PREVIOUSLY we discussed how we tried cross-breeding local educational practice with that of top universities abroad. The most that we could do during the late 1990s was to request for volunteers from foreign agencies as provided in bi-laterals through our foreign affairs office. We cited policies common in these agencies: the two-year of service subject to one-year extension per mutual agreement with the volunteer, no displacement by volunteers of employed local counterparts, provision for the volunteer’s upkeep and side funding. We recalled our experience with volunteers from UNV, British of the VSO, Japanese of JOCV and Korean of KOICA—and the culture-sharing that was bound to happen in such circumstances.
Introducing an academic environment in an arts and trades school. I was the first president (September 1998) of the Surigao State College of Technology, chartered on June 5, 1998. The school’s well-defined arts and trades character matched the reputation of its teachers. Having existed as such for decades, its teachers were counted as the best in the region. They were official accreditors of the regional Technical Education and Skills and Development Authority (Tesda). As head, I did not want these teachers to lose their ground, replaced by a purely academic environment. I noted from them that general education courses are, in a vocational technology curriculum, considered as side subjects “lang”—an expression which means “to take lightly.” My firm belief was that both types of educational services—academic and vocational technology, prime services to meet the needs of its catchment communities—can be very well administered side by side. Thus, I did not assign, as is common in Philippine HEIs, an academic dean nor an academic VP, but a “dean of programs and standards”—borrowing the label of a major office in the Commission on Higher Education (CHEd), the Office of Programs and Standards (OPS) which reportedly has been recently changed to Office of Programs and Standards Development”(OPSD).
Setting up an Education Resource Center (ERC). Taking advantage of digital technology then being introduced in the country, we requested VSO for a volunteer. Soon we had a young man, Karl Green—practical, passionate and committed to do his best for the ERC we planned to set up. Creating electronic materials as teaching aids, we believed, would help ensure the eager engagement of both teachers and learners, if only for the novelty of the medium. Karl Green’s recent feedback speaks of his initiative and creative entrepreneurship taught to our team of teachers supplementing resources we lacked, which as a newly chartered college, as many of us know, was a given.
The VSO we had, his experience and advice. VSO volunteer Karl helped us transform the school’s pronounced arts and trades character into an institution administering both academic degree and vocational technology certificate programs which in the future could be “ladderized” from technical to technological. Long after Karl’s term ended, his team of faculty members continued to prepare digital materials sustaining classroom vitality. All these years, Karl and I remained in touch. This message which I solicited for this column, recalls his experience in helping us set up the ERC in the fledgling state college: “In my own experience as a VSO volunteer, I assisted the college I worked in, develop their own income-generating projects: in-house graduation photography and ID making. This saved the college money as a whole but may have put some individuals out-of-pocket. This is something the volunteer needs to be aware of. Some things are not as simple as they seem. This is where upfront honesty would be advantageous, although changing a cultural norm of standard operating procedure would take considerably longer than their tenure. In essence, the volunteer has to be a pragmatist. Volunteers’ expectations may need to be reined in. They should be resourceful, have a well- stocked book of contacts who can provide assistance professionally and sometimes financially. Collaborating with other volunteers in joint development projects can provide two-for-one savings in resources and budgets. The host in the case of the Philippines could be more direct from the start—that is, we can only have x,y,z, and we can probably spare 1, 2, 3. This wouldn’t shock the British volunteer as they are used to coping with bad news. It would, however, give them a measure of the job in hand and save them precious time in planning and assisting in the shared project goals. Often, the harder the challenge, the more rewarding the results can be.”
Indeed, Karl had to help with the budgets of the young HEI. And as you may note, so did too, the Korean volunteer we had, providing opportunities for the fledgling HEI for entrepreneurship to supplement funding resources. (June 23 column –Part 3.)
Side-benefits of working with foreign professionals. Connecting with former professionals enables us to share their insights on how best a partnership can work. Also, one’s social capital increases and is sustained. Through our teaming up with them, we become more culturally informed, culturally sensitive—culturally competent. We learn from them not only technical matters but constructive beliefs, postulates, mental models, values and family life. Informed knowledge and understanding of differences in our respective blueprints for living and our adjusting to these blueprints add richness to our own personhood. More, we contribute to uniting humanity through accepting the fact that there are indeed other equally worthwhile lifeways to share.