Reinventing Education for the Evolving World
In a world that is constantly changing, education remains a bulwark against inequity, and a key to social transformation. For Dr. Astrid Tuminez, a Filipino educator who became the first female president of Utah Valley University (UVU), education has never played a more crucial role in society.
“Everyone deserves a great education,” she shares. “If you're not educated, you do not have the wherewithal, the skills, even the imagination to see what you could become and what your life will be about.”
Education in crisis
Philippine education has long needed sustainable and inclusive development. This became more evident when the country was plunged into the crisis that was the COVID-19 pandemic and schools all over the country struggled to keep up with the abrupt changes that needed to be done to shift to distance learning.
At the start of school year 2021-2022, the Philippines was one of only two countries in the world (the other being Venezuela) that still had no plans to return to in-person classes.
“In 2020, schools globally were fully closed for an average of 79 teaching days, while the Philippines has been closed for more than a year, forcing students to enroll in distance learning modalities,” said Oyunsaikhan Dendevnorov, UNICEF’s representative in the Philippines. “The associated consequences of school closures—learning loss, mental distress, missed vaccinations, and heightened risk of drop out, child labor, and child marriage—will be felt by many children, especially the youngest learners in critical development stages.”
Leading public health experts in the country, however, reiterated that the priority should be the health and safety of children and all stakeholders before any plans to reopen schools, especially with the country experiencing a surge of the COVID-19 virus and the rise of variants at the time.
In 15 November 2021, following months of planning and proposals, the Department of Education (DepEd), along with a handful of public and private schools all over the country, started the pilot testing of in-person classes in areas classified as low-risk for COVID-19.
Despite a few gaps in implementation observed by independent bodies, the pilot run was deemed “highly successful” by DepEd, stating that there was “no recorded confirmed COVID-19 case among the 15,683 learners who participated in the pilot implementation of limited face-to-face classes.”
They also recommended the “progressive expansion” of limited in-person classes by 2022 in which only vaccinated teaching and non-teaching staff will be allowed to participate.
This is the right time for a deep reflection on curriculum. Curricula should be increasingly integrated and based on themes and problems that allows us to learn to live in peace with our common humanity and our common planet.
Planning for post-disruption
The gradual return to in-person classes may be a much-needed step in narrowing the learning gap caused by the pandemic, but the discussion on what learning modality will be prominent in Philippine education post-pandemic is still ongoing among education stakeholders.
Hybrid flexible learning, which blends online and on-site learning delivery modes, is the current popular option for educators and schools nationwide. Nevertheless, there is evidently a need to reinvent education, and this would entail not only acquiring and utilizing new technology, but also shifting mindsets in order to be more adept at handling disruptions.
In her talk during the 2021 Diwa Innovators’ Congress organized by educational resource provider Diwa Learning Systems Inc (Diwa), Dr. Tuminez shared vital behaviors that schools should consider to not only be ready for the post-disruption age but to also remain resilient amid any crisis that may come in the future.
1. Embrace digital.
The most obvious change that the pandemic brought to education is the shift towards online learning. Tech-enabled teaching and learning modalities, which were previously considered an innovative but risky investment for schools, became the status quo. And while online and hybrid learning setups are not the end-all be-all of post-pandemic education, it stands to reason that the digital space will now be an essential part of education systems moving forward.
In fact, educational institutions like UVU that had jumpstarted their e-learning programs years before the pandemic had a clear advantage once distance learning became the norm.
“Luckily for us, in the first 18 months of my tenure here, we already hired a Vice President of Digital Transformation,” shares Dr. Tuminez. “Not many universities today have a senior person in the cabinet who is fully in-charge of digital transformation.”
In the Philippines, Christian Ecclesiastical School (CES) in San Jose del Monte, Bulacan was among those that reaped the benefits of going the e-learning route ahead of the curve. Having taken the leap with Diwa’s Genyo e-Learning platform eight years ago, they were ready to switch to full online distance learning once the pandemic struck.
“For us, that was the best solution,” CES principal Floriza Nepomuceno said. “It’s the alternative delivery mode we were preparing for years ago.”
Dr. Astrid Tuminez shares her insights to school leaders during the 2019 Diwa Innovators' Congress (left) and the virtual 2021 Diwa Innovators' Congress (right)
2. Be agile in making learning continuity plans.
Institutional resiliency involves being quick to innovate with less hesitancy, and being willing to collaborate with stakeholders by listening and working with them to achieve a common goal.
“Academia is not known for speed,” says Dr. Tuminez. “But speed and agility is important because you will not have 100% of the information you need all the time and yet you still have to make decisions.”
UVU, for example, anticipated up to 70% of their student population to come back when they first started in-person classes in Fall 2021, but only 50% signed up for the in-person courses. This didn’t deter Dr. Tuminez, who said they “removed the draconian approach” by emphasizing that “nobody is forced to be on campus” and offering religious, medical, and personal exemptions to their student body.
Their agility coupled with their culture of exceptional care, exceptional accountability, and exceptional results proved to be successful for UVU, who had two of their highest rate of graduations in their 80-year history during the pandemic years.
3. Identify a “coalition of the willing” among faculty.
Inevitably, some members of the community—whether teachers, students, or parents—will be slower and more resistant to change and to innovations. Dr. Tuminez advises identifying a “coalition of the willing”, which are faculty members who are more eager to try new things.
“What that small group is gonna do for you is that they will demonstrate change,” Dr. Tuminez explains. “And by demonstrating change, you don't have to lecture or scold the faculty. They will simply look at their peers and see that if they're doing it, I could do it too.”
“We really need to lead by example,” she adds. “I know it's sometimes hard to use tech. It can be very intimidating but we have to show people who depend on us that we are not afraid, and that we are willing to experiment.”
4. Invest in teacher training.
In 2019, global assessments showed Filipino students scoring lowest in mathematics and science among 58 participating countries.
Senator Sherwin Gatchalian, who was head of the Senate committee on basic education, arts, and culture, said in response to this study, “If Filipino schoolchildren are to keep up with peers from other countries, the Philippines needs better programs to train teachers.”
Dr. Tuminez highlights the importance of immediately training teachers when the pandemic hit, sharing that there were many UVU professors who did not want to teach online at first.
“You have to support them so that they overcome their nervousness and their fear,” Dr. Tuminez says. “So offer training and offer support.”
Schools in the Philippines have the option to partner with trusted providers to help them train their staff. Pagadian Golden School Learning Center’s years-long partnership with Diwa, for example, paid off during the pandemic when Diwa helped train their stakeholders to adapt to the new mode of learning particularly with the parents who had to learn to use the tools as well.
Everyone deserves a great education. If you're not educated, you do not have the wherewithal, the skills, even the imagination to see what you could become and what your life will be about.
—DR. ASTRID TUMINEZ
5. Focus on developing critical thinking, and media and scientific literacy skills among students.
A saying that has become common among the education sector is that students should be taught not what to think but how to think. In an age marked by disinformation and misinformation easily propagated through social media, developing critical thinking and literacy skills are crucial for the impressionable youth that are regularly on these platforms.
UNESCO’s International Commission on the Futures of Education, on their report called Education in a post-COVID world, states, “This is the right time for a deep reflection on curriculum. Curricula should be increasingly integrated and based on themes and problems that allows us to learn to live in peace with our common humanity and our common planet.”
Schools, in their transition towards a tech-based teaching and learning environment, must ensure that their curriculum allows for content and instruction to target critical thinking in students, especially in the areas of media and technology.
“What we need to do is train our children not just to be consumers of technology but that they must consume it wisely,” says Dr. Tuminez.
A sector on a precipice
The COVID-19 pandemic revealed many vulnerabilities, especially in the education sector. It remains to be seen how much of education will change in the coming months and what steps will be taken to improve it for the school years to come.
Still, schools can achieve institutional resilience by relying on innovation and collaboration. It may be intimidating to reinvent convention, but innovations need not be tech-based or completely out of the box. It can be something as simple as creating community outreach programs led by staff whose jobs formerly depended on being physically present in schools, or introducing collaborative teaching programs, or even creating initiatives geared towards parent engagement. Many schools in the Philippines experimented with shifting traditionally physical educational activities online, such as virtual field trips, and virtual fairs and exhibits.
It will ultimately be up to the education community to decide what the best way forward would be. And at the helm of this transition to newer pastures are educators and school leaders. Navigating a crisis while ensuring students continue to receive quality education is not an easy task, but it is one that educators are well-equipped to handle.
“Teaching is a noble profession,” says Dr. Tuminez. “People don't teach to get rich or famous. Running schools is not the path to becoming a multimillionaire. But it is a profession that transforms lives. You are able to help students imagine their possibilities and, to me, that is the greatest reward of our careers in education.” Q
For further reading:
Education: an opportunity to reinvent teaching, The UNESCO Courier
Education in a post-COVID world: Nine ideas for public action, UNESCO International Commission on the Futures of Education
2020 vs. 2021: Notable trends in innovative school practice nationwide, Christensen Institute
Re-Envisioning "Innovative Schools" for 2021: Why We’re Investing Deeper in Tech-Enabled Learning Solutions, Overdeck Family Foundation
Strategies for Educators to Thrive in Post-Pandemic Teaching, Fierce Education