When teachers lead the cheating

NAT jpgIn Philippine society, we look up to teachers as paragons of virtue. They lead us to the realm of wisdom, and let us distinguish right from wrong.

Teaching is arguably a most noble profession. I am sure you have heard of the story of various professionals, all of them Filipino, at the doorstep of heaven explaining to St. Peter why they deserve to enter paradise. “I served the people with all my heart,” a politician enthused. “I built roads, bridges, and buildings, including churches,” said an engineer. A doctor explained how she healed the sick while a lawyer detailed how he brought justice to the oppressed. Then a teacher came forward and proudly said, “Well, St. Peter, I taught them all.”

Impressive answer, indeed. I am not sure though whether heaven’s gatekeeper let the teacher in, for there’s a chance he may have wondered whether the chaos in Philippine society today—the massive corruption, the greed, the thoughtless bickering, and the lack of foresight, among others—are to be blamed on teachers. We already know how politicians betray us, how professionals like doctors and lawyers do not pay the right taxes, how engineers construct substandard structures, and how other professionals do society more harm than good.

This comes to mind after allegations of cheating in the National Achievement Tests hit the headlines earlier this year. Whistleblowers claimed that teachers themselves initiate, orchestrate, and execute the cheating in many creative ways. Cheating incidents have been investigated on by the NBI in some areas, although we know that these happen many place else, if not everywhere.

Teachers allegedly disseminate leakages during examination reviews for the nationwide test taken annually by students in Grades 3 and 6 and fourth year high school. In a report by GMA 7, one teacher let the students memorize the patterns, and then burned the kodigo afterwards. Also, teachers make seating arrangements where brilliant students are strategically positioned and are instructed to make their answers available to others. There could be hand signals and passing of cheat sheets but the students are told to do it silently. These mostly happen in public schools although some private schools have reportedly received leakages as well. While proctors do come from other schools, many of them are either active collaborators in the grand scheme or are just passive participants who choose to be blind over the gross dishonesty happening before their very eyes.

Meanwhile, the students are confused why teachers who talk about the importance of honesty and integrity all the time suddenly change tune by carrying out unlawful acts.

We all know these are happening despite denials from the Department of Education authorities. “To me, there is no cheating committed in the NAT,” wrote Atty. Tonisito Umali, DepEd assistant secretary for legal affairs, in his column in Business Mirror. If there is any, Umali added, these allegations should be very isolated. I don’t know how high Umali’s ivory tower is, but it must be high well enough for him not to see what really happens on the ground.

Why do teachers resort to cheating anyway? That their performance is largely assessed by NAT results is a big reason. Good ratings in the NAT mean better performance appraisal for the teacher, and, in the advent of the Performance Based Bonus (PBB) introduced by Butch Abad (yes, the same guy who designed the unconstitutional DAP), the higher their monetary rewards, too. Teachers in schools who obtain top NAT results receive P35,000. Those on the other end get P5,000 only, if at all. Teachers who come from good performing schools also have an edge in terms of promotions.

Moreover, public schools that do not show adequate yearly progress in the NAT face sanctions such as a decrease in their Maintenance and Other Operating Expenses (MOOE). This means that schools that are doing poorly will receive less government support. This, dear karikna, defies reason, for shouldn’t government give even more attention to poorly performing schools—those which need serious intervention? The MOOE, according to DepEd, is intended to be spent in critical and priority areas that would help improve the quality of learning. For instance, it is to be used for the repair and maintenance of buildings and other facilities. What sound logic is there when students who are already faring poorly are ‘punished’ by having their school deteriorate further because of a decreased MOOE?

Given the rampant cheating in the NAT, there’s a big chance that cheating performance and not really learning achievement is being rewarded by the system. It is not uncommon then that some schools, which are unheard of in credible competitions or have never done well in any interschool academic endeavor, ace the NAT. It is not unlikely as well that other schools that are doing honestly well based on all indicators, do not rank as high in the NAT.

Rightfully then, the Alliance of Concerned Teachers have expressed strong opposition over considering NAT results as a major factor in determining teachers’ bonuses and school funding. This proposal, the party-list group says, would lessen the temptation of cheating in the NAT.

But cheating is not the only problem brought about by the NAT which abolition is now being pushed by Federation of Associations of Private Schools and Administrators (FAPSA). “Students need to think, not memorize,” the group said in a statement.

FAPSA Eleazardo Kasilag explained that public school teachers resort to “teach to test” to get incentives. “Teaching to test is simply item-teaching, which removes the validity of tests and is reprehensible. It should be stopped,” he said. This means teaching only what students are most likely to encounter during exams such as in science, math, English, Filipino and sibika. Meanwhile, the arts, as well as problem solving, effective communication, and ICT are getting less attention. In effect, students abandon assignments that require critical thinking in favor of drill, memorization, repetitive practice, and… (sigh) cheating.

Let me, dear karikna, make this clear: not all teachers are cheats, most may even be honest. I know many who value honor and integrity over all the monetary bonuses on earth. And St. Peter will surely find their names in his master list because heaven’s achievement test, unlike DepEd’s, is credible and honest.

*****

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