Attenion learning institutions: Digitization puts big demands on quality of and approach to education

Manila Times columnist and De La Salle University (DLSU) professor Antonio Contreras is talking like the union leader he has just become. In his piece “The fourth industrial revolution and the challenges of a corporatized higher education”, he writes about “the drive associated with the Fourth Industrial Revolution, where employability becomes the driving force and has become a mantra for universities when they design their academic programs and policies.” He sees this as a risk to “programs in the humanities, the arts and the interpretive social sciences” owing to the increased demand on technical skills associated with increasing digitization in business and government that drives investment in technology. To this, he counters…

Based on actual studies, it is reported that in this high-tech employment landscape where artificial intelligence replaces low-skilled jobs, the demand for human skills has risen. Based on a survey of chief executive officers of 15 well-placed companies in the world’s biggest economies, it is turning out that there is now a higher premium placed on creativity, seen in critical thinking and social skills of collaboration, instead of on science, technology, engineering and mathematics, and on digital skills.

This is a warning shot fired at corporate-minded university administrators, for them to think twice before they treat the humanities, the arts and interpretive social sciences as inferior and unproductive forms of knowledge.

DLSU now has a union. First in its history as a private educational institution. What happened? It’s the disruption caused by the pandemic. La Salle has been run as a business ever since Dr. Paulino Tan’s thesis on the trimester system was adopted. Tan was actually hired by his alma mater after graduation. 1983 was my year of entry and we were the second batch of freshmen under the new accelerated system. It wasn’t easy. Tertiary education at DLSU felt like you were an employee. The difference was you were paying to study but the environment was like going to the office every day from 8 to 5. In between trimesters you had to enroll. You were given a course flowchart so you knew which courses you could take without the pre-requisite. Freshmen were in block sections. By your sophomore or end of your freshman year, you began enrolling in major subjects. A four-year course became three and a five-year course became four. The assumption was you wouldn’t fail any subject. Once you did, you became an irregular.

Contreras’s bias is again showing. Education 4.0 as a learning modality is similar to the Montessori method for pre-schoolers. It is geared towards critical analysis and out-of-the-box thinking. The teacher doesn’t teach by rote but rather uses technology to integrate traditional pedagogy with technology. This is essential because we live in a world where technology is an integral part of our daily lives. Who doesn’t have separation anxiety from their ubiquitous smartphone? It’s not really a phone but a pocket computer. It’s gone a long way from the Compaq PDAs of old. The 6.7 inch block you carry in your pocket or bag is your life.

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Pre-pandemic Education 4.0 was the process developed to meet the needs of Industry 4.0. The need is to produce managers and workers for the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Every graduate has to be ready for a global digital-driven workplace. Data Science, Cybersecurity, Supply Chain Management and Logistics are the courses students should take. Micro-Credentialing has also become a buzzword. Short certificate courses focusing on digital skillsets such as programming languages and cloud computing are what companies need today. The same is true with multi-media artists who can produce content such as photographs, memes, video together with the appropriate copy for use in digital sales and marketing.

The professor rails about governance and encourages activists to “continue to assert the rights of workers, which include teaching and non-teaching faculty, and students, in the face of the threat of being treated just as investments that can be automatically dropped when they become costly, or as items to be managed as entries in some computer network.” However, the more pressing issue is the deteriorating quality of faculty members and their inability to adjust to the marriage of pedagogy with technology. Education 4.0 actually puts emphasis on STEAM – science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics courses. The A is more essential than ever as the youth don’t have any idea of what art is or what the arts are. There is no initiative to learn at a time when the information is more accessible unlike before when one had to buy books to gain knowledge. This is also partly the reason why graduates of “elite” schools have the temerity to demand a starting salary of P65,000 per month. The concept of going up the career ladder gaining real-world experience is alien to them.

The pandemic has accelerated the pace of adoption of Education 4.0. Much of the debate about flexible learning stems from the reluctance of educators to adjust particularly those in public educational institutions. You can forget about the press releases of the Department of Education (DepEd) because that’s what they are. We are on track to produce dumb graduates at the rate DepEd is going. Moving forward, the department needs a Secretary who is more attuned to the needs of both students and faculty members. The lower ranking of the Philippines in the OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) is proof of this. The cause is faculty members have resorted to “buying” instead of studying for their continuing education. The civil service code mandates promotions on the basis of qualification standards. In a real world setting, I have encountered faculty armed with master’s and doctoral degrees who cannot even compose proper correspondence and are bereft of articulateness in spoken and written English. This problem is magnified and has actually manifested itself in the quality of elected and appointed government officials we have.

Educational reform should also be a priority of the next administration. Contreras is just using his column as a bully pulpit for his new position as the President of the DLSU Teaching and Non-Teaching Personnel Union. This is going to be short-lived as he has admitted that by December he will be on terminal leave as a retiree. More than likely he was retrenched as universities grapple with declining enrolment due to the pandemic.

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2 Comments on “Attenion learning institutions: Digitization puts big demands on quality of and approach to education”

  1. They say you remember better when you write by hand. It is a good time to consider the pros and cons of digitization.

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