Rethinking Education

How does a learner learn? That should be the rethinking that every academician must confront because practitioners can tell if one is a catalyst of process-based mentorship, the door to future learning.

Note: This column originally appeared in The Manila Times on May 26, 2020.


August 2019 was life-altering in the sense that I finally agreed to head a local university in the City of Manila. It was not an easy decision because I am a practitioner and not an academician, and I am doing my passion already. But, as the good mayor of the city of Manila reasoned, there is much to fix and build in the city and so, like a trained soldier, we go and embrace the challenges, knowing that the opportunities are plenty.  I bring in the wealth of experience of 35 years, which to my critics is pittance. We launched Education 4.0 as the repositioning strategy for the Universidad de Manila or UDM. From the lens of a practitioner, it is clear that higher education’s purposes are to produce graduates that the industry needs and adapt with the changing times. Innovation is key and digitization its driver.

There is a difference between an academic and an academician, which was drilled to me early on, while I was teaching full-time at the National College of Public Administration of the University of the Philippines Diliman in the late 1990s. An academic is a “person who teaches and does research in a university.” An academician is “usually a member of an academy that is concerned with the arts or sciences.” I would rather remain a practitioner where much emphasis is given to praxis than be in an ivory tower.

Education 4.0 is a “school of thought that encourages non-traditional thinking when it comes to imparting education. Education 4.0 essentially uses technology-based tools and resources to drive education in non-traditional ways.” For UDM, this would have been in place by Academic Year 2020-2021. Pushing, despite objections from critics, harmonizing several colleges to enhance comparative advantage and introducing new programs based on industry pathways on cybersecurity, supply chain and logistics, data analytics and a certificate course on barangay (village) governance were the repositioning blocks.

Then came the coronavirus and, nine months after, UDM rolled into blended learning by the half of the second semester. Sticking to its role during the pandemic that it will hand-hold students and nurture mental health, UDM finished the semester without folding up amid the noise of some calling for mass promotion. As taxpayers’ money is the engine of UDM, we stood and held on, not putting to waste the taxpayers’ hard work and contribution to education. UDM, after all, is free tertiary education, way before Republic Act 10931.

From the one semester of learning, embracing online and peer, UDM is equipping its faculty with reskilling and upskilling for the new norm.  The traditional classroom and face-to-face (F2F) or contact teaching are things of the past. A teacher is no longer one; she or he is now a mentor or coach. Education is now life-long learning and should not be confined within the four walls of the classroom, which will now observe physical distancing, and protect both faculty and students by wearing masks and cordoning off the mentor’s table and space by a clear partition. Group dynamics will now be done online. Students cannot loiter if there are no classes on campus. The constraints of classroom will be solved with rotating schedules of F2F and online. Creativity drives learning today, in contrast to the structured, Socratic method of before.

The digitization of UDM is homegrown to custom-fit the system needed to align with the culture of the institution. After all, UDM was never connected, integrated and an ecosystem. It was in legacy mode for 25 years and is now taking a leapfrog not purely for digitization, but building and enabling new and more efficient learning and teaching processes in information technology — making new processes possible, not simply replacing the pen or the blackboard with an electronic version.  In UDM’s bold steps, technology is bringing added value to pedagogy.

In digital learning, the “learners are active in the learning environment; information technology enables pedagogically meaningful methods for both teachers and learners, leading to a deeper learning; collaborative knowledge building is easy to implement; in online learning environments, the learners’ thinking and problem solving processes become visible and are documented; digital tools transform learning from simply repeating information to constructing and using information; if necessary, learning can be arranged regardless of time and place; all learners receive the same space online including the ones that might be quiet in the classroom; online learning environments and social media applications are tools for collaborative knowledge building and eLearning skills are needed in further study and working like.”

The transformation is timely and necessary because students these days are digital natives, communicating via networked platforms. Some teachers though are not digital immigrants but belong to the generation of picas and elites, viewing a computer as purely a modern typewriter. That mindset has to go. Only a growth mindset can embrace Education 4.0 or even begin to understand phenomenal-based learning.

What prohibits the leap is connectivity and that should be addressed by telecommunication companies and the National Telecommunications Commission, as well as by the Department of Information Communication and Technology. Work-from-home and blended learning cannot make the country recover and be competitive if connectivity is not universal, stable, reliable and affordable. That barrier to growth has been there since the start, from Voice over Internet Protocol to wireless and mesh despite the volumes of income per minute.

In the case of UDM, there are those who do not have a computer, laptop or even a smartphone, and it is in this percentage of the student population where the USB will play a big role, to the extent of giving students prepaid Wi-Fi kits if there is no location-based mesh technology yet in the area. A private university said blended learning was more expensive than the traditional system, probably for the private higher education institutions, but for public and the local university and colleges where tuition is not as prohibitive as the private ones, Education 4.0 frees up maintenance and other operating expenses, and, to a certain degree, capital outlay. Personnel services can likewise be lean because most of the operations have been digitized and redundancy mitigated.

How should one rethink education in the new norm? “Designing traditional contact teaching has mostly been based on designing the teacher’s activities and teaching process, while in designing eLearning, the starting point must genuinely be designing the learner’s learning process,” truly a paradigm shift in instructional design.

How does a learner learn? That should be the rethinking that every academician must confront because practitioners can tell if one is a catalyst of process-based mentorship, the door to future learning.

About the Author
Malou Tiqiua is the Founder/General Manager of PUBLiCUS Asia Inc. A noted political management expert in the Philippines and Asia, she brings over 20 years of professional experience in public, private and the academe combined. Author of the comprehensive book on electoral campaigns in the Philippines, "Campaign Politics", Malou is a graduate of the University of the Philippines with a Political Science degree and a Master of Public Administration. She completed her second master's degree (MA in Political Management) from the Graduate School of Political Management, George Washington University.
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