Vice-Rector for Academic Affairs Prof. Cheryl Peralta DrPh, PTRP, College of Education Dean Assoc. Prof. Pilar Romero, PhD, and College of Education Regent Rev. fr. George Phe Mang, O.P. shared their expertise in the Joint International Conference with the theme “Resetting the World or Reprogramming Education. Responding to Pandemic and Past Pandemic Educational Scenarios” on July 14, 2020. The international conference was co-organized by the UST College of Education and the Sekolah Tinggi Ilmu Pendidikan dan Keguruan (STKIP) (The College of Education) Pamane Talino in West Borneo, Indonesia.

Peralta and Romero discussed the Blueprint in UST: Reprogramming Education and relevant Ground Experience, while fr. Phe Mang discussed the Policies and Standards: Ground Experience in UST as Regent. In these sessions, the UST officials talked about how programs and services implemented in the campus were informed by relevant regulatory policies and health guidelines, and how attempts were made in coping with the drastic disruptions brought about by the need to shift to distance education in order to avoid exacerbating the health crisis brought about by COVID-19. They also shared how our Catholic identity and the rich resource of Thomasian educators helped inform the decisions made by management to continue the university’s mission.

Peralta presented the UST experience of the COVID-19 pandemic by recounting the opportunities, challenges, realizations, and plans and initiatives of Asia’s oldest existing university. While the massive shift to online education brought with it inconveniences due to the weak connectivity infrastructure in the Philippines as a whole, Peralta said that UST was not caught totally unprepared, as the learning management system of UST has been in place since 2002. This facility, along with the decision to be open to other distance education modes, helped ensure the continuation of educational delivery until the end of the current academic year.

Peralta also emphasized the need for feedback and communication mechanisms to be in place and optimized, in order to understand better and respond to stakeholder concerns. Among the best practices cited were the use of surveys and trackers to monitor the conditions of stakeholders, the data from which helped craft the policy decisions made by the management.

Meanwhile, Romero’s presentation, entitled “Beyond Viability: Vitality in Virulent Times,” shared how the pandemic, which threatened the job security of many middle- to low-income families, exacerbated the College of Education’s problem on attracting students to enroll due to the presence of tuition and other related fees, which was already a challenge pre-COVID-19.

To address such, Romero presented the 3 Rs approach of the College, which included Rebranding (from being a Teacher Training unit to a Hub for Educational Trailblazers), Restructuring (infusing Design Thinking into the delivery of courses), and Reconnecting (learning from the former educators of the College who now advise the present on how to manage the change). These three steps, Romero stressed, are the College’s ingredients to ensuring that the viability of the College “will never be an issue.”

Finally, fr. Phe Mang focused on the Dominican charism of education as he shared his experiences as the priest-administrator, or Regent, of the College of Education: “We study so that we become useful and helpful in the community and the society, especially for those who are in need of our help…The purpose of our…educational apostolate is extending helping hands to others.”

It was in this vein that fr. Phe Mang spoke of the sources of grace that the College has, namely its administrators, faculty, and staff, “who are competent, committed, compassionate, loyal, and experienced.” This rich resource, according to fr. Phe Mang, provides Catholic educators like those present the chance to respond the call of being a Catholic educator — “to be open and tolerant in one’s interests and sympathies [and thereby] pointing and making the presence of God’s saving grace.”

The conference featured speakers from Indonesia, the Philippines, and Egypt, the latter represented by Dr. Amr Saleh of Al-Azhar University – Cairo. For Indonesia, Most Rev. Agustinus Agus, Archbishop of the Pontianak Archdiocese and President of the Board of Trustees of STKIP, was joined by Dr. Albert Rufinus (STKIP Director); Karolin Margret Natasa (Regent of Landak Regency); Indra Charismiadji (STKIP); Dr. Adrianus Asia Sidot (House of Representatives of the Republic of Indonesia); and Ignasius Jonan (former Minister for Energy and Mineral Resources and Transportation of the Republic of Indonesia).

This conference gathered academics and policy-makers from Indonesia and the Philippines for sharing of best practices, as well as lessons learned from challenges encountered. Furthermore, the joint conference presented ways of carrying on its avowed task of designing the future through instruction, research and community engagement.