Good afternoon to my dear fellow educators!
We are now at the end of the PhilEd 2021 Conference. It has undoubtedly been an incredible and knowledge-filled journey. Despite our busy schedule, I am happy that we still dedicated time to engage actively during the sessions and acquire new learnings from experts and from each other. We are genuine educators through and through, having honed this desire to continuously learn, for we know that it is in learning that we can respond and adapt for the future.
I have mentioned this as well in other gatherings before. Still, it is worth mentioning again – I’ve always found beauty and comfort because we are still able to come together as one community of educators, despite the limitations and difficulties that we face as a sector. I believe that only when we work together will we come out of this pandemic stronger and better as a sector.
The theme of this year’s conference is “Reimagining Schools and Learning Beyond COVID-19.” When we started planning for this gathering, we had two main things in mind:
We wanted to highlight the need for the Philippine education system to transition from school recovery and readiness to school preparedness and resilience to ensure student learning continuity during disruptive situations such as the COVID-19 pandemic. We wanted us to go beyond survival into conditions of being stable and thriving.
Secondly, we also wanted to encourage discussions on aligning sector and school responses and strategies to improve student outcomes. More specifically, our sessions the past two days sought to assess and explore education priorities, policies, and programs that enhance access to and delivery of quality education.
As such, you will notice that our sessions, taken collectively, try to a) analyze the past to learn what worked and what didn’t, b) understand better the situation of the present to ground ourselves in our context and reality, and c) plot out trends and opportunities in, and for the future. By looking at the past, present, and future, we further hone our capacity for imagination for the education sector. Imagination allows us to see possibilities. Without imagination, without seeing what good we could head towards, we will lose our way and eventually the fire and energy that drives us in our mission.
Through this conference, I pray that all of us were able to expand our imagination with the help of the many inputs that experts from different fields and countries gave. As a sort of refresher, but more importantly as synthesis for our conference, allow me to give us all a quick run-through of the significant events of our conference, as well as the key insights we can glean from our plenary and concurrent sessions.
Day 1 AM sessions
Our 2021 PhilEd Conference officially began yesterday with opening messages from key stakeholders in the education sector. Usec. Tonisito Umali from DepEd affirmed the importance and relevance of the PhilEd Conference, especially in gathering educators nationwide to dialogue about pressing issues in the education sector. He assured us that DepEd would support private schools in facing the challenges of delivering quality education.
Dr. Anthony Tamayo, currently the Chairperson of COCOPEA and the President of PACU, also affirmed the importance of bringing together education leaders to find new thinking pathways to respond to the changes in the VUCA environment. He challenged us to reimagine the future of education in the Philippines. In this future, it is agile, innovative, and resilient, ensuring equitable access to quality education for the youth. Our increasingly globalized world demands that our graduates be competent, competitive, and committed.
Our first significant input is from Professor Paul Glewwe, the speaker for the Second Senator Edgardo J. Angara Keynote Lecture entitled “Education in Developing Countries: Policies and Programs that Affect Learning.” Grounded in solid evidence across more than a hundred studies worldwide, Prof. Glewwe provided us with some leads and handles on what policies we can look at to address the shortcomings in delivering quality education. He shared three general categories of education policies – Inputs, Pedagogy, and Governance. Some of the more effective policies he discovered were remedial programs and tutoring, the disclosure of students’ academic performances with diagnostic feedback to teachers, and teacher performance pays.
He ended with a cautionary note, reminding us that many studies were from other countries. Acknowledging the importance of unique local contexts, he emphasized the need to do localized studies. He recommended the creation of a Research Center focused on doing studies and randomized control trials (RCTs) to ensure we have local data and evidence on policy effectiveness. This was a timely lecture, as we continue to grasp for evidence-based solutions to education woes revealed to us by international assessments and studies.
The keynote address was followed by a panel discussion on “Reimagining Philippine Education.” We had representatives from both the private and public sectors share their opinion on the state of Philippine Education and current and possible remedies to address pressing continuing problems. The conversation between Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian, Rep. Roman Romulo, Sec. Karlo Nograles, Br. Armin Luistro, Dr. Chito Salazar, and Prof. Glewwe was moderated by Mr. Christian Esguerra.
It was a dynamic conversation that surfaced pressing problems – malnutrition of children that affects brain development and learning, the need for better teacher education and training, inequalities in accessing education, and our dismal performance in reading and comprehension with a shocking 90% learning poverty.
Panelists acknowledged that some government interventions are in place but much still must be done. A whole-of-nation approach, a collaboration across different stakeholders from national to the local level (especially with the Mandanas ruling), is a necessary step moving forward, especially in tackling several critical areas of focus identified by the panel:
The Philippines needs to build its research capacity, gathering local evidence on effective education policies through high-quality studies and experimentations.
Malnutrition needs to be immediately addressed. The health and social welfare sector must step in to ensure nutrition for the first three years of a child.
Philippine Basic Education, especially at the K to 3 levels, must focus on what is essential and foundational – reading and comprehension.
There is a need to build a more resilient education system that is flexible and capable of shifting when calamities hit the country.
As we look at these areas of focus, we are confronted with the importance of balance – the balance between centralization and decentralization, the balance of putting our energies on short-term, mid-term, or long-term solutions, and the balance of allocating resources between the private and public education sectors.
We already have so much to reflect on just from yesterday’s morning session. It was an excellent start to our conference.
Day 1 PM sessions
Concurrent sessions in the afternoon were clustered under three strands – Teaching and Learning, Standards and Competencies, and Future of Schools. We had 4-5 different discussions covering a wide range of topics for each strand. Like a buffet, this was designed so that you can join and listen in on the issues you would want to know more about. I won’t go into the details of each session as that will take us a whole day, but you can visit WHOVA to access the materials and recordings. Still, let me share some of the main points gained from each cluster.
Under the Teaching and Learning Strand, we explored the different dimensions of delivering quality education to address the problems of the 21st century. To counter rampant disinformation, we were asked to consider developing critical feelings amongst learners. To respond to 21st century needs, the right education framework is needed to ensure leadership formation and SMART learners. As we reviewed the K to 12 curriculum, we identified what was essential and fundamental and are now tasked to focus on core competencies. At the heart of our education system is our dear teachers, and we emphasized the importance of ensuring quality formation and the protection of their welfare. The Teaching and Learning Strand brought to mind the importance of holistic formation and our students’ integral development that goes beyond content-loading, but one that forms them to be leaders and true 21st century learners.
The second strand covers Standards and Competencies, covering topics such as quality assurance, credit transfers, licensure exams, and the importance of the engagement between industry, academe and government. Sessions were informative in telling us about the various mechanisms for ensuring standards are reached. A common pattern seen across the talks was the challenge in the shift and adjustment brought about by the pandemic, whether in conducting licensure exams or doing accreditations. Despite the obstacles, speakers discussed how it was necessary to adapt to the changing times because, in the end, these mechanisms for standards and competencies are made so that the public is ensured of the quality of services.
The third strand looked at the Future of Schools and had a variety of talks that sought to understand the situation of the education sector from the lens of health, government subsidy and support, and data protection policies. The sessions under this strand also invite us to shift school processes in anticipation of a rapidly changing future, whether the increasing use of data in decision-making or integrating the futures of Hiraya foresight into our learning competencies. We must situate ourselves in realities and trends to be better equipped to forge our paths forward as schools.
We want to thank the many resource persons and moderators across the sessions who made this a meaningful and insightful afternoon for our participants.
Day 2 AM sessions
Today was designed to have international experts talk about topics relevant to the current educational state, especially how educators and administrators can continue to develop new and exciting ways to thrive in the digital world.
We began this morning with a presentation from Dr. Hang Le, who gave her thoughts on “Transforming Higher Education in the Digital Era.” With the onset of the 4th Industrial Revolution (4IR), our society has been changing drastically, and because of this, education methods and processes have also shifted to Education 4.0. Integral to this shift is the need for digital transformation, which goes beyond just “digitization” or “digitalization.” It is something more comprehensive that transforms and automates all processes in the university. It impacts teaching, learning, and everything else, needing deep and coordinated culture, workforce, and technology shifts, as mentioned by Dr. Le.
Confronted with this reality of change, we are now tasked to look at the benefits of this digital transformation (e.g., lowers the cost of higher education, enhanced quality of education, etc.) as we also begin to confront the challenges in both the external environment (i.e., government policies, quality assurance requirements) and internal environment (i.e., financial constraints, internet access, university cultures and access to digital technologies). Dr. Hang Le showed that our neighbors are moving forward with this transformation, leaving us with vital reflection questions: With our neighbors moving forward, and with the world transforming so rapidly towards this direction, what will be our response as educators and policymakers? How might we overcome the inertia and barriers that prevent us from shifting?
The first presentation for the second session this morning tackled the topic of PISA 2015 and how insights can be used for powerful learning and teacher professional development. In narrating his journey as an educator, Dr. Charles Chew shared how we can improve education outcomes using insights from PISA. Taking his three points in reverse, these are things we can look at as we work on improving our education system:
Teachers in Singapore are very dedicated to planning engaging lessons for their students to ensure learning is authentic and relevant.
This has resulted in students enjoying their learning of science and acquiring new scientific knowledge.
The outcome is that students are not just competent in applying knowledge and skills, but also in analyzing, reasoning, and communicating as they solve novel problems.
As Dr. Chew emphasized, when we focus on teachers, we succeed. Dr. Charles Chew’s presentation was a reminder of the need for us in the Philippines to focus on systemic approaches to the professional development of teachers.
The second presentation, by Dr. Jerome Lo, focused on “Moderating Effects of ‘Blendedness’ in Teaching and Learning.” Using his experience as a Director of the Centre of IT Services in Nanyang Technological University, Dr. Lo gives us a picture of the learning landscape and the possible combinations and mixes in delivering education. He also reminded us to hold in balance the advantages and disadvantages that come with online learning, that even though it is more convenient and accessible to learn everywhere using various digital technologies, we also have to look at the cost of engagement where students lose a necessary part of university life such as attending physical lectures and having contact with peers. He imparted some important lessons on focusing our experimentations on education and not technology, designing by empathy, and building resilience.
We end this conference with the final lecture entitled “Resilient Schools and Students: Towards an Inspired Post-Pandemic Academic Community,” delivered by Prof. Tan Eng Chye, the President of the National University of Singapore.
His presentation highlighted the reality of a VUCA World and how we needed to respond with 21st-century skills and complex problem-solving. Integral to this skill set is our ability to apply knowledge to real-life settings and changing situations and become comfortable with complexity and uncertainty. Sharing his experience from NUS, he emphasized the need for education innovation that a) nurtures a broad intellectual foundation for students and b) also allows for disciplinary learning. In a sense, it is to nurture students’ depth and breadth of learning, leading to flexibility fit to respond to 21st-century problems. Critical to this is also a purposive move to inculcate a culture of lifelong learning – that learning does not end in college. We can look to the Organisational Excellence (OE) Journey shared by Prof. Chye as a guide on transforming our institutions to ensure the delivery of world-class education.
Before I end my synthesis, it is worth mentioning that for this year’s conference, we explored the creation of virtual networking events to bring together educators and administrators from different locations to gain insights and learn from their experiences on learning modalities and school operating models. One was held yesterday, and another is scheduled for this afternoon, and tomorrow afternoon. We hope you were, and will be, able to participate, learn and meet new co-educators during these sessions.
I would like to specially mention as well that our conference would not be complete without the special pre-conference activities organized by our partners last Wednesday, as well as the post-conference talks scheduled for tomorrow. Please do take time to visit these events. They will be additional opportunities for learning and networking with fellow educators.
I hope through this synthesis I was able to refresh our minds of the key learnings we could take from the many sessions organized in our conference. Two days of reflection will surely not be enough. To build on wisdom, we have to begin taking on this knowledge and appropriating it to our respective contexts. Is this relevant for my institution? Is this possible? What are the barriers I have to confront? I encourage you to take some time today to write down your thoughts and insights from the sessions you attended.
These learnings must not remain theoretical or stay only in the ambit of this conference. What is more critical for us as we move forward is that we apply what we’ve learned and push for the necessary reforms. For the questions that we do not have answers to, we are tasked to continue the dialogue and discussions outside of this conference. No one has a monopoly on the answers, but that strengthens our case even more – that we have to come together, that we need to continue to dialogue to create a brighter future for the young. It takes a tremendous collective effort to solve the problem of education. As an adage says, it takes a whole village to raise a child. It will take all of us, teachers, administrators, parents, and government officials, to rise from the pandemic wiser and deliver the quality education young people deserve.
There are too many people to thank for the success of this conference. To our resource persons, moderators, and hosts, our technical support, and of course, the very hardworking PEAC Secretariat, thank you. Let’s give them a warm round of applause.