundreds of thousands of technology jobs simply go unfilled, with the number increasing.
The U.S. spends more money per student than any other country in the world and much of this spending is dedicated to technology. Meanwhile, the U.S. PISA scores and subsequent global ranking in math, reading, and science have consistently worsened while a significant percentage of Americans graduate from high school while still not being digitally literate by industry and employer standards.
In the public school system I taught for many years, each and every middle school and high school student has been provided with a laptop/Chromebook, a program referred to as a 1:1 learning environment. Still, in my experience and estimation in that school system, less than 10% of those students are actually technology literate when they graduate from high school.
While inadequate technology education and integration of the technology continues to be a major problem in the U.S. education system, it appears to be so in the Philippines as well. Obviously, student access to technology is a challenge that has to be addressed and overcome in the Philippines, but access itself doesn’t solve the problem, which is evident in the U.S.
Senator Sherwin Gatchalian is correct in his call for action to add coding into the nation’s basic curriculum. Adding coding to the curriculum not only teaches students technology skills valued by many employers but also provides other desirable benefits under the 21st Century Skills umbrella as it encourages problem solving, creativity, communication, collaboration, and critical thinking. These transferable skills can also be applied to other academic subjects and many careers. So the positive impacts of teaching, for example, coding are numerous.
There are examples and positive initiatives in the Philippines addressing this such as the opportunity provided by BatangTech. This type of program both should and could be made available to communities and schools around the Philippines. The Department of Education should take notice of such initiative and partner with organizations to help launch similar programs across the Philippines and connect it with the public school curriculum, at least as an elective or optional opportunity.
IMPORTANCE OF PARTNERSHIPS
The question is, how can the Philippines provide quality technology education cost-effectively while maximizing audience reach? Providing access to computers and the internet is one component, which often actually is easier to overcome than providing access to qualified technology teachers.
For example, partnering with and engaging internet cafés in the education process is one solution, as I did in a successful technology pilot class I provided to learners in Leyte. In addition, internet access providers need to be onboard as stakeholders and offer internet access to schools, teachers, and students at reduced, affordable rates.
In order to address the latter challenge, access to qualified teachers, the Philippines should take advantage of available global opportunities, including in training existing and prospective teachers to teach technology to build national and local competence as well as institutional memory.
A few weeks back when my U.S.-based non-profit organization Technology for Tomorrow, which focuses on providing technology education, randomly reached out to Filipinos in a Facebook group to gauge the interest for a remote, live technology class, I did not know what to expect. I quickly learned that the interest for quality and accessible technology education in the Philippines is significant.
A resident in Tacloban City, Leyte immediately responded to my post and started recruiting interested learners while arranging with a local internet café to provide computers and internet access for the registered learners for an affordable hourly fee. Two weeks later, the class was underway as a true global collaborative grassroots project. I was teaching the class live from the U.S. and the participants engaged in the learning on Leyte in an opportunity and on a topic not accessible in any other way than online.
Out of that successful pilot grew the initiative we now launched as Teach Me Tech, which has the mission to provide high quality, accessible technology education to Filipinos who otherwise don’t have such access. All it took for this innovative development was a couple of visionary and action-oriented community members on Leyte with the desire to make a positive impact on their community by bringing in a new method for providing needed technology education.
Following this successful pilot experience, I connected with the U.S.-based non-profit organization Pinoy Reading Buddies, which operates throughout the Philippines and focuses on reading literacy. We are now in piloting a professional development program for teachers in the Philippines focusing on literacy education and engagement, utilizing online learning tools so we can deliver that highly specialized program to teachers throughout the Philippines right here from the U.S. The very same can be done with technology education, of course, as my Leyte project successfully proved.
Providing this type of cost-effective, online professional development also provides an opportunity to reach teachers around the Philippines who would otherwise not have access to such training. The result is a direct positive impact on Filipino students. And yes, online classes really do work and many U.S. universities are adopting this approach in favor over traditional classrooms.
The concept of online education is, of course, nothing new to the Philippines. Many Filipinos provide online English education to learners in China, Korea, and Japan, which can be argued is a sort of brain drain. Would it not be nice if the Philippines also was on the receiving end on the global education market?
Ultimately, this matters a great deal because quality technology education creates the foundation for a skilled IT workforce that will attract and retain hi-tech companies. Those companies, in turn, often provide good and well paying jobs, which has positive national and individual consequences such as falling poverty level, a growing middle class, innovation, improved lifestyles, and more, just as India has enjoyed over the last couple of decades as a result of that country’s commitment to technology education. In this mobile, global hi-tech economy, if the Philippines does not address this, hi-tech businesses will move on to the next country that will provide solid technology education in order to prepare students for employment for those companies.
Regardless of the focus being reading, technology, or any other subject, innovative global partnerships and online education not only answers the call for providing a 21st century education with “daring and innovative methods,” more importantly, it provides a cost-effective, previously inaccessible, and new opportunities for high quality and empowering education that will have major positive impacts on Filipino learners and, subsequently, on the country as a whole.
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