Nikki Coseteng on Education2 April 2007 at 4:28 AM | Posted in News | 292 Comments
“I’ve learned more about education in the past two months that I’ve been running the Diliman Preparatory School than I learned in all those years of studying in school and working in government,” said senatorial candidate Anna Dominique “Nikki” Coseteng to me in an exclusive interview last February .
Coseteng has been president of Diliman Preparatory School only since Dec. 4, 2006. The school has more than 3,000 students, from preparatory to high school, and even offers two years of post-secondary education.
Except for its being hard to get to from Commonwealth Avenue due to MMDA’s pink roadblocks, the school is one of the country’s best. It became famous some years ago when it became one of the first schools to voluntarily license its computer software in compliance with the Intellectual Property Code.
When people commend her for the school’s being “world-class,” Coseteng immediately retorts, “It’s Philippine-standard. Why is it that, when things are in order, we say it is world-class? Does it mean that, when things are in disarray, that is Philippine-standard?”
Coseteng has certainly put things in order in the school. When I visited the school, I could not help but notice how clean it was. How does she do it? I learned the trick from Coseteng herself. I saw her go up to a group of students and point to the litter around them. In effect, she stares down students, making them feel guilty for not caring for their environment. Students themselves prevent other students from littering, to avoid being embarrassed and having to clean up other people’s junk. The need for paid janitors is minimized.
What has Coseteng learned from running a school? She learned that there are three areas that need immediate attention.
First, she put in place a training program for teachers this summer, to prepare them for next schoolyear. She hopes to introduce reforms in the way teachers teach mathematics, for example. Instead of drawing straight lines, curved lines, circles, squares, and triangles on the blackboard, teachers will use, starting June, actual cultural objects that students can appreciate. For example, she wants teachers to use a photograph of Kennon Road or a print of Van Gogh to illustrate curved lines, a picture of the pyramids to teach triangles, and a Mindanao weave to show what a square or rectangle looks like. In technical terms (which she never uses), what she wants to do is to do Content-Based Mathematics.
Although she admits to not being a math wiz, Coseteng understands the importance of math in the curriculum. In fact, she has ordered the brightest pupils in each grade or year level to be placed in a special section, so that they do not get bored.
“In each class,” says Coseteng, “there are Ferraris, Volkswagens, and carretelas. Everyone is a Ferrari, but in a different field. We have to develop the Ferraris in their particular fields.” In her school, students are streamed according to their aptitude and ability. Even without using the buzz phrases “multiple intelligences” and “homogeneous grouping,” Coseteng has put in place a system that does not discriminate against the verbally-challenged.
Second, Coseteng has moved to address the lack of analytical thinking in classrooms, by discouraging low-level questioning and exercises. For example, instead of a teacher asking pupils to describe what they see in a photograph, teachers now ask what is not shown in the photograph or what is just outside the borders of the photograph. Instead of pupils merely coloring dress outlines in books, teachers now tell pupils, “Here is a child. Draw her (or his) clothes.” The pupils are thus forced to use their imagination and to think outside the box.
Third, Coseteng has paid particular attention to the textbooks used in the school. She discovered problems with the textbooks that are much more serious than mere errors in facts or grammar. One textbook exercise, for example, says: “My brother is a he. My sister is a she. If he becomes a she and she becomes a he, it is funny.”
“We are teaching kids to be liars, hypocrites, and bigots,” Coseteng complains, “by teaching them to discriminate against gays, for example.”
Coseteng points to a textbook that says that the Crusades brought civilization to the believers in Islam. “What about the pillage?” she asks, incensed by the pro-Christian bias of textbooks.
Believing that schoolchildren have the right to an aesthetically pleasant and educationally-sound campus, Coseteng has also introduced physical innovations in her school. She brought the grade school blackboards down to the level of the students, instead of the usual level convenient to teachers. To save costs of airconditioning and blinds, she asked students to paint their own classroom windows to keep out the sun. She plans to have murals done along the walls of what she calls “Learning Corridors,” with information that all literate citizens are expected to know. Again, without using the buzz phrases “core knowledge” or “cultural literacy,” she is working towards a knowledge-based campus.
What Coseteng is advocating and has implemented in her own school is what education theorists would call “Creative Reading” or “Culture-Based Teaching.” To her credit, the jargon is noticeably absent from Coseteng’s vocabulary. What she is passionate about as far as education is concerned comes from watching schoolchildren in other schools transforming from creative individuals to miseducated herd members. In her school, she wants children to remain creative.
About language, her stand is clear and realistic: all Filipinos, she says, should be articulate in both Filipino and English. If she is reelected to the Senate, we can be assured that she will focus on student welfare and not yield to the recruitment demands of a small portion of the business community. (First published in The Philippine Star, 8 March 2007)
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