The Asian stereotype of excellence in math doesn’t currently apply in the Philippines. In schools across the country, students are struggling to learn and retain necessary math skills.
The World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report 2011-2 ranks the Philippines 115th out of 142 countries in perceived quality of Math and Science education.
What contributes to this low level of competency in mathematics? Dr. Carlo Magno, of De La Salle University’s College of Education in Manila, suggests the problem lies in lack of consistent curriculum, teacher training and deeper learning.
There is generally no country-wide curriculum or official guide for teachers to ensure the basic needs are met, and what guides do exist are written in formal language not approachable for the average teacher. Teaching is based on computation, not comprehension of the concepts behind the numbers. Without that deeper understanding of mathematics, students don’t retain the knowledge.
Lessons are given in quick succession and there is little sequence or progress in mathematics instruction. In addition, large class sizes, insufficient preparation of public school teachers (67% of multi-grade teachers less than 5 years of experience.) and lack of quality educational materials contribute to poor instruction and there are few technological resources that could aid in learning.
The Philippines government is turning to technology to meet these challenges by utilizing innovations in ICT and education. In 2011, Department of Science and Technology (DOST) Secretary Mario G. Montejo initiated the project “Technology Package for Student Learning Empowerment.” The idea was to create new forms of educational content, especially for primary education, to improve the quality of Philippine education. By utilizing efficient and affordable software and hardware, students can benefit from new ways of learning.
The initiative is a collaboration across sectors: The Science Education Institute (SEI) of DOST financed and monitored the project; the University of the Philippines National Institute for Science and Math Education (UP-NISMED) wrote the lesson scripts; the Advanced Science and Technology Institute (ASTI) provided hardware and software resources; the Department of Education made possible the pilot testing of the material in public schools; and the Philippine Council for Industry, Energy and Emerging Technology Research and Development supported the production.
The first step was to develop material to supplement math teaching and learning in the classroom. The new material featured lessons compatible with both the Department of Education’s existing Basic Education and the proposed K-12 curricula. The approach was to create ten lessons in mathematics with 16 activities, fixing skills and evaluations using animated interactivities to make learning more fun. “Our courseware was meant to supplement—not replace—traditional textbooks, lessons and teachers,” noted curriculum expert Dr. Queena N. Lee-Chua.
Modules are divided into three parts: Activity, Fixing Skills, and Evaluation. “Activity” shows/explains the lesson, “Fixing Skills” are exercises that increase understanding of the lesson and mastery of the concept, while “Evaluation” tests the pupils’ lesson comprehension. Experts from UP-NISMED drafted the scripts and eventually transformed the concepts into lessons.
The Grade1 Mathematics Courseware is a set of interactive multimedia lessons covering topic such as classifying objects, comparing and ordering sets of objects and numbers , adding and subtracting whole numbers, partitioning numbers into halves and fourths, and measuring length using nonstandard units.
The next stage was the design and development of the lessons as courseware. DOST-ASTI and a team of local skilled graphic artists and programmers assisted with the digitization of lessons, which involved interface designing, programming, animation, audio mixing and, finally, the integration of all elements to produce a courseware.
Using Adobe Flash and the open source Flash Develop, the digital courseware introduces mathematical concepts through familiar situations, as well as catchy songs, chants and lively characters for pupils to easily identify with. (Lessons start with animated Filipino characters presented with a situation easily solved by math. )
Training and Testing
The next step was to train teachers how to utilize the courseware to maximize its instructional potential. A select group of teachers from the 20 proposed recipient schools were guided through the use of courseware and how to design lesson plans to integrate it. They were also trained to facilitate the pupils’ use of technology while monitoring the class overall.
Once teachers were trained, the hardware and software packages were disseminated to various public school students across the country to test the lesson material, identify possible problems and implement adjustments and remedies if needed.
The committee identified ten elementary schools from different parts of the country to be involved in the pilot testing. They distributed the courseware, along with the hardware units (Coby touchscreen tablets) necessary to operate it.
Discovery and Recommendations
Various metrics were used to measure the effectiveness of using tablet computers as a learning tool. Pre-tests and post-tests were given to both experimental and control groups, and the scores of the students who used the courseware soared, compared to those who did not.
Interaction between pupils was limited, because each student was provided with his or her own tablet to use. Several concepts in math, however, are better retained through cooperative learning or pair work. Since tablets tend to foster individual learning, without the benefits of idea exchange, it was recommended to have two students share a tablet, especially while doing the Activity or Fixing Skills portions where they could interact to solve problems.
Not surprisingly, unfamiliarity with tablet technology caused issues. Some pupils unconsciously placed their finger on their mouth or nose and then used the same finger to tap the screen, smudging it and making the equipment tedious to clean afterwards. If the tablets did not respond, some students would continue tapping, which sometimes caused the equipment to hang. Thus, it was recommended to replace the tablets with laptops or netbooks, which are more resistant to mishandling, can be more cost-effective, and are easier to handle as keyboards.
With the success of the Grade 1 curriculum, Grades 2 to 6 Mathematics Courseware was developed. This time, the courseware was loaded onto a netbook. The project also plans to translate the courseware into various languages.
The Technology Package, which includes Grades 1 – 6 Mathematics courseware, are free of charge and accessible for download through the DOST Courseware Website.