A Student’s Secret to Success
In their book, Magaling Ang Pinoy!, Queena Lee-Chua, Maribel Sison-Dionisio, and Nerisa Fernandez reveal the best practices of excellent Filipino students and their families—and how your students can do them too!
What makes Filipino children do well in school?
This is a question that is foremost in the minds of most parents and teachers. Not content with simply looking for answers in Western books or elsewhere, Queena Lee-Chua, Maribel Sison-Dionisio, and Nerisa Fernandez decided to ask Filipino families themselves.
It all started in 2003, when Queena, a professor who specializes in mathematics education and learning psychology, and Maribel, a marriage and family counselor and parenting consultant, spearheaded the Parents’ Best Practices Study at the Ateneo de Manila High School. Queena designed a 100-item questionnaire based on American data, and with the help of volunteers from the High School Parents’ Council, they distributed the questionnaire to parents of honor students, athletes, student leaders, and students excelling in extracurricular activities.
Once all the survey results were in, they conducted a statistical analysis and the data revealed 10 best practices that families of Ateneo achievers had done—and continued to do. This became the basis of their book, Helping Our Children Do Well in School, which won the National Book Award for Education in 2005.
Despite the success of the study, another question lingered in their minds. Do the same practices apply to students in public schools?
In 2005, Queena and Maribel embarked on a much bigger study to find their answers. They were joined by Nesy Fernandez, a former marketing executive who was also part of the team that assisted in the survey conducted at the Ateneo High School in 2003. With the help of the Department of Education, several government officials, parent volunteers, and Pathways to Higher Education (an Ateneo program that helps talented public school students hone their skills for college), the ladies gained access to 17 public schools in Marikina and Bulacan. They distributed a revised version of their original questionnaire to more than a thousand families in each area, and conducted focus group discussions and personal interviews with several parents.
So what makes Filipino children do well in school? The answer lies in family.
Family Comes First
The families of outstanding students from the 17 public schools in Marikina and Bulacan differed in many ways, but they shared five things in common—and these became the basis for Queena, Maribel, and Nesy’s book, Magaling Ang Pinoy! How and Why Filipino Public School Students Achieve.
According to their book, disadvantaged students perform well because “parents use discipline to guide their children early on, motivating them to aim for various goals. Children learn to rely on their own efforts and skills, encouraged by loving families and a supportive home environment.”
As mothers themselves, Queena, Maribel, and Nesy believe that it’s not so much about the student’s socio economic background nor is it about the school where he or she studies. Queena says, “There is a huge gap between the influence of the school and that of the parents. Any school can produce both good and bad students. We found that it is really the parents who instill good study habits in their children.”
As they’ve found through the study and said in their book, “Academic success is not determined by economic status or social ties. What counts most is effective parenting that aims to develop our children’s potential to the utmost.”
Some parents believe that going abroad and earning more money to send their children to the best schools and hire tutors for them will help them excel. But Queena says, “Going abroad and having more money is not the solution. Parents should really be there. Sit down with your kids while they are studying.”
Queena emphasizes the value of “tutok”or focusing on the child. She herself has practiced this with her son Scott. In HelpingOur Children Do Well in School, she talks about how she sat with him through his assignments, as early as kindergarten. Now, she can trust Scott to do his schoolwork before doing other things.
Maribel says it is important for parents to be present in the first 10 years of their child’s life, guiding them throughout their studies. In Helping Our Children Do Well in School, the authors say, “Research has shown that if a child has constant parental presence and guidance during this period, he will already have formed the values, behavior, and habits parents want to instill in him.” When Maribel’s children Rafael, David, and Angelica were born, she left her corporate job and for the first 10 years in the life of each child, she focused on them.
Nesy agrees that parents should have a good relationship with their children. “Get close to them. Ask them what their problems are. Bring them to school and pick them up if you can. Advise them not to get married early and be there to support them. Parenting is a very difficult task and no relationship is perfect. Disappointments, arguments, and hurts are part of the landscape but being close and establishing good communication are definitely a plus.”
Nesy herself had been a parent volunteer since her son Gerard entered prep at the Ateneo Grade School. As a class parent representative in elementary and high school, she participated in most of the activities like field trips, outreach activities, seminars for parents, and more. She says, “I do not have any regrets of giving up a full-time career to raise my only child.I find parenting enriching and volunteer work, definitely fulfilling. ” Now that her son has graduated from college, Nesy continues to volunteer with Pathways to Higher Education at the Ateneo.
Parents and Teachers are Partners
Since they conducted the Best Practices Study, Queena, Maribel, and Nesy have been giving talks for parents, teachers, and students to teach them the lessons from the book. Queena says, “We tell public school teachers to be open to the parents of their students. Don’t have an adversarial relationship with them. Don’t just talk to them about grades. Tell parents that this study has been done and that this is what they can do to make their kids excel.”
Maribel adds that the burden of taking care of students should not be all on the teacher. “It’s supposed to be the parents’ responsibility. Sometimes when their kids are not doing well, they blame the teachers. Tell these parents about the best practices so that you can help each other.”
A manual entitled ABaKaDa ng Pagiging Mabuting Magulang was developed by one of their volunteers who is a professional trainer.This was the teaching aid the women used to simplify and demonstrate the five best practices of being a good parent. These stand for:
A – ATENSYON
B – BUONG PAGPAPAHALAGA sa SARILI
K – KOMUNIKASYON
D – DISIPLINANG may PAGMAMAHAL
E – ESPESYAL na RELASYON sa ASAWA at sa SARILI
Nesy says, “We would like to continue to encourage parents of public school children to teach their children and keep them in school so that they can get a college education. Hopefully, they will have more opportunities and a better future.”
Reaping the Rewards
In March 2010, Queena, Maribel, and Nesy received the award for “Scholarly Work With Most Social Impact” for Magaling Ang Pinoy! from the Ateneo. Queena says that out of all the awards she has received, this one is the most special to her. The book was truly a labor of love, not only by the authors, but also by all the parent volunteers who helped them conduct the study.
In a speech that Nesy delivered at the Ateneo right after they conducted the study, she said, “This project has given us so much more than just numbers. In the course of our research, we were drawn into an accidental journey into the heart and soul of the Filipino parent of a public school student…
“Our participation in this study was like an immersion into a life we knew of but never had a chance to feel. It was very close to being a religious experience. Most of these parents live the three theological virtues of faith, hope, and charity with incomparable zeal. They embraced the hardships of life with unwavering FAITH firmly believing that ‘makakaraos tayo sa awa ng Diyos.’ They allowed HOPE to light their way as they continue to aspire for a better life for their children in spite of the difficulties they face. They practiced CHARITY to the fullest… loving their children more than their own selves and giving all that they have.”
Magaling Ang Pinoy!
Here is an overview of the best practices of families of successful students in public high schools in Marikina and Bulacan as written by Queena, Maribel, and Nesy. Share these with your students’ parents to help their children excel!
- Discipline to instruct, not to punish.When maintaining discipline, we should never threaten, hurt, or humiliate our children. Instead, explain what they have done wrong. When done effectively, disciplined children grow up with confidence and responsibility.
- Set goals, for wishes are not enough. To achieve our dream, we need to break it down into concrete steps, or goals. In short, our goals must be SMART: Specific, Measurable, Action-oriented, Realistic, and Time-bound. We need to develop a clear picture of where we want to go with our life, which involves deciding what our values are and setting achievable goals.
- Rely on yourself, not on fate. Successful students take responsibility for their actions, while unsuccessful ones believe that they are the victims of fate. During the focus group discussions, all the honor students say that sipag is the foremost reason behind their academic achievement. No child is bobo. With proper guidance, every child can achieve.
- Strengthen family bonds. The first step is being there. In the survey, majority of parents of successful students reveal that despite financial worries, they manage to prioritize their children and make time for them. A good way to strengthen family bonds is to do various activities together.
- Make your home fit for learning. Parents are the first teachers. Parents of achieving children in Marikina and Bulacan public schools sit down with their children, supervise them as much as they can, make sacrifices for necessary materials, and keep tabs on their academic performance. They encourage their children to read books even if these are not required in school. With a set time and place for work and play, good study habits are formed early in childhood. A home where education is a priority helps children to value and enjoy learning, which in turn helps them to excel in school.