Education system with a built-in learning loss
JESUS JAY MIRANDA OP
The Manila Times
AJOINT research recently conducted by the University of San Carlos and Thames International School revealed that even students from private schools have not been spared from learning degeneration brought about by the pandemic. This research focused on the “Most Essential Learning Competencies” on three subjects: science, mathematics and English. But even before the pandemic struck, there was already research whose results are no less appalling. Organizations that are involved in international assessment revealed that learning loss is evident among our students. Learning loss refers to the effect of the total disregard of the importance of having a good foundation in learning. Teachers should be trained to be conscious that teaching, in whatever level and subject they are, is actually the activity of building a foundation for students that serves as a preparation for capacitated learning for the next grade level. Diligence on this consciousness is an antidote to the possible learning loss. Lilian Katz, a seasoned education professor from the University of Illinois, cited the importance of laying a serious and solid foundation of learning, which includes the early years of schooling. She said, “In Britain they don’t use the term preschool or nursery school, they call it the foundation stage.” In other words, not being able to lay a strong foundation in learning that results in learning loss is akin to erecting a building and beginning its construction on the second or third floor. It would be too costly and maybe even irreparable when something like this happens in education institutions. Learning loss also refers to the continuous accumulation of learning gaps, which diagnostically predicts a poor performance on the next grade level of learning. It is unfortunate that this is built-in in the centuries-old and industrial model practice of graded schooling and grade level promotion, which students have experienced since time immemorial. The following points will illustrate the way it is built-in into the system: First, it is part of the policy of the system that a student gets promoted to the next grade level as long as the minimum required grade is achieved. For instance, the grade of 60 that is transmuted to 75 in the report card. The question now is what has happened to the needed knowledge and skills that the student must possess if what is expected from him is to be able to achieve the maximum requirement, which he actually needs to cope with for the lessons in the next grade level? Obviously, the student does not bring with him those knowledge and skills needed for the next grade level. As he moves up in the grade levels, the knowledge and skills that he needs, but does not possess, contribute tremendously to the continuous accumulation of learning gaps. This becomes evident when the student continues to struggle with the lessons as he moves up the grade levels. It does not come as a surprise that one of the findings of the research is that “the older the student, the lower the result… The magnitude of learning loss is much higher on upper grade levels,” Second, the system promotes a misplaced interest for students to learn. It becomes second nature for students to just move up to the next grade level without being conscious of the learning gaps they incur, which in reality are continuously piling up. Teachers cannot be blamed for this because the practice is embedded in the system — to pass students to the next grade level as long as they have complied with the minimum passing requirement. Sadly, this has become the mindset of many disinterested students who just want to get by. What is being fostered is not real learning but grade consciousness or worse still, to simply be satisfied with getting the minimum passing grade. This notion affirms the findings of many studies that grades are not the ideal indicators of students’ real learning. The scenario becomes worse, especially when demotivated students are made to believe that the grade of 60-transmuted-to-75 becomes their grade-level-promotion savior. This could be one of the many atrocities of the graded system of schooling. That is why the slogan of one of the schools of the Dominicans (a non-graded school) continues to fascinate me, which says, “Grades aren’t everything, learning is!” I think non-graded schools that promote a self-paced approach to learning have the advantage in escaping the trap of this old system that hijacks genuine approaches to learning. If there are incremental positive learning results taking place in the long and wider view on students’ schooling, their negative counterpart is also ubiquitous — the incremental learning gaps. Hopefully, educators do not only focus on the former. but put more emphasis on diligence in arresting the latter, which further aggravates learning impairment. And finally, the problem of learning loss gets elevated from basic education to tertiary level. Several college professors get the shock of their lives when their students are found wanting when they enrol in their classes. Thus, rants of college professors like the following are endemic: “What did they teach them in senior high school?” “I already presumed that this topic has been discussed in high school!” “I have to teach the fundamental concepts again which should already have been done in basic education!” and so on. The hopeful conclusion of the research is that there will be “intervention programs that will put a stop to learning loss and turn it to a learning boost.” This is a reform-stimulating battlecry, but it could be a counter-productive effort when the enemy to be defeated is something that is built-in to the system. Jesus Jay Miranda, OP is an organization and leadership studies resource person. He teaches at the Graduate School of the University of Santo Tomas and the Department of Educational Leadership and Management of the Bro. Andrew Gonzalez, FSC–College of Education of De La Salle University-Manila.