articles, opinions, and research about teaching and learning

Teachers Forum
March, 2002

Putting a face
and a memory
to each student’s name

An interview with
Mrs. Erlinda J. Valdez

Principal
Francisco Benitez
Elementary School

Erlinda Valdez

Child-Friendly School

The Child-Friendly School System (CFSS) in the Philippines was initiated in 1999 under the Fifth Country Programme for Children. It aimed to build models of child-friendly schools in the country. Child-friendly schools are ones that create an optimal learning environment for children by actively improving the school, family and community conditions in which children live, are educated and socialized. It seeks to find out why children drop-out of school, falter or fail. It also actively seeks out excluded children and gets them enrolled in classroom learning. One strategy that helps schools seek out and assist unreached, at-risk and faltering children is the student tracking system, STS is being piloted in 12 of more than 300 pilot child-friendly schools in the country. Below is an excerpt of an interview with the principal of F. Benitez Elementary School, 1 of 12 STS pilot schools.



Question: What is the Student Tracking System?

Answer: The Student Tracking System (STS) is a system of organizing important data about learners — their academic performance, physical and mental cognition, and their social background. It puts together a comprehensive view of the "whole" child that allows teachers and administrators to understand the total environment in which children are learning. In summary, it puts a face and a memory to each name.

STS is also an early warning that will identify children who needs special attention, at risk-of being abused and at-risk of faltering and leaving school. It is a system that determines the pattern and frequency of poor learning and identifying children who need immediate assistance.


Q: When and how did you start implementing STS?

A: It all started in May 2001 when I and 2 of my colleagues from this school were trained on STS. The training equipped us with the skills and knowledge to create, use and apply STS in our school. There are 12 schools implementing STS in the Philippines, half of which uses the computer-based model while the remaining, the "manual" model.

When we came back from the training we oriented all teachers on STS, advocated to parents and asked their support, particularly in accomplishing the family background questionnaires for each of their children enrolled in school. To validate some questionable entries, we conducted interviews to students, other family members and community leaders.

Student Profile

While the data gathering for family background information was ongoing, our school nurse was also doing health and nutrition monitoring for all students. Afterwhich, we all teachers were asked to construct the learning profiles of each student, dating as far back as their first years in the school.

The teachers-in-charge summarized all data and together with the grade chairman, jointly identified learning falterers. Falterers were classified into three, chronic — those who consistently failed , sporadic — those who alternately pass and fail, and temporary — those who failed once but had no history of failure. Records of falterers (who were lovingly called "stars" - short for students at-risk) were analyzed. Conclusions of the analyses became the basis for the interventions rendered to children.

The school is now completing a research entitled "Faltering at F. Benitez Elem School: causes, effects and possible solutions" which we hope will guide our future interventions.


Q: What benefits do you get out of implementing STS?

A: Our experience with the system is still very new. But we are seeing positive behavioral changes among our teachers. Teachers, by their own testimonies and as observed by their peers and students, have become more patient and understanding of students who falter, miss and misbehave in class. In the past, they consider falterers and absentees as problem students, now they see them as students with problems. They have also come to know more of their students — their family background and their special circumstances. This, we believe, is a major step in genuinely helping students at risk.

Teacher Profile

We also have noticed closer teacher-student relationships now. Some students with special problems confide with their teachers and run to the school for refuge and consolation when their own families fail to give them the attention and the care they need.

Finally, it has helped us define our school’s research agenda for the next years. Since our school’s goal is to provide quality elementary education to our students, it is incumbent upon us to find ways to make this into reality, to find causes of and address high levels of absenteeism, dropouts and underachievement. And the STS is showing us how — it gave us a tool to find out the why’s of the problems so we can address the how’s.


Q: How did you motivate overworked teachers to support the system?

Teachers working A: When we first introduced STS to our teachers, they had mixed reactions. Some were supportive but many were indifferent, skeptical and unimpressed. So we advocated to them emphasizing its potential benefits to them and to their students. We also ensured that their support to STS translated to additional points in their performance evaluation. Furthermore, we made it a school undertaking to conduct a research study entitled "Faltering at F.Benitez Elementary School: Causes, effects and possible solutions" which generated funds for the school.


Q: What were the challenges you faced in implementing STS?

A: The challenges we faced in starting the system can be categorized into three:

  1. Generating support from teachers — at first, this was hard, as a number of teachers were disinterested and unconcerned. But through a creative combination of persuasion and recognition of contribution, we were able to generate support from them.
  2. data entry

  3. Getting correct information from parents — there were many questions in the family background profile, which were "sensitive spots" for parents (i.e. educational attainment and family income). To get correct information from parents, we had to befriend parents, assist them accomplish the questionnaires and validate the information gathered by interviewing their children.
  4. Overlapping of reports — the school system requires many reports from the schools and more often than not, schools are burdened to prepare these reports. We are therefore exploring ways to integrate all these databases and reports so that less time and effort is spent in preparing all of them.

Q: What are the lessons learned and the future direction?

A: The main lessons learned fall into three categories:

  1. A better understanding of the students’ family background has much to do with improving academic achievement.
  2. Knowing the child fully well helps in educating him/her well
  3. Key to teacher’s support is proper acknowledgement and recognition of their efforts

In the next months, we intend to continue to use and strengthen the system and complete our study on student faltering. We also plan to conduct workshops where all teachers will jointly identify systematic ways of addressing factors of faltering, absenteeism and drop-outs.

In the meantime, we will also help advocate for the expansion of this initiative to all schools in the division of Manila City.

Note:
The CHILD Project in Thailand has been using data collection in the same fashion for several years. You can read a past interview, executive summary of the project and view their Web site for further information.



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