By Flor Lacanilao
“To be sure, the need for more and better science education has not been entirely ignored. But little of this attention has been aimed at post-secondary science education, the only level for which there is data showing how to make substantial improvements without enormous costs. Moreover, it is doubtful that great progress can be made at the primary and secondary levels until a higher standard of science learning is set at the post-secondary level.” (Carl Wieman, a Nobel laureate, is director of the Carl Wieman Science Education Initiative at the University of British Columbia)
The controversial K-12 (kindergarten to grade 12) is not really controversial. All commentaries I have read by Filipino academic scientists are not in favor of the new k-12 program (For example, Science and K+12, !nquirer, 6 Feb 2012). On the other hand, Filipino authors supporting it are not natural or social scientists (without valid publications or properly published work), regardless of their position (e.g., Group launches program to save RP education, Inquirer, 28 Jan 2010). In particular, their views differ in the crucial science part of the K-12 curriculum.
Reasons of those against the K-12 include the following: (1) The new program should first under go a trial run at selected schools before nationwide adoption; (2) there are no valid studies of local problems to support the curricular changes and additional 2 years; (3) the new program components did not consider the relevant results of international research on science education; and (4) we have more urgent problems like teachers, classrooms, textbooks, dropouts, etc.
Recent developments in the teaching of science have shown the importance of early (kindergarten) exposure of students to science, and the changed ways of making them learn. These are not evident in the K-12 curriculum. Examples are reported by the Nobel laureate Carl Wieman, by Science editor and former president of the US National Academy of Sciences Bruce Alberts, and by Columbia physics professor Brian Greene. They have been involved in research on science education, whose innovative results have been tested or are undergoing pilot tests.
Their studies suggest a better way to improve basic education: (a) Put only the right people in charge, (b) program components should be based on tested studies abroad and on properly-published studies of local problems, and (c) undergo trial runs or verification at selected schools before nationwide implementation.
The best candidate for verification at selected sites or limited implementation (say one per Region) is the work of the husband-and-wife team of scientists — and recipients of the 2010 Ramon Magsaysay Award for education — Christopher and Ma Victoria Bernido (Poverty and scarcity are no barriers to quality education, Inquirer, 14 Oct 2010).
Their results included the following: (1) Bypassing the need for qualified teachers, (2) only one copy of textbook per class is needed, (3) no expensive lab equipment, (4) only 1/4 of the allotted class period is needed, and (5) students are not given homework.
Their students, under such learning conditions, have shown marked increase in proficiency levels, especially in science, math, and reading comprehension.
Based on the above information — and for lack of the necessary expertise to fully evaluate research information correctly on the part of those who prepared it — the new K-12 program is likely to fail, The phased implementation (starting with new Grade 1 and 1st year high in June) will not substitute for trial run. Why have we not learned in the last 5 decades from the failed programs in education?