31 October 2007

Mayor Jesse Robredo, blogger

SOMETIME last May, I wrote about the plight of 15 policemen being given a raw deal by no less than their superiors at the PNP Regional Command.  If you want an update, take it from no less than Mayor Jesse Robredo, who has joined the blogosphere and whose latest entry should be a required reading for new PNP chief Avelino Razon.

The choice cuts, to my mind:

This is what is happening given the kind of leadership that we now have at PNP - Bicol Region.  This should be a test for the new PNP Chief Avelino Razon, Jr.  Can he insulate the police organization from the unnecessary interference of politicians? I recall asking some senior police officers why the the police leadership  do not stand their ground and protect their fellow officers in uniform. The timid answer was they can not count on their superiors when the going gets tough. The previous unsuccesful attempt to relieve and the recent relief of the fourteen (14) police officers from Naga City demonstrated that the PNP leadership is incapable of putting the interest of its men and the people they are serving, when pressured by influential politicians.

Who is then undermining the efforts to maintain peace and order in Naga City? The buck stops at the door of the PNP leadership in Camp Crame.  In time, the community will realize that the police organization has failed them and rightfully put the blame on where it should be. I hope it will not take a serious incident to happen before the PNP comes to its senses.
This should make my boss probably the only local chief executive-slash-blogger in the Philippines.  Which makes Oddball -- the title of his weblog -- most appropriate.


Work on SM Naga set to start

IF PLANS push through, excavation work for the planned SM Naga City mall will begin by mid-November, high ranking officials of the company bared in a presentation before the Sangguniang Panlungsod last October 22.

Also in attendance were ranking members of the Metro Naga Chamber of Commerce and Industry, as well as department heads of the city government.

Annie S. Garcia, vice president for operations of the SM Group, said they are aiming for a March 2009 opening. Joining her were Engr. Antolin Paule, senior vice president for engineering; Glen Ang, assistance vice president; Ronald Tumao, vice president of the business development group; and other ranking officials of the construction group.

Paule and Ang previously represented SM in a meeting we arranged last month with the chamber and property owners at the Central Business District 2. At the time, they said they are already in the process of securing the needed permits from national government agencies.

Work, originally planned to commence early next year, was advanced after the company was able to secure the necessary environmental compliance certificate (ECC) for the mall development project, a copy of which they showed to us.

The two-storey mall will rise on a 4.7-hectare property between the existing Filcab terminal and St. Joseph School. It will have a gross floor area of 73,300 sq. meters, 54,400 of which are leasable.

Together with a department store that will occupy almost 12,000 sq. m and a supermarket (6,300 sq. m), the mall will feature four cinemas, a food court and 759 parking slots. It will also accommodate as many as 170 short and long-term tenants.

The project was delayed after the SM Group decided to put up a full-scale mall, instead of the original hypermart-type development.

By the way, the company is already hiring key management position for SM Naga City, which you can access here.


30 October 2007

Daily lesson planning, Part 2

My column for last week's issue of Vox Bikol.

LAST WEEK, I ran a survey on the question "Do Filipino teachers really need to write daily lesson plans?" Though unscientific by its nature, I feel the opinion shared by my readers are worth sharing.

Mi, a student-teacher, said in defense of lesson planning:

"I've always been rebellious with regard to lesson planning and following these plans, but one thing I learned -- they are helpful. If you make a lesson plan, you'll have more confidence in delivering your lesson, you know what you want to happen.

"This would be most true to student-teachers and new teachers, as more seasoned ones should have their plans by heart already."
Schumey, a fellow blogger and Michael Schumacher fan, took the opposite view: "Lesson plans are detrimental to the whole teaching-learning process. One has to consider the pace and capacity to comprehend of your students. This is the reason why our students fail miserably during evaluation tests. We need quality not quantity."

Porfirio Rubirosa, on the other hand, agreed with the Wikipedia item I quoted last week: "Lesson plans should be for rookie teachers only who are still groping in the dark, and needs constant reminders. But for veteran teachers, they should already know it by heart (the subject matter), and maski na pagbalilabaliktarin ini, they still have the mastery over it."

From the 14 who voted in the poll, 42% (6) said there is a need for daily lesson plans, 21% (3) said they're not needed, while 28% (4) said there is a better way.

On the surface, it appears that daily lesson plans do have a place in the learning process. Mi, I think, captured its essence: "The point is the lesson plan is a guide for you as a teacher in such a way that you know what exactly are you going to teach, what are the important points to bring up, and what you intend to accomplish."

But viewed differently, the seven votes cast by those who don't think so and those who believed there is a better way, taken together, outnumber the six who unequivocally voted for the daily lesson plans.

Who does it imply? One, daily lesson planning remains a contentious issue. Two, there is a need to treat seasoned, experienced teachers differently. There is sense in cutting them some slack and trusting on their experience to get the job done.

Thirdly, there is a strong sentiment for continuous improvement, of finding a better way in monitoring and evaluating teacher performance. Come to think of it, lesson plans are merely tools to facilitate the teaching-learning process. To rigidly require them of teachers is to fatally mistake an output for an outcome.

I believe the paramount outcome of the learning process must be measured on the student: Has he truly learned what he is supposed to learn inside the classroom? Or in teacherspeak, did he gain the minimum learning competencies at the end of the school year?

This is where Schumey's point precisely comes in: the need for evaluation tests to determine whether the public school system is indeed giving our young Juan de la Cruzes the quality education they deserve. This, I think, is how our teachers and the DepEd should be measured at the end of the day, not whether their daily lesson plans were
faithfully prepared.


27 October 2007


THE scoundrel pardons the lemon.

They both need it, today and beyond 2010.

We don't.

Can't this country come up with someone better?


24 October 2007

DepEd justifies the CEP

FROM our TEDPloop e-group, moderator Nap Imperial of the NEDA central office -- the one in Pasig, not along the Pasig:) -- shared the following DepEd justification for the controversial Cyber Education Project (CEP) in an email last night.

I am sharing it with you in toto, and please feel free to share your comments. DepEd after all "welcomes more dialogue to further improve on the project design and implementation."

Distance education is gradually being introduced for younger learners. Institutions around the world are realizing that through correct systems, distance education can produce substantial benefits for elementary and secondary school students. This has been the cue that DepEd has taken from other countries and even local initiatives.

The diagram above explains the theoretical model that Cyber Ed observes. The triad (teacher-facilitator-student) ensures that learning will take place even for young learners. The presence of standard content, customized reinforcements and active learning work together to maximize the learning experience in the classroom. Some political entities may mislead the public by oversimplifying the concept of Cyber Ed, and saying that it will not be effective. However, this theoretical model clearly shows that both the on-site facilitator and the students will have ample support for the teaching-learning process and the satellite teacher will have representative feedback on the lessons that are being discussed.

Incidentally, the debate on whether ICT in education is effective or not is irrelevant. It will just lead policy makers to an endless cycle of citing references and academic journals, the winner being decided by the sheer volume of evidence that can be presented. However, the truth is, while basic resources should be given priority, and other supplementary interventions should not be forgotten, integrating ICT in education is really part of the solution to the woes of the public basic education sector. No one can deny this. And a country like the Philippines cannot afford to be further left behind in using ICT in improving the educational system.

The clamor for greater diversity, community control and respect for the efforts of the many is not mutually-exclusive to the goals of Cyber Ed. In fact, Cyber Ed will be a major tool in promoting diversity in classroom teaching by providing the necessary support to teachers to make them more confident in handling more interesting and engaging lessons. Cyber Ed will promote greater community control by eliminating information asymmetry and inviting more local participation through improved performance, transparency and accountability. Cyber Ed will ultimately improve respect for the efforts of many local successes in education by ensuring nationwide collaborative learning among teachers and other stakeholders which will lead to instantaneous sharing of best practices and dissemination of brilliant ideas and school-based projects.

Lastly, it is very tempting to counter numerical arguments with other numerical perspectives. Let us assume that 400,000 teachers (300,000 elementary and 100,000 secondary) need retraining for 1 subject. Let us assume further that the number of training days necessary to provide the full competencies for 1 grade/year level is 40 (1 day of training for 1 week’s worth of lessons). Lastly, let us assume for the moment that honorarium for trainers and all transportation costs will not be included in the analysis. Using the COA guidelines of PhP1,200 per participant per day, training 400,000 teachers for 40 days for 1 subject area in 1 grade/year level will require a cost of Php19.2B (1,200 x 40 x 400,000). Now, comparing this to the Php26.5B price tag for 5 years puts things in proper perspective.

Then let us relax some assumptions and admit the real needs of DepEd. First, more than 500,000 teaching and non-teaching staff have to be trained. Second, they have to be trained on more than 1 subject area (especially for elementary teachers, who are the majority). Third, the transportation and other incidental costs to the training vary and depend on where the training will be held. However, there is no doubt that when viewed in the perspective of half a million personnel, the required additional cost will be very substantial. Fourth, even if DepEd has this money, this magnitude of training will take a substantial number of years to achieve (assuming 10 teams of trainers who will train 50 people, it will take them 1000 batches of training worth 40 days or 110 years including weekends and holidays to train all DepEd personnel). Now, rather than grappling with the idea that this seems impossible, why not accept that technology in general and Cyber Ed in particular can make a substantial dent in this daunting task?

DepEd understands that Cyber Ed has inadvertently stepped on the toes of some partners and entities with agenda that may or may not jive with the thrust of the Department. This might be the source of the perceived arrogance, insult, waste, insensitivity and poison. DepEd recognizes the fact that most of the resistance is well-meaning and it welcomes more dialogue to further improve on the project design and implementation. However, we implore critics to acknowledge a brilliant opportunity for change when it hits them right on the face. Instead of uncoordinated grandstanding at the expense of the project, why don’t we all pool our talents together and come up with the most appropriate solution to the country’s education crisis? In the same manner that Cyber Ed aims to harmonize all fragmented ICT initiatives in the sector, it is about time that all the bright boys and girls unite to bring our individual talents to focus on the same issues and solve them in a coordinated manner. The time is now. The opportunity is presenting itself. Don’t shy away from something that could potentially be great.
What do you think?


22 October 2007

Daily lesson planning, anyone?

My column for last week's issue of Vox Bikol.

OCTOBER is the month when public school students go into a week-long break ending the first semester of the school year. The break also allows their teachers to attend training arranged by their respective division or district offices.

I was reminded of this after my wife, who teaches geometry at Camarines Sur National High School, was extra-busy last week -- as Math club president, she had to oversee their departmental in-service training and aside from that prepare something to share to fellow math teachers.

There was something in one of our conversations last week that grabbed my attention, and I took mental note of it. It had something to do with a sharing by a fellow teacher on the new Cyber Education Project (CEP)-compliant lesson plan format, for which a week-long training was recently arranged by the DepEd.

From a simple format that requires only five sections, the new lesson plan now has 13, ostensibly in preparation for CEP’s eventual implementation. The sharing drew sharp reactions from the audience: instead of simplifying matters, lesson planning has just become more complicated if this P26.4 billion project really pushes through!

This reminded me of the Rapu-Rapu Education summit we facilitated last August 25 under the auspices of the Synergeia Foundation. If there is a search for the most unpopular task ordinary Filipino teachers must grapple with, preparing lesson plans day in and day out will be the hands-down winner.

In that Rapu-Rapu event, the dynamics between the teachers and their supervisors again came to the fore, mirroring all other events I have previously attended where the issue came up: is there really a need for these daily lesson plans in the task of educating the Filipino child?

On one hand, supervisors argue lesson planning is part of the job description, as teachers are given only six loads daily, with the two others allocated precisely for that task. Further, they are essential tools for the monitoring function of supervisors.

Teachers, on the other hand, argue they will be most thankful to DepEd if ready-made lessons can be provided them, or other alternative schemes are implemented, and these two hours be devoted instead to efforts to improve their delivery of the lessons.

Well, being a non-teacher, I scoured the net and ended up with an item on “lesson plan” from Wikipedia, part of which says

“In today's constructivist teaching style, the individual lesson plan is often inappropriate. Specific objectives and timelines may be included in the unit plan, but lesson plans are more fluid as they cater to student needs and learning styles. As students are asked to engage in problem or inquiry learning, rigid lesson planning with title, behavioral objectives, and specific outcomes within certain time constraints often no longer fit within modern effective pedagogy. Today, formal lesson plans are often required only of student teachers, who must be demonstrably familiar with the components of a lesson, or teachers new to the field, who have not yet internalized the flow of a lesson.”
Now, you tell me: Is there really a need for these daily lesson plans in the task of educating the Filipino child?

For five days, I am running a poll on the above question until Sunday. Feel free to join or better still post a comment, especially if you happen to believe that there is a better way.


15 October 2007

It’s a generational thing

My column for last week's issue of Vox Bikol.

DURING weekends, it has become a family tradition to motor to my hometown in Sagrada, Pili for our weekly worship and a visit at the old folks.

For about three months, the trips became an ordeal as the electronics of our 10-year old car that survived Reming’s wrath, though bruised and battered by flying purlins that twisted in the winds, suddenly conked out. But everything is back to normal now, our weekly pilgrimage even made better by the rediscovered versatility of the car CD player.

You see, that three-year old CD player can play MP3 tracks. If you can’t grasp the difference, think about this: while traditional CDs can only have 20 singles -- my Ultraelectromagneticjam for instance had 17 -- a blank CD can have around 140 MP3s on them. That’s more or less seven music albums in one serving.

Since I started burning MP3 songs and playing them the past three weeks, with all my seven kids on board, with their mom and grandma to boot, I noticed that if there is one other thing that binds our family together, it is our common love for music.

Last Sunday, for instance, we sang our heart out to the booming beat of Spongecola’s Bitiw and the mesmerizing Tuliro. The former is one of the reasons why I believe the original version of Pedro Penduko (starring Matt Evans) is much better than that forgettable urban sequel that featured the so-called Engkantaos against the evil Calagua.

Our tastes are rather eclectic. My eldest daughter Sophie, for instance, shares my passion for Santana’s Smooth, for which she now scores 100 in our aging Magic Sing, something she previously did for Celine Dion’s My Heart Will Go On, John Denver’s Annie’s Song and Gloria Gaynor’s I Will Survive. (She keeps a notebook where the codes of these “signature songs” are readily available.)

But they are also generational: she couldn’t relate to Maria! Maria!, another cut from Santana’s Grammy Award-winning Supernatural album. And while I also sing myself hoarse to My Chemical Romance’s Welcome to the Black Parade in unison with them -- an MTV in Divx format is conveniently tucked among some movies in my now Brontok-free laptop -- I find myself crooning by my lonesome to Matt Monro’s haunting version of If You Go Away (at least the parts in English) that includes most passages from the French original.

The immortal love songs that sustained me through melancholic lovelorn episodes of my youth, they call ancient. Her grandchildren will probably call them fossils, my wife quipped heartily.

These trips are both educational -- they recently discovered, for instance, the greatness of the Eraserheads, the band their father grew up in college with -- and edifying. In these days of quiet desperation, when all seemed lost and hopeless, the power of music is a soothing salve to a weary heart.

We'll carry on / We'll carry on / And though you're dead and gone believe me / Your memory will carry on / We'll carry on / And though you're broken and defeated / Your weary widow marches on / Do or die / You’ll never make me / Because the world will never take my heart / Come and try; you’ll never break me / We want it all, we want to play this part / Do or die / You'll never make me / Because the world will never take my heart / Go and try; you'll never break me. / We want it all, we want to play this part./ We'll carry on!


07 October 2007

An outsider looking in

My column for this week's issue of Vox Bikol.

WHEN Kristian Cordero approached me to do a review of Fr. Andrew Recepcion’s “God’s Global Household -- A Theology of Mission in the Context of Globalization,” I hesitated initially, considering that I belong to a different faith: I am a Jehovah’s Witness.

Kristian, however, said the author wouldn’t mind having a non-Catholic do it; after all, we are neighbors at the Vox Bikol opinion page. (Come to think of it, the book launch is practically a get-together of the paper’s staff.) Having said that, let me proceed to my main task this afternoon.

One, as can be expected of most published dissertations, the book is not an easy read. In this age of infotainment -- which is how some senators characterized, for instance, the recent hearings on the ZTE broadband deal -- the generation who grew up with Harry Potter will find it “heavy” stuff.

Nonetheless, if you are that Harry Potter fan who found great relief in the fact that -- after Book Seven -- the young wizard and his friends survived Voldemort and his minions, and good ultimately triumphed over evil, there is a strong likelihood that you must already be in college and will be asked to research into the phenomenon called “globalization.”

Well, have no fear: the first third of Recepcion’s book neatly summarizes the various aspects of the debates on globalization, something that Wikipedia does not offer. In 50 or so pages, he will tour you around the critical issues attending the debate, including Huntington’s now famous clash of civilizations thesis; the theories that attempt to explain it; as well as the paradigms that help clarify our present understanding of the phenomenon.

The bottomline, if I’m not mistaken, is represented by that ancient Indian fable about the six blind men of Hindustan -- better understanding can only be made possible by looking at an issue from multiple dimensions. Or better still, the synergistic concept that the whole is greater than sum total of its parts, especially when informed by knowledge from the Divine.

Of course, the book will certainly be a most useful guide for most mainline Christian churches insofar as modern missionary work is concerned. But it is precisely with the rest of the book that I am ambivalent about, mainly because of the reason I pointed out at the outset.

On the one hand, I find it remarkable that the Catholic Church has rediscovered “missionary theology” only in recent times, when smaller denominations in the margins have been doing so, driven by the mandate to “preach the good news of the kingdom in all the inhabited earth for a witness to all the nations.” (Mat 24:14)

On the other, the theology of mission it proposes -- built around the doctrine of the Trinity -- is quite alien to us inhabiting the fringes, unitarians as we are whose beliefs are more akin with those advanced by Arius of Alexandria. In a big way, therefore, if the objective is to promote dialog across various global divides, this approach is rather exclusive.

Nonetheless, notwithstanding the absence of a long tradition of catholic scholarly work -- to which Recepcion’s opus properly belongs -- we outsiders looking in find great comfort in the following passage from Mark’s account of the Gospel:

One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him "Of all the commandments, which is the most important?"

"The most important one," Jesus answered, "is this: Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: Love your neighbour as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these." (Mark 12:28-31)
Come to think of it, living out these commandments can bring about at least two probable outcomes: (1) at the very least, the same global household envisioned by Recepcion in an increasingly globalized world, and (2) beyond that, for us who believe differently -- if rewarded by the risk we took on taking the road less traveled, to borrow from Frost -- the scriptural promise of everlasting life in an earthly paradise.

Remarks during the God’s Global Household book launch held at the Madrigal Center Amphitheater, Ateneo de Naga University, on October 6, 2007.


01 October 2007

Pogs and an object lesson on power

My column for this week's issue of Vox Bikol.

LAST Saturday, I had to motor to the city center to attend two meetings, one with the University of Nueva Caceres General Alumni Association (UNCGAA) headed by Engr. Elmer Francisco, and a personal mission -- to buy my kids additional pogs.

My task would have been infinitely easier if Hong’s -- that popular store along Calle Caceres where chinese-made goods can be had for sometimes obscenely low prices that will probably make Alex Lacson (of the Twelve Little Things fame) unhappy -- still carried pogs with a diameter of more or less two inches. Unfortunately, when I inquired, what they had are the ones twice bigger.

So I ended up scouring practically the entire CBD, and that on a limping rheumatic right foot. From Hong’s, I went to Novo, another similar store beside Aristocrat Hotel, went through Divisoria Mall beneath the Bichara Complex, and then Master Square: but all for naught. At Master, I chanced on Erning Elcamel and family buying school supplies; “sa mga bangketa, igwa kayan,” Mrs. Elcamel said when I told them of my quest.

So, off I went to the Naga City Public Market, at one time the single biggest of its kind in Southeast Asia before the advent of the malls. I checked practically all sidewalk stalls from one end up to where Calle Caceres pierces through the market to join Jaime Hernandez Avenue, again to no avail. And practically all of them carried yoyos made in China, of all shapes and sizes and all colors and designs. But no pogs. Until one lady volunteered: “Probaran mo sir duman sa 2nd floor, sa may hagdan. Yaon duman an mga wholesaler.”

To cut the story short, my journey on foot looking for pogs one lazy weekend that started at Hong’s, bringing me through most of CBD in the process, ended at the public market, up the stairs along Prieto Street that I already passed by.

In an ideal market condition, I would have been spared all the hassles if information about the wholesaler had been made available right at the outset. But life in reality is never ideal: information asymmetry exists and sellers are not always rewarded handsomely as economic theory says.

In another place and time, that wholesaler would have sold me a sheet containing 88 pieces of pogs at P50 -- twice than what I got them at Hong’s -- and I still would have bought them lest I want to face again brooding, sulking kids who have been promised many times over. But then again, as yoyos have displaced pogs as the toys of the season, he was only too happy to give it to me at P20.

Now, compare that with how the Arroyo regime has gone about conducting its business on the now infamous NBN and CEP deals and you will see the irony of it all -- under an economist, who is supposed to know how markets work better than most, they were conducted in secrecy and the absence of competition. Which should be making her economics professors weep and peers gnashing their teeth. And worse, Bikolanos are part and parcel of the cabal now trying to either deodorize the whole thievery and now prevent the stink from reaching the palace, thwarting truth’s unraveling at every turn and making the state of information more asymmetric than ever before.

That, I think, is an object lesson on how power corrupts -- the change does not happen overnight; rather, it chips away incessantly at moral fortitude of even the best of men like steady waterdrops weathering the hardest of rocks.

On the other hand, that unnamed lady sidewalk vendor, trying to make ends meet in a public market that has seen better days, is infinitely better than all of them in many respects: with no eye towards personal gain, she singlehandedly eliminated information asymmetry in one fell swoop, in the process helping a father vainly searching for pogs and affirming his faith in the both the market and the inherent humanity and goodness of the Nagueño.