I’ve spent the past seven years living in foreign countries, almost all of that time with my wife (who I met at very early in this journey) who hails from…
I am a very minor voice in the post-2015 debate through my (minor) work on the Learning Metrics Task Force. The video at the bottom really stood out to me…
One of the keynote speakers for CESHK 2013 was the Dean of Teacher Education at Cebu Normal University, Filomena Dayagbil, who spoke about quality issues in Philippine education. Internal and external (TIMMS) testing showed that there has been a precipitous drop in math, reading, and science scores in the Philippines that show up in even short, year-to-year timeframes. She spoke about three new approaches to remedy the issues: a new policy to increase the length of schooling from K-10 to the more conventional K-12 system, the role of teachers colleges in increasing teaching quality, and change away from English Medium of Instruction to mother tongue instruction.
I found myself disagreeing with the overall framing of educational quality issues in the Philippines. In general, it’s difficult to disagree with the idea that teachers can and should be better or that K-12, under the right conditions, would make the Philippines more academically competitive. But this ignores the fact that expanding enrollment rosters without increasing funding to go with it would likely decrease quality even further. This is exactly what has been happening over the past two decades, as successive Philippine governments failed to adequately prepare for a population boom. A 2009 New York Times article summed up the issues very succinctly:
According to the World Bank, the Philippines spends $138 per student per year. By comparison, Thailand spends $853 per student, Singapore spends $1,800 and Japan spends $5,000. The Philippine government spends 2.19 percent of its budget on education, according to official figures, well short of the 6 percent that educators say is optimal — despite a constitutional mandate to make education a priority. At the start of the decade, educators talked of a radical overhaul of the education system, but the main change since then has been increasingly intense overcrowding, Mr. Luz, of the policy study institute, wrote in a recent paper.
This is adapted from an online discussion. I’ll tidy it up and add links in time…
- That this solution is an enormously expensive replacement for an existing, cheaper, and more nutritious technology called “vegetables.”
- Even if the technology gets to the market, it will likely not catch on in any significant numbers for a variety of reasons I’ve explained elsewhere and below. If the idea is to sneak them in like fluoride in water or iodine in salt, it’s not going work. For starters, those don’t turn water or salt a different color. People like white salt, clear water, and white rice.
During my undergraduate studies I met a religious philosophy scholar that I clicked with instantly. We would often chat after class and I remember telling him the history of my own faith: that I was once deeply religious, but it was a conspiratorial and anti-intellectual strain of Christianity, and when I came to disbelieve I went completely in the other direction and became a militant atheist. It took a few years to nuance that path to where I now consider myself almost militantly agnostic – going from absolutely knowing that God did or did not exist to clearer understanding of the limits and abilities of reason and science, which offer no real answers to those questions. He nodded his head and said, “the opposite of shallow is still shallow.” Touché. It wasn’t surprising that a shallow religious faith made way to an equally shallow reactionary atheism. A misguided faith led to misguided critique.
I’m reminded of that truism while listening to Mark Lynas’ new no-holds-barred defense of genetic engineering of food (GMO). He spoke for thirty minutes and I don’t recall hearing a single warning or criticism of anything related to genetically engineering our food supply. Why? Because, he says, “he learned to read science.” And this is what science says. Those who argue against GMO have “views [that] are not supported by science” like he does. Take a moment and think of any social policy issue that involves scientific research where the research comes down completely in favor of one side of an issue – especially an issue so complex as to involve every member of our species, either through producing or consuming.
When I was deep in my literature review of rural politics in the Philippines, a friend with ties to radical leftists in the Philippines mentioned a book, a sort of bible for people of his persuasion, called Philippine Society and Revolution by Amado Guerrero. It was an appealing read, as I have (sort of) a soft spot for the New People’s Army (NPA) in the Philippines. I had heard from many people in the Philippines, especially the poor, that Philippine Army was an ‘enemy of the people’ and that the NPA at least had the right intentions. I’m also well aware that the existing social order of the Philippines is held together partly by violence.
But like the first chapter of Pedagogy of the Oppressed, I couldn’t finish Philippine Society and Revolution. Both stand as historical or anthropological source material more than any sort of social science. As social science, it’s simply wrong. The models employed do not fit the real, empirical world I live in. They’re rife with intellectual shortcuts and expounding the most extreme cases as being the typical scenario. The primary shortcut is to find a single target struggle against, anthropomorphizing an Other that’s responsible for a wide range of problems. For Freire, it’s the unnamed Oppressor. For Guerrero, it’s the United States.
This is the first section of a Reading Freire series.
One of the ‘a-ha!’ moments of my academic career came during a crusades class during my undergraduate years where I was saddled with some dozen or so books on the reading list. I was frozen with terror throughout much of the first quarter of that class, until the professor told me I wasn’t expected to read all of them. I was to mine them for the information I needed. I think it was at about that time I developed my “read the introduction, read the conclusion, go back and read the interior parts that go over the parts you either don’t agree with, don’t understand, or just want to learn more about” formula.
That later evolved into a second strategy of coming to rely on secondary sources – people describing what other writers are arguing. Why wade through the density of Foucault or Bourdieu when you can have someone else unpack the theory spread over several books into a few chapters? This sits alongside a notion that no one idea is so brilliant that it takes more than a hundred pages to explain.
But I’m walking back a little bit on that now. There are a few books that I want to read in full. The one that has stood out the most is Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed. My thesis right is now about Southern farmers mired in poverty. How could I justify a PhD with a subject like that without seriously engaging the totality of Freire? And so I downloaded a PDF and the journey begins. And I’ve decided to more-or-less live blog it.
The discussion on complexity and development continued on Twitter. I said that in my my previous post on complexity and development didn’t go far enough to raise what I think is a often a very overlooked point by complexity ‘theorist’ – which is that both good and bad things arise from emergence and self-organization. As it pertains to development, I think some of the most pressing problems like vulnerability, poverty, hunger, inequality, and corruption are persistent precisely because they’re deeply embedded inside complex systems. More specifically, they’re resilient – even the most powerful, well-funded interventions fail spectacularly.
As with the previous post, I think Owen is still feeling out the exact position he’s staking. I applaud him for being willing to get his hands dirty, as it were, by continuing the discussion and amending his argument as it unfolds. His response to the above idea was that, “poverty is the ‘no system’ situation. Non-poverty requires a complex adaptive system…” He later backed down from the ‘no system’ claim. He nuanced the claims later with, “many people live in systems which are not complex in a way which delivers them a good life,” and agreed with me that, “not all adaptation is positive. But you can’t end poverty without it. Complexity is necessary but not sufficient,” and that “rich countries and poor countries [are]… just a different kind of complex.”
This begs the question: what are the units of analysis? I agree that there are ‘healthy’ and ‘unhealthy’ socio-economic systems that either promote or hinder capabilities and positive freedoms. A baby born in Canada is likely going to have a longer, happier, wealthier, healthier life with a much wider array of opportunities than if it were born in rural Somalia. I agree with his main point, which has been raised by others, that healthier socio-economic systems are emergent properties of complex systems. There’s no one single key to having a society like that. To reverse engineer the emergence, I would say that it’s the result of having a society where desired action is encouraged with successive layers of positive feedbacks, and negative action discouraged with negative feedbacks. Social safety nets are in place to make sure individuals (or entire demographics, as it often happens) don’t become stuck in endless poverty or crime cycles.
Owen Barner (Twitter, blog) recently wrote on “What is Development“, trying to connect development to complexity sciences. When I first opened it, I opined to him that talk of “complexity…
Probably a good place to start this is with The Wall Street Journal comparing Hong Kong’s recent typhoon to Beijing’s flood, under the headline Hong Kong vs. Beijing: A Tale of Two Storms:
At least 37 people died in fierce rains that lashed China’s capital city over the weekend, prompting flooding in various neighborhoods and structures to collapse in the downpour. Many residents were highly critical of how the city’s infrastructure failed to successfully weather the storm, with many asking why the city, with its all its investments in dazzling Olympic facilities, could still experience such deadly floods. By contrast in Hong Kong, while a handful of scattered flooding incidents were reported, Vicente appeared to pass through without doing any serious damage.
Let’s leave aside that these were two very different storms. Though wet, tropical cyclones are mostly wind events and most damage comes from storm surge. Hong Kong never went over an Amber rainstorm signal during the recent typhoon. That’s the lowest of the three rainstorm signals.
Let’s instead talk about comparisons and expectations.
Before I left to teach English in China, I sat on the porch with one of my best friends who had recruited me into the job and was trying to cover every base, so to speak, of what to expect in China. I tried getting a fifteen-minute Chinese lesson and walked away with “ni hao” and “xie xie.” I also asked her what her best piece of advice was: let China be China.
I quizzed her on what she meant by that. “Don’t judge China by American standards. Also, you’re not going to change anything. Just accept it for what it is,” she told me. And it was great advise. I’ve also come to understand it works both ways – don’t judge China by American standards, but also be careful not to expect China to be like other “third world”/developing countries. I had at least two teachers in my employ who flew into Shenzhen expecting rice fields and conical hats. I personally expected a police state and endless grey factories. Beyond the superficial, there are a lot of similar issues that look and behave differently in China than they do elsewhere.