At Large

Valuing and validating teachers

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Creating quite a sensation, at least within the circles I move in, is the YouTube appearance of a young woman named Sabrina Ongkiko who spoke at a “TEDx” lecture at Ateneo de Manila.

TEDx is an offshoot of the famous “TED” lectures that bring important, provocative, entertaining and enlightening content to the public through the Internet. And all these are indeed contained in the talk of Sabrina, who spoke of her “return on investment” when she stepped away from a promising career in medicine to become a public school teacher, even if she graduated from a prestigious (and expensive!) private university.

What moved me to tears while watching Sabrina share her experiences at the Culiat Public Elementary School was the value she placed on the oft-denigrated public school system. It was truly moving to listen to her pay tribute to her devoted fellow teachers and the intelligence and doggedness of her students.

I remembered Sabrina recently when I got to meet women who are, in their own way, valuing and validating teachers. On the surface the program they are carrying out is about training in computers. But dig deeper and one will realize that the program is not just about skills but also about  people  and about building their self-esteem, enabling them to better reach out to their students and hold their heads high as the equals of educators around the world.

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The organizers of the program have decided to call it the “Rachel Arenas Collaborative for Excellence,” after the outgoing representative of the third district of Pangasinan upon whose initiative the program was recently inaugurated at the Daniel Maramba High School in the town of Santa Barbara.

Under the “collaborative,” a total of 105 teachers underwent training for two weeks, eight hours a day, in the heat and congestion of the school gym without any air-conditioning. Each teacher went through a selection process, with her or him committing to replicate the training for 30 other teachers. “In all, a total of 3,675 teachers will end up being trained in computer usage in this first stage of the program,” Arenas points out.

Arenas recalls that in her first term in 2007, she proposed the creation of an “ICT hub” in every province as part of her advocacy as vice chair of the ICT committee. “This is where we’re headed,” she explains when asked why she had set her sights on disseminating computer skills among Filipinos. But, failing to gain substantial support from her colleagues, she decided to “just make it on my own.”

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A few years back, Arenas decided to visit companies and educational institutions in Silicon Valley in the United States to explore ways of collaborating to upgrade and update the ICT skills and competencies of Filipino public school teachers.

This is where she met educators from Foothill College, a community college outside San Francisco with a 16,000 student population that provides education to young people preparing to enter university. It also provides instruction in such fields as health and health technology and, of course, given their location, computer competency and ICT proficiency.

Foothill College president Judy Miner says she felt an “instantaneous connection” with Congresswoman Arenas upon meeting her, struck by her “dynamism and vision.” The thought of launching a two-week training program for public school teachers in Pangasinan, in the Philippines, did not deter the administration of Foothill College. “We belong to the world,” Miner says by way of explaining her team’s decision to bring their curriculum design to help develop the computer competencies of teachers.

Gertrude Gregorio, a Fil-Am educator who recently retired from active teaching at Foothill

College, visited Pangasinan to meet the teachers and finalize the design of the program. The culmination of these preparations was the arrival of four trainers and a program director from Foothill College in Pangasinan. (Miner came about a week later to look in on the progress of the training.)

“We were astounded by the depth of commitment of the teachers,” Gregorio says. “None of them was watching the clock.” Indeed, the trainers were initially taken aback when they discovered that there was no Internet access at the Maramba High School. Even Arenas got involved in scrambling to connect with telecom companies to provide Internet access.

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Miner mentions the “sweet spirit” of Filipinos, and not just those she met during the training. She was so impressed by the teachers, she adds, mentioning how she was “choked up” when they presented the videos they created as part of their lessons, and heard one teacher declare proudly: “I can do this because of you and Foothill College.”

Even after the training program, learners and instructors will continue to connect through a website, because, as Miner explains, it’s the combination of face-to-face learning and online instruction that makes for an ideal computer education environment.

Last December, Arenas announced that she was not running for a third term in the House and was instead giving way to her mother, Rosemarie “Baby” Arenas, who is often described as a “socialite” in the media but is actually a formidable combination of businesswoman, civic leader, political organizer and public servant (she served as a board member of Meco, the de facto embassy in Taiwan).

“Everything she (Rachel) has done we will continue,” Baby Arenas promised. Given its good beginnings, and under the stewardship of the new representative (she is running unopposed), the “Rachel Arenas Collaborative for Excellence” cannot but move higher and reach farther to build the skills and the self-confidence of our teachers.

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