SO soon! Indeed time flies at lightning speed and here staring at us is Asean 2015! And what’s in it for us in academe? But first, a very brief overview of Asean.
We are one of ten countries wishing to band together as a single market. We expect that by end of December this year Asean will have measures mostly in place which are designed, like the European Union, to reduce trade barriers and consequently attract more investments. We expect to have free flow of goods, services, investment and skilled labor among “us” – us, meaning the ten member countries of Southeast Asia with the 617 million people (2011 estimate) inhabiting Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand, Brunei, Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar and Cambodia. In the future, two other countries could be incoming members of Asean: Papua New Guinea (on candidate status since 1976) and Timor-Leste (on observer status since 2002). These two countries have a combined population of 7,300,000 (2011 estimate).
Unlike the EU, Asean will likely not have a common currency and neither the same nor a similar governing structure.
About education, four priorities in this area have been laid down by the Asean Education Ministers. These are first, promoting Asean awareness among Asean citizens, particularly the youth; second, strengthening Asean identity through education; third, building Asean human resources in the educational field; and fourth, strengthening the Asean University Network.
Committees on these priorities are working in full gear. In fact, come September this year, the Asean education ministers are to convene in Vientiane, capital city of Laos, to formulate a 2016 to 2020 plan aimed “to further narrow the development gap on education and human resource development among Asean countries, notably between the older and newer member nations.”
For practical purposes, what steps can we academics take to help achieve these Asean goals in education? What can we capably do without much funds and fuss. Relative to the first two priorities we can begin by popularizing what Asean is about in our various curricula. We can gear socio-cultural courses toward learning outcomes such as cultural awareness, cultural knowledge, cultural understanding of and cultural sensitivity towards our Asean neighbors. This is important because our aim for Asean is that while we may have differing life styles, or “blueprint for living” (Clyde Kluckhohn’s classic definition), we are able to relate well with one another. Aware that Asean countries have differing cultures, we will try to know, understand and become sensitive to what may be acceptable or not acceptable to a particular culture. The final goal, culture-wise, is, we develop cultural competence.
Besides formally introducing the concept of culture through germane courses, we could popularize the meaning of culture as a theme in extra-class activities such as symposia or lecture series, student conferences, workshops, exhibits, dramas/plays, skits, other modes of theater programs and the like and maximize the use of digital technology as in cartoons, animations, etc. We can even stretch the reach of our efforts through our civic engagement activities if we invite as audiences and partners our catchment communities from our outreach areas, and those from civic, religious and professional organizations. Our reach would include housewives, farmers, security guards, street children, etc. For us teachers and our learners, these are fun ways to develop more awareness, an intensive motivation to gain an informed understanding of peoples and their respective cultures. Actual engagement would help develop cultural sensitivity and hopefully when Asean is actually experienced, we can demonstrate that we are truly culturally competent.
To show how cultural awareness, knowledge, understanding and sensitivity, are all imperatives to becoming culturally competent, I share you the following anecdotes.
Several years ago, I came across a newspaper item about a community composed of our Moslem brothers feeling so insulted when in their community, a lechon (roasted pig) as is usual among us Christians, was made the centerpiece of a party to celebrate a military victory. This action illustrates a pronounced lack of cultural sensitivity borne out of lack of cultural awareness or knowledge even if the taboo on pork by our Moslem brothers is better known these days than in yesteryears. The bottom-line of that incident is lack of cultural sensitivity and thus is short of cultural competence.
Another example is a field experience of one of my graduate students, a member of the military enrolled in Cultural Diversity in the Workplace, which he related in class. His story illustrates how a lack of cultural knowledge got their group into ill-will during a time they were deployed in a Mangyan community. Assigned to prepare food for his group, he looked for a site to prepare lunch. He found a certain mound of earth topped with three big stones – just right to serve as a stove for a pot of rice to cook. He described to us how a group of Mangyans, menacingly approached him when they saw him cooking rice over the mound of earth. Why? Because the ethnic practice was for Mangyans to mark the grave of their dead with three big stones. And here he was, desecrating the grave! The soldiers humbly explained that there was no ill intent and apologized for their ignorance.
Several other such stories followed. Meaningful observations were shared. You’re right! We had an interesting and very “learningful” session that day. (To be continued)
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Teresita Tanhueco-Tumapon, Ph.D., is one of the Philippines most accomplished educators and experts on institutional management in colleges and universities. Her studies have included not only education and pedagogy but also literature. She has studied not only in the topmost universities in the Philippines but also in Germany, Britain and Japan. She is now the Vice-President for External Relations and Internationalization of the Liceo de Cagayan University (in Cagayan de Oro) after serving as its VP for Academic Affairs for six and a half years concurrent to her ten years as dean in the Graduate Studies of the same university. She holds a Lifetime Professional Achievement Award from the Commission on Higher Education.