Education Dean Romero discusses UST’s role as Catholic University at int’l conference

UST College of Education Dean Assoc. Prof. Pilar I. Romero, Ph.D., served as a plenary speaker on November 21, at the 13th International Congress of the Wyższa Szkoła Kultury Społecznej i Medialnej (WSKSiM) (College of Social and Media Culture) in Torun, Poland. The congress, held on November 20 and 21, 2020, had for its theme “Catholics and Education — Contemporary Challenges of Higher Education and Science.”

The congress was conducted in honor of the memory of His Eminence Zenon Cardinal Grocholewski, former Prefect of the Congregation for Catholic Education. It would be remembered that the same Papal Legate graced the Eucharistic Celebration and delivered the homily during the University’s quadricentennial founding anniversary held on January 28, 2011.

Warning against the “utilitarian type of education” or the tendency of education to be market-driven and homogenized and standardized, Dean Romero’s paper, “The Wealth of the Catholic University in the Far East World in the Example of the Pontifical and Royal University of Santo Tomas in Manila, the Catholic University of the Philippines,” drew attention to the individual countermeasures needed to go against the threats of consumerism and materialism to authentic education.

The College of Education Dean emphasized that many Catholic educational institutions have agreed in the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences (FABC) that their roles are multiple. Catholic education institutions must: protect and strengthen the common values ​​advocated by different religions and diverse cultures in pluralistic and multicultural environments; to be educational powers in the environment of predominant consumerism and materialism, through which transformation at moral, religious and societal levels can work; and that the principle of “Ethics first before knowledge” should be prioritized.

Dean Romero also echoed Pope Francis’s message “to leave behind superficial approaches to education and the many short-cuts associated with utility, (standardized) test results, functionality and bureaucracy, which confuse education with instruction,” as he mentioned during the Launch of the Global Compact on Education in October 2020.

She acknowledged that UST is no stranger to the utilitarian need to maintain its competitive edge by focusing on the drive to produce graduates who will top licensure examinations. However, as a Catholic University, a communitarian discernment was undertaken to manage balancing the formation of students as persons who will “gravitate towards economically-attractive careers that remain deeply immersed in the area of social responsibility.”

When it comes to the area of instruction, the University has taken two steps to ensure this balance: first, the revisiting of the Thomasian Graduate Attributes, namely Servant Leaders, Effective Communicators and Collaborators, Analytical and Creative Thinkers, and Lifelong Learners (S.E.A.L.). These attributes envision graduates who possess 21st– century skills and are leaders who serve the marginalized members of society.

Second, as one of CHED’s recognized autonomous universities, UST offers custom curricula that meet standards of academic excellence and focuses on moral and spiritual formation. Theology courses with their signature pedagogy are able to can complement technical courses and form the University’s advocacy and pastoral activities.

Dean Romero shared that her own approach to teaching is the Praxis-oriented Approach (Pro-App), which links the values of dialogue and encounter. “It is used to infuse social teachings of the Church within multi-disciplinary topics and enables students to respond to issues with both technical knowledge and Catholic values,” she explained.

Though research is now a difficult area of competition due to the appeal of prestigious rankings, it is yet another area in which Catholic institutions must endeavor to move beyond utilitarian purposes of funding and engagement, said the Dean. She commends the University’s research for being both academically reputable and directed towards furthering its mission of evangelization and how it could be of service to the most vulnerable.

Dr. Romero gave the example of UST’s research partnerships, such as with the Episcopal Commission on Catechesis and Catholic Education (ECCCE) of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) noting that they are working on nationwide research studies on volunteer and professional catechism. Another is with the Catholic Educational Association of the Philippines (CEAP), which is studying Philippine Catholic educational institutions’ faculty training, research, extension service, and advocacy. The latter project with CEAP is led by Dr. Romero herself leads the latter project with CEAP.

The Dean also noted the observations of Rev. Fr. Clarence Devadass and Rev. Fr. John JunYang Park on Catholic student life, specifically the the declining number of young people who are actively engaged in Church. She cited Fr. Jason Laguerta’s letter during the 2019 Philippine Conference on the New Evangelization (PCNE VI) in UST where Fr. Laguerta attributed this decline in the Philippines to young “people’s perception of Church rituals as rigid, unappealing, boring, and as not providing space for them to participate.”

Dean Romero echoes Fr. Laguerta’s call to revisit how the Church’s communication with young people is undertaken and for Church leaders to “listen to young people and engage them in dialogue.”

UST,  As the second home to over 40,000 students from various ethnic, religious, and socio-economic backgrounds, UST must immerse its students in social realities beyond their usual environments and lead them to become social involved and open to Church’s preferential option for the poor, said Dean Romero. By forming them in the virtue of Charity, it is hoped that by the time they graduate and even when they are professionals, Thomasians will still be committed to the service of the marginalized.

Dean Romero highlighted the three elements of Catholic institutional identity — instruction, research, and student life — can work together because of its common grounding: service.

Based on Ex Corde Ecclesiae, Dean Romero concluded that despite the pandemic, it is important for Catholic universities to revisit their core, saying that “Renewal is imperative and it becomes possible if all the stakeholders in the University – the leaders, academic and support staff, students, and alumni are impelled by the belief that a Catholic university exists not for itself, but for the community it is called to serve.” “The collective response to serve the common good in the University of Santo Tomas stands on equal footing with the desire for scholarship. These two, indissolubly united, eloquently expresses its Catholic identity and the mission that ensues from it,” she emphasized.

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