• Mainstreaming higher education in asean

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    ROSALINDA VALENTON-TIRONA

    ROSALINDA VALENTON-TIRONA

    On 13 January 2007 in Cebu, Philippines, the Asean Leaders re-affirmed their unequivocal commitment to accelerate the establishment of the ASEAN Community as embodied in the Cebu Declaration on the acceleration of the ASEAN Community by the year 2015.

    Particularly the field of Socio-cultural humanitarian cooperation, the core values of the ASEAN Community emphasize:

    (1) “ People’s well-being ,welfare and dignity through a caring and sharing community

    (2) Greater understanding, good neighborliness and a shared sense of responsibility.

    (3) Promotion of social inclusion and social justice, and respect for basic human rights through cooperation and collective efforts.

    (4) Respect for different cultures and strengthening of common values in the context of unity in diversity.

    (5) Solidarity in combating poverty.

    I should like to recall at this juncture when I served an abortive term as university president of a local government institution of higher learning after retiring from the Philippine Foreign Service, I advocated linking sustainable development to excellence, to curriculum, to instruction, to research, to community relations and networking to these functions of higher education. And I make this suggestion for consistency an mainstreaming education in the making of an ASEAN Community putting education at its heart, mind and soul. This will test ASEAN capacity to unite and cooperate through mutual recognition and accreditation thereby create an ASEAN human resource crucial sool.

    I am speaking from firsthand experience and institutional memory as my first job was Executive Director of ASEAN. Philippines at the Department of Foreign Affairs during ASEAN’s formative years. This allowed me to participate in the crafting of the ASEAN Concord, ( Bali Accord I) but I must confess that the major role of education in peace, progress and respect for fundamental human freedoms was somewhat given and taken for granted.

    This is why I have chosen this topic bearing in mind that development through education is rooted in knowledge, skills, innovative creativity and motivation of people. To my mind, therefore education is the most potent tool against the most toxic waste-poverty. Moreover, education is in capacity-building. I also believe that only educated persons can enjoy freedom

    Every situation calls for a coherent, integrated approach. Therefore, education is inextricably linked to political, economic and socio-cultural humanitarian variables.

    This is the essence of mainstreaming. Education is the bedrock in the creation of a ASEAN Community.

    Higher education, in particular should aim to deliver to society and individuals (students and graduates) who have developed a broad range of transferable or key skills and the more general ability and willingness to “learn to learn” or meta-learning. The former- including communication, teamwork, problem-solving information technology inter alia supports the economic requirements of flexibility and adaptability, graduates might take in a range of different employment and life practices and activities. The latter-the core skills of transferable skills-characterizes individual life-long learning or the graduates ability to continue to learn new knowledge, skills and practices; not a core curriculum but a core of outcomes, translated into competencies. Again, The book “Learning and Teaching in Higher Education: The reflective Professional” this is where ASEAN countries can exchange data and best practices

    Therefore, the nature of the challenge of professionalism to teaching and learning in higher education may be grouped into the following:

    1. “ Increasing numbers of students in classrooms;

    2. Increasing diversity of background, experience and needs which our students present;

    3. Curriculum transferability;

    4. Conceptual shift in our thinking about our practice from teaching to learning, from delivering knowledge to developing and fostering independence of learning in which students develop the ability to discover and reconstruct knowledge ( and their lives) for themselves.

    5. Managing the crucible rests in the ability to critically situate oneself and one’s practice within an environment of substantial uncertainty and change.

    6. Managing uncertainty and change should address the following issues of change:

    a. Academic roles;

    b. Knowledge bases;

    c. Ways of knowing;

    d. Nature of the student body;

    e. Student needs;

    f. Departmental requirements;

    g. Institutional demands;

    h. External agency demands; and

    i. Professional accreditation demands

    Since the birth of the idea of the modern university, teaching and research have defined the nature of higher education and the university. Teaching and research are inseparable, a unity in which the former derives its authority from the latter. Research, which confers authority and status, takes precedence. Consequently, it is research, not teaching which provide a key to identify as an academic professional. It is research firmly imbedded in disciplines, that provides the expertise; the professional qualifications, the membership in associations; the scholarly journals, the national meetings, inter alia.

    The primary issue here, then, is not so much how we bring the teacher-researcher axis into “balance” but rather how we can conceptualize the relationship. Learning and teaching in higher education is not limited to learning and teaching. It requires critical reflection on the whole academic practice; including research and scholarship.

    To a large extent, the destinies of peoples are in the hands of a highly educated and literate population. We have considerable stakes in a future that bears directly on sustainable development; cultural unity, peace, environmental conservation and respect for fundamental human rights.

    One of the tools which are used currently to strengthen comparability and competitiveness is the establishment of necessary partnerships and alliances among HEI’s. this is not wanting in ASEAN but the challenge is to make this ASEAN alliance in higher education works reinforcing relationships. There must be an agreed plan for the utilization of common resources for quality higher education in the continuing effort to produce globally competitive manpower and world class professionals. HEIs should be able to meet national quality standards based on international education benchmarks such as those suggested by the UNESCO.

    The quality of higher education should not only be measured in terms of passing of relevant licensure examinations. Contributions to the development of community and nation, particularly in alleviating poverty and improving quality of life must be given more weight.

    To be able to achieve quality education, it is however incumbent upon the school to provide the appropriate environment or physical plant conducive to learning including state-of-the-art facilities; a digital library, sufficient number of computers and a wellness complex, inter alia. Quality education is achieved through quality teaching. Nowadays, quality teaching is identified with learning ethics and values in addition to academic excellence and translating the integration of these two into practical results such as good governance; economic progress; social development; cultural cohesiveness and sound public relations. The needed reforms or even transformation of the university should be probably in these areas:

    According to an ADB study, improving academic governance by increasing community involvement offers an excellent opportunity to inculcate appropriate skills and attitudes in the community as a whole. On one hand, knowledge is power and a most important manifestation of the empowerment is the demand for better governance in terms of transparency and accountability bearing in mind that access to information and knowledge is the basis for decisions and concerted action. On the other hand, the same study says that educated people are more likely to vote and participate in government.

    The re-structuring of the organization of the University must be undertaken periodically for the purpose of strengthening efficiency and effectiveness in operations. This could mean redeployment but not frequent turn-over, in order to sharpen competitive edge; rationalize functions and simplify procedures, applying whenever possible economies of scales. On the other hand, Quality and excellence require an in-depth analysis of the curricula which must be re-aligned and re-designed to be globally comparable and thereby facilitate mutual recognition of degree equivalence.

    In a highly globalized world, where there is a keen race for economic resources, investing in higher education is indispensable if a community or nation were to strengthen their competitive edge. It should be a top budget item.

    It is said that higher education is essential to developing analytical, research and management skills for sound economic management and in sustaining effectiveness and in training leaders.

    Efforts nowadays have been made not simply to reform HEIs but to transform them to higher technological levels. The learning method has drastically changed with the use of computers and the “Internet”. With these, universities have to give emphasis on teaching skills to filter and analyze information through extensive and in-depth research.

    In order to narrow the technological divide between the poor and the rich to enable people to sustain development, we must have a program fro structural adjustment, to invent new skills demanded by enterprises and the economy, such as:

    • Internationalization of education;

    • Universalization of the curricular programs such as in an ASEAN COmmunity;

    • Accreditation and certification including Asia-Pacific common degree framework;

    • Adoption of standard skills by making curricula globally comparable to facilitate at least regional accreditation.

    Further, there might be a need for the creation of a threshold between access and relevance and the right to education and quality education.

    Globalization has put considerable premium in the areas of people’s skill; creativity; innovativeness and entrepreneurship. We now live in a K-economy ( knowledge -based economy). Our most important resources are our people with their intellectual energy; new ideas; creativity and drive to keep on learning.

    How education is financed has profound implications for access, equity and quality. The trend is for governments to diversify the resources of financing education especially the higher education level by cost-cost-sharing and cost-recovery and thus relieve some of their burden. The challenge is to develop funding policies that encourage local participation and ownership and reduce governments burden while not disadvantaging poor communities with reduced opportunities for generating revenues to support education.

    In a transition to humanity where survival is the urgent issue, we are compelled to give priority to learning skills and developing competencies to fastrack earning a living. The small business might be the saving grace of the day. Given the abundance of ASEAN resources, this is where small business can thrive.

    We are responding to the situation by maximizing the mobilization of scarce and limited resources; by rationalizing teaching; by simplifying procedures and by responding in a unified and coherent manner; by cost-cutting measures including being able to save five percent from our budget, repairing serviceable equipment, recycling renewable resources; maximizing space among others.

    It is our desire to eliminate gaps in the past by strictly observing the elements of transparency, accountability, honesty and integrity; wide participation nevertheless, by and large we are and democracy and human dignity. An objective assessment of where we stand today and by and large, we are gratified to be among respectable institutions of higher learning even when we are only ten years old.

    Given the ASEAN political will, zeal, pioneering spirit and the ability to stand in solidarity for ASEAN peace and progress, the foregoing ideas and recommendations for action as in implementing guidelines can be pursued vigorously with positive results.

    * Ambassador Tirona studied diplomacy and public administration in Georgetown University, Washington, D.C., Australian National University, Canberra Chulalongkorn University of Thailand, Bangkok Institute of Public Administration of Germany, Berlin and the AIT ( Vietnam) Hanoi.

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