The Child in the Manger

midnight mass 2017

[Homily:  Christmas Midnight Mass, ADDU Chapel of the Assumption, 2017]

Screen Shot 2017-12-24 at 6.45.55 PMFinally this long-awaited day has come.  The Church begins its official wait for this day from the first day of Advent, four weeks ago.  But the Philippines bypasses Advent and begins the Christmas season four months ago, with the first day of the “–ber months”.  It begins inevitably with radios airing Christmas carols and televisions transforming their sets with the shapes and colors of Christmas.  Broadcasters, store attendants and waiters wear the red caps of Santa’s elves or the branched antlers of Santa’s reindeer.  Inevitably these days, the voices of Joe Mari Chan and his daughter, Lisa, herald the spirit of the Season:  “Whenever I see girls and boys selling lanterns on the street, I remember the Child in the manger as he sleeps…”  It’s an important thing to remember.  For “The Child in the manger as He sleeps” is what many people forget as Christmas decorations are put up, gifts for loved ones and friends are lovingly prepared, and preparations are made for the Noche Buena after this Midnight Mass and the special meal tomorrow that brings the family and friends together on Christmas Day.   Sadly, the commercial activities that surround the quintessentially Christian celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, have more and more removed the Child in the Manger from their Christmas decorations – and Christmas. Screen Shot 2017-12-24 at 6.46.29 PMTraditionally the birth of Christ is recalled by the Belen, with its figurines of the Baby Jesus in the manger cared for by Mary and Joseph, admired by the shepherds from the field, and worshipped by the Three Kings, along with the ox, the donkey, the sheep and the Magi’s three camels.  The Belen was set under a Christmas tree – in Germany, a Tannenbaum, a fir tree –  lit by live candles with a star atop it.  The Christmas tree with its crowning star – which became our Parol – and the trees’ lights were to recall how the star led the magi and all of us to the newborn Messiah.  The first Christmas gift is the Father’s gift to us of the Christ Child wrapped in swaddling clothes and lain in a manger.  The first Christmas carol is the song of the angels, “Gloria in excelsis Deo – Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to people of good will.”

In some of the malls, the Christ Child, the Father’s Gift to us all at Christmas, is replaced by a giant multi-colored empty box wrapped in swaddling ribbons, the lone Christmas tree replaced by a forest of sparkling trees decorated by colorful balls, tinsel, teddy bears and candy cane, and the unique star replaced by whole constellations of flickering stars intended to bedazzle shoppers and keep them mesmerized in the right spirit of Christmas as their wallets and bank accounts are emptied and bountiful yuletide profits are achieved.

Screen Shot 2017-12-24 at 6.48.46 PMRecently, I participated in a Kris Kringle exchange.  When I asked, no one knew the meaning nor the origin of “Kris Kringle.”  The Internet said different things.  Most said Kris Kringle is Santa Claus.  One video said, insightfully, Kris Kringle is “the son of Mr. Kringle.”  No one was able to connect to the Christ Child, in German, Christus Kind, or the little Christ Child, Christus Kindlein (“Kindlein,” the diminutive of Kind, Child) or Christus Kindl (“Kindl,” another diminutive of Kind, Child) or Kris Kindl.  Kris Kringle is the Christ Child!

I guess, part of the fun of Christmas today has to be to smile and try to decipher the decorations and relate them to the traditional faith-based symbols celebrating the Birth of our Lord.  When we hang a sparkling parol outside of our house, or give our loved one a gift at Christmas, we are not just repeating an empty Christmas tradition, correct?   Recently, as I wanted to see the movie Coco that people around me were talking about, I watched an unusually long 21-minute bonus cartoon by Disney’s Pixar entitled “Olaf’s Frozen Adventure” which, I guess, in a secular world tries to recover the spirit of Christmas.  The Queen and princess of the northern European realm have prepared a wonderful Christmas banquet for their village, but no one comes.  Each must go home, they explain, to fulfill “their Christmas tradition.” Every family has a different Christmas tradition, for some a festive meal, for others a special game, for others a happy dance.  When the Queen and princess in their lonely castle notice sadly that they have no “tradition” with which to celebrate Christmas, Olaf the Snowman goes off generously into the village, then into the forests and mountains, to findScreen Shot 2017-12-24 at 6.49.39 PM a Christmas tradition for them.   His arduous adventure brings him much suffering, but it ends in the discovery that he, Olaf, is the royal family’s Christmas tradition.  The discovery ends the cartoon on a happy note.  But the ultimate message of the cartoon is:  Be happy at Christmas with your family tradition, whatever it is, and may you never be without a family tradition at Christmas, whatever it is, even if it is Olaf the Snowman, whoever he is, or Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer, whatever he is, or Santa Claus on Olaf’s reindeer, whoever Santa is, or a striped red-and-white peppermint stick, whatever that means, or a striped Apple with a chunk of it bitten off by Steve Jobs on a gift, the Giant of Technology whose remarkable life – complicated – argues for our need of a Messiah.

The Good News of today is that the Messiah is born. The world sets it aside as
fake news, and conjures a commercial culture without the Belen, or “a Christmas tradition” without the Christ Child.  If we intentionally push Christ out of the malls because not all believe in Christ and Christmas commercialism is for all, if we push the memory of the Christ Child born in embarrassing poverty out of Christmas because it offends against the show-off materialism of the Season, if we push Jesus Christ out of our enjoyment of our Christmas merriment, and put together a grand birthday party but creatively conspire to keep the birthday Celebrant out of it, it’s only because we’ve found our ways of being Christians without Christ, or of being well-bred, educated, technocratic humans without the Messiah.

Screen Shot 2017-12-24 at 6.50.58 PMBut the bad news is no matter how much the media heralds “Change is coming, change is here!” and no matter how much we need to believe that and pray, “I believe, help my unbelief!” we come to learn that our power to change what we need to change and improve the quality of life for our people is severely limited: our typhoons remain deadly, our rivers Screen Shot 2017-12-24 at 6.51.02 PMoverflow, our houses get flooded, our malls burn down.  Our police force is flawed, our military is imperfect, our officials corrupt, our collaborators inept, yet what we want to change in our humanity is stubborn and pernicious.  We love our old ways, we love our old dilapidated jeepneys, we love our old dependencies, we love our old quarrels.  We love humanity, but that Screen Shot 2017-12-24 at 6.51.05 PMperson who wronged me – imagine, in my own family! – I refuse to forgive, and for him or her my cold passive aggression totally appropriate and justified!  We also learn that despite our breeding, education and positions of influence, much of what is flawed and imperfect and corrupt and inept and unforgiving is in us.  Things don’t change, because we refuse change.  We are happy with our addictions, and profit from our corruption, and content always to push the blame on others. We can celebrate Christmas without the Christ Child because that baby born of a Virgin is embarrassing, and because we have come to the conviction that life is possible without a Messiah, and that what is wrong, unjust and life-sapping in our society can be righted with a build!-build!-build! economy, a multi-trillion budget, Federalism and martial law.

Of course, we know, that’s not true.  That’s fake news.  And that’s what we must consider as we remember “the Child in the manger as he sleeps.”  There is no Christmas that is possible without the Christ Child, and no Christmas that can be meaningful without personal insight into our need for a Messiah.

So, Christmas is here.  Jesus is born:  Emmanuel, God with us.  With Joe Mari and Lisa, “Let’s sing Merry Christmas and a happy holiday!  This Season may we never forget the love we have for Jesus.  Let him be the one to guide us as another new year starts.  And may the Spirit of Christmas be always in our hearts!”

Screen Shot 2017-12-24 at 6.51.42 PM

 

 

 

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The Dawn from on High

[Homily:  9th day, Simbanggabi, 24th, Martinez Sports Center, ADDU, December 2017]

With what more beautiful words can we end our nine-day Simbanggabi experience than these from the Canticle of Zechhariah?

In the tender compassion of our God the dawn from on high shall break upon us, to shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death, and to guide our feet into the way of peace.

For nine-days we have come here in the dark of the night.  One can take that literally.  We’ve gotten up in the dark of night to come here; we come here despite the darkness in our homes, in our neighborhood, in our alleyways and streets.  One can however also take “the dark of night” figuratively – to refer to the darkness which hinders sight, the darkness which hides untold dangers, the darkness which is the result of our refusing the light, of choices that bring perilous darkness into our own lives and into the lives of others.  Once conjured, this is darkness that is not only beyond my control.  It is darkness that controls me, and makes me do things I would normally never do, say things I would normally never say, and hurt people whom I in fact would never wish to harm.  This is so, until in my life, what becomes my new normal is the way of darkness:  the cheating has become habitual, the corruption has become necessary, the injustice has become rational.  In this darkness, despite the superficial trappings of success, I know there is no joy.

In this context, these nine novena days of Simbanggabi have been our intensified Advent, as we came in darkness, yet waited for the dawn to come.  We waited, recognizing the darkness around us, yet knowing we have no ability on our own to break the darkness.  We waited consoled in God’s revelation of himself as a compassionate God.  “Com-passionate” – “suffering with”;  a God suffering with his people dwelling in darkness and the shadow of death, feeling compassion for them, instead of abandoning them to cold eternal darkness, suffering with them to help breathe into them new hope and new life.  New hope: in the conviction the darkness can be overcome.  New life: in the conviction the darkness does not lead to death.

Therefore the Good News of this Mass:

In the tender compassion of our God, the dawn from on high shall break upon us, to shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death…

We have not just come here in darkness.  We have come here in the hope of dawn.  We have come here knowing that the darkness which oppresses us and conditions us to choose to harm others can be broken.  The dawn from on high breaks upon us, shining on us who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.  It was the special experience of our Simbanggabi here in Matina.  Everytime we came in darkness, in this Simbanggabi, we wore liturgical white;  we sang the Gloria;  we celebrated the Dawn.  While all others remained in their dwellings of darkness and the shadow of death, our Simbanggabi became Simbangbukangliwayway – the Misa de Gallo that everyday welcomed the Dawn.  Today we do so with among the most beautiful passages of Scripture celebrating God’s good News:

In the tender compassion of our God, the dawn from on high shall break upon us, to shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death…

In the tender compassion of God…  God does not approach us scolding us, mocking us, taunting us;  he does not call fire and brimstone down upon us for having rejected his message of the primacy of the Kingdom and for having rejected him.  He comes gently, the tender light of dawn that slowly breaks the darkness, that with the drama of dawn allows the hues and colors of our lives to reappear, that gently replaces the darkness and depression with light and hope.  He comes today having first entered our lives on the wood of a manger, but having won our life back on the wood of a Cross.  He comes today in a manger in soft but brilliant Resurrection light reconciling the darkness with the light, the earth with the heavens, the sinful with the holy, the human with the divine, so that in peace together as the prophet Isaiah once wrote:  “The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them” (Isaiah 11:16).

In the light and power of this Dawn let us allow this Child to lead us to Peace.  Too long, the adult has led us to war.  Let his Child bring us to reconciliation.   Let man be reconciled with his God, let creation be reconciled with humanity, and let man be reconciled with with his fellow man: the North Korean with the American, the South Korean with the Chinese, the Saudi with the Iranian, the Israeli with the Palestinian, the Bangsamoro with the Filipino, the Communist rebels with the Republic of the Philippines.

This is the Dawn that we celebrate at this Simbanggabi.

In the tender compassion of our God, the Dawn from on high shall break upon us, to shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death and to guide our feet into the way of Peace.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Love is Made Flesh

god incarnation

[Homily: Simbanggabi, Dec 20, 2017]

On the fifth day of our Simbanggabi we are at the midpoint of our nine-day novena of dawn Masses. But I think it can also be said that on this day we recall the absolute pivotal midpoint of salvation history. From our Gospel reading, what we immediately recall is the Annunciation, the Angel Gabriel’s words that we repeat in every Hail Mary: Hail, full of Grace! The Lord is with you.” At these words, Mary was greatly troubled, confused, afraid. The Angel responded to her fear: “Do not be afraid, for you have found favor with God. Behold you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High…and of his Kingdom there will be no end.” But Mary was a virgin. She asks: “But how shall this be, since I have no relations with a man.” The Angel replied, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the Power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore the Child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God.” The announcement was made. The plan of God was exposed. But it was not yet a fact. The entire plan of the salvation of humankind and the created world was made contingent on the free consent of the virgin from Nazareth. The entire plan pivoted on whether Mary would say yes or no. Mary’s response was clear an unequivocal. “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” At that instant, Mary conceives Jesus in her womb. Through Mary’s consent, the Annunciation became the Incarnation. In Mary’s immaculate womb, the Word of Father, a word of Love, became flesh. This is why to this date, the Church celebrates the Annunciation nine months before the celebration of the birth of Jesus. Nine months after Mary consents to be the Mother of the Messiah and conceives, she gives birth to the Child, wraps him in swaddling clothes, and lays him in a manger.

In the Spiritual Exercises, St. Ignatius has a central meditation on the Incarnation. It is a meditation which pivots on the mystery of the Annunciation. But the focus of the mediation is less on the free consent of Mary to God’s plan of salvation, and more on the free consent of God to the to this plan. The exercitant is invited, as we are all invited today, to gain insight into what it was in the mind of the Trinity, Father, Son and Spirit, that moved him to freely consent to the Incarnation. For the Incarnation need not have occurred. The Word need not have become flesh, need not have been born into this inhospitable environment, need not have consented to the journey that would lead him to the Cross. So Ignatius invites the exercitant to do what is without grace absolutely impossible, to enter as it were into the mind of God, and with the eyes of God regard the world and its human population, and gain insight into how the God of Creation responds. You are invited to hear what people are saying on the face of the earth, to see what people are doing, not with your eyes but with the eyes of God, responding not with your emotions but with the emotions as it were of God. What people are saying: some people are conversing about problems they have at home or at work, some people are sharing news, others are fabricating fake news, some people are teaching history or physics or mathematics, others are insisting on the absolute priority of maximum profits, the necessity of corrupt practices, the euphoric experience of substance abuse. Some are speaking of a compassionate God of peace, others of God’s for war against peace. Some are speaking words of love, others manipulative words in the guise of love. What people are doing: some making love, others making war; some helping the poor, the elderly, the needy, others oppressing the helpless and the vulnerable; some creating goods to respond to human needs, others creating powerful needs to consume created goods; some designing and building awesome green skyscrapers, others building intercontinental missiles armed with weapons of mass destruction, some working to advance the common good, others rejecting the common good to pursue but selfish and private goods. In regarding the world that you and I live in, with its virtue and vice, love and hatred, war and peace, liberation and manipulation, God did not turn his back on the world, but affirmed it, he did not destroy the world, he preserved it; he did not distance himself from the world, he entered it; he did not despise its humanity, he affirmed it. In entering it, he did not merely say that it was good; he made it good, conjoining his divinity to humanity, his sacredness to profanity, his holiness to what had been defiled. He did not have to do this; he did it, attracted by the breath of your life, the surprise of your consciousness, the drama of your dreams, the courage of your commitments, the depth of your problems, the joy of your successes, the disappointment of your failures. He did it, drawn by the excitement of your ambitions, the achievements of your genius, but repelled by your hatred, your pettiness, your wars, your violence, your murders, your stealing, your adultery. He did it, teaching the primacy of the Kingdom of God. He did it, exercising a free and awesome brand of gratuitous love.

In this messy world of drug cartels, and extrajudicial killings, and religious wars and violent extremism, and the Kingdom of authoritarian power and militarism challenging constitutional liberties, they killed him for this insistence on the Kingdom of God. There is no room for the Kingdom of God in a world where people refuse to recognize God. There is no room for the Kingdom of God in a world where people refuse to recognize that dignity of the human being for whom God chose to be incarnate. Yet to this world our Scripture proclaims, “The virgin herself shall conceive and bear a son, and she shall name him Emmanuel,” God with us. That is the awesome mystery of the Incarnation. God is with us. He doesn’t have to be. He is. That is the Incarnation. God says yes to us. He doesn’t take it back. When we enter into his mind-considering-the-Incarnation, we find not a concept of love, we find love.

The love is made flesh. We are invited to respond in in the flesh. In love.

 

 

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In Time and at the End of Time: the Lord

law grad homily copy[Homily: ADDU Pre-Christmas Mass, Dec. 15, 2017]

We come together in the spirit of the Advent season. That spirit is a spirit of preparation. It prepares for the second coming of the Lord. The Lord comes at the end of time. At the end of time, the Lord comes as our King and our Judge. Part of the joy of Advent is our certitude that at the end of time, all things will be made right. All injustice will be undone. All undue suffering will be requited. The just will be admitted to their eternal reward. The unjust will suffer eternal perdition.   Advent awaits the triumph of the Lord as a just King and compassionate Judge. Advent awaits the victory of his justice and compassion, of his Kingdom established over heaven and earth. In hope, we prepare ourselves for his second coming, for we do not know the day nor the hour of its coming.

_MG_1888As Advent prepares for the second coming of the Lord at the end of time, it does so in the memory and joy of his first coming in time. The Lord entered into our time, into our space, to free us from our sin, our darkness, our rejection of God as relevant for our lives, our consequent pride, deification of ourselves, reification of others, our contempt, rejection and hatred for one another, our endless quarrels, our violence, our wars. In time, the Lord comes as a teacher, as a prophet of truth, as a bearer of light. “I have come to bring you life, life to the full” (Jn 10:10). “I, the Lord your God, teach you what is for your good, and lead you on the way you should go” (Is 48:17). He comes, teaching us to love God above all things, not to take his name in vain, to keep holy the Lord’s Day, to honor our father and mother, not to kill, not to commit adultery, not to steal, not to lie, not to covet our neighbor’s wife, not to covet our neighbor’s goods (cf. Ex 20:1-17).     Where sin abounds from the hearts of human individuals, he teaches that he does not despise the sacrifice of a broken spirit, a broken and contrite heart (cf. Ps 51:17). In time, in the fullness of time, God’s Word is made flesh. God’s teaching becomes flesh, becomes incarnate (cf. Jn 1:14). God’s teaching is the Child in the manger, the wandering Preacher insisting on the primacy of the Kingdom of God, the astonishing Teacher calling the Poor in Spirit blessed, the angry Prophet overturning the tables of the money changers in the House of his Father, the Lord and Master washing the feet of his disciples, the Son of Man sweating blood in agony, the Son of God suffering for our sins. God’s teaching is the crucified Word of God expressing the fullness of God’s love for us on the Cross. The wood of the manger, the wood of the Cross, bearing the Lamb of God, the resurrected Lord, the Judge of heaven and earth. Recalling his coming in time and his being our Teacher is part of the joy of Advent for it has a bearing on our hope in his second coming.

_MG_1911In Advent, we are invited to reflect on how that teaching has affected our lives in our own time, has conditioned our relationships, influenced our choices, even shaped our decision to be part of, or remain part of, this Jesuit, Catholic and Filipino university that is called Ateneo de Davao. We are invited to appreciate how Christ, the Teacher, quietly inspires our lives as teachers, as staff, or as administrators, and how his teachings help shape what it is that we teach or what it is we do to support teaching well. We can reflect on how his presence has helped us overcome momentous hardships in our past year, both in our personal and professional lives, and then shepherded us to positive outcomes for which we are grateful. In the GS, we transitioned to new leadership, to fresh beginnings, to new challenges. We learned we can agree, disagree and dialogue towards shared commitment to the welfare of our students. In the JHS we met the taxing challenges of a PAASCU survey visit, assessing our weaknesses, appreciating our strengths. We were visited, measured, examined, and not found wanting. In the SHS we survived, where survival could not be taken for granted. But we did not only survive. We worked hard together, faced our demons, learned many lessons, and have despite our shortcomings become one of the most successful SHSs in the country. In the colleges, we worked hard on improving ourselves as teachers, on overcoming our interpersonal problems, on improving our research and sharing its results with audiences in other countries, on preparing ourselves for inter- and multidisciplinary teaching of our Jesuit core curriculum, and on achieving outstanding professional board performance in teacher education, psychology, psychometrics, guidance counseling, chemistry, social work, architecture, civil engineering, mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, chemical engineering, electronics engineering, certified public accounting, nursing and law. Meanwhile, we have become the Technopreneurship hub for Mindanao. We have worked hard 24/7 to fight illegal drugs in our City. We have continued to work hard together for peace, for the rehabilitation of Marawi, for the self-determination of the Bangsamoro, for the improvement of education among the madaris, for the upliftment of the Lumad, for the protection of the environment, and for educational reform both in basic and higher education. We did so, in the presence and inspiration of Christ, our Teacher.

_MG_1881We have much to be grateful for, even as we know we have yet much to learn from our divine Teacher. It is in this context that the Lord says in our first reading, “If you had only paid attention to my teachings, heeded my commandments” you would have experienced prosperity, vindication and descendants like the grains of the sand.” (Is 48:18). It is as if he tells us, “If only you had heeded my teachings, you would have succeeded more, found greater respect in one another’s eyes, and have had as many successful students as the grains of the sand.” My teachings you know: you are educated educators, you know your catechism, you know your theology, you know when it is that you do wrong, you know when you use your knowledge and your power to take undue advantage of your fellow teacher or employee, or to Lord it over your students. You know when it is that you fail to give love – in laziness, in tiredness, in utter selfishness – even to those you love most. You know many things. That is your strength. But your weakness is you use your knowledge to block yourselves off from learning of me, as I teach you truth from the Cross, speaking to you personally in your unique circumstances, urging you to do what will really make you happy.

Part of the joy of Advent is to rejoice in how the Lord comes to us in our time, as a Teacher, as a Savior, as a human being, born in poverty, wrapped in swaddling clothes and lain in a manger. It is that same Lord who at the end of time wishes to welcome us to the joys for which we were created from the beginning of time. If hearing his Word on the wood of the Cross may seem overwhelming, his Word as a baby lain on the wood of the manger may be less intimidating. But to hear it, we must listen in silence free of the customary distractions of the Season. The Word is but a vulnerable baby. But it is an intimate Word of powerful love. It is a forgiving Word of acceptance. It is an awesome Word of God’s irretrievable commitment to us. It is the Good News the Father whispers in Love that we must not miss to appreciate as Christmas nears.

 

 

 

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Of Contractual Relations and Giving Without Counting the Cost

law grad homily copy

[President’s Remarks: ADDU Service Awards, 2017]

It is my privilege to add my personal word of congratulations to all the service awardees celebrating 10, 15, 20, 25, 30 and even 35 years of service at the ADDU in the Grade School, Junior High School, and from the various schools in higher education. We congratulate all those who have received special rewards – our retirees. This day we recognize your loyalty over the years, and express our gratitude for your loyal service, that in some cases have virtually defined your lifetime.

_MG_1769As we express our gratitude for your loyalty, we also express our gratitude to the Lord for the Ateneo de Davao, that we all work hard to keep alive in the service of our youth, our society and our Church. The ADDU is the context of your service, your long-term employment, and the benefits that you receive over many years as employees of ADDU. At ADDU, as elsewhere, the employer-employee relationship is defined by a contracts freely entered into with their determinations of legal obligations on both the side of the employer and the side of the employees. We are grateful that these contracts exist. We are grateful they can exist.

_MG_1728But we are also grateful that an essential dimension of your service here at Ateneo cannot be adequately expressed in an employer-employee relationship, because this dimension has to do with the institution’s relationship with the Church, and the institution’s relationship with its God, and the institution’s relationship with its stakeholders.

It also has to do with your individual relationship to the Church, and to God, and to the stakeholders of this university, i.e., your own personal appropriation of the mission of the school in living out your contracted service. In your service here at the ADDU you are dealing not only with an employer and an employing institution. You are yourself responding to your God, your Church, your community.

_MG_1713It is therefore also in this trans-contractual dimension, that your service is rendered.

Therefore, even as we are today grateful for your loyalty in contractual fidelity over the years, we are also grateful today for your generosity.

This is something we cannot contract.

It is something we learn.

It is something we pray for.

Generosity: St. Ignatius taught us to pray for generosity.

  • Lord teach us to be generous
  • Teach us to serve you as you deserve
  • To give and not to count the cost
  • To fight and not to heed the wounds
  • To toil and not to seek for rest
  • To labor and ask not for reward
  • Save that of knowing that we do your most holy will.

In the service awards for this day, we recognize your loyalty gratefully. And proudly honor you. But we also recognize your generosity. And humbly praise God.

 

 

 

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PAASCU from the Heart of the Filipino Educators’ Soul

PAASCU at 60 2017

[President’s Address, PAASCU General Assembly, 27 November 2017]

As PAASCU turns 60 allow me to share with you a personal conviction. PAASCU has been successful as an accrediting association not by having access to great resources. PAASCU lives on a shoestring budget and survives on the contribution you give to it year by year. PAASCU has been successful, I believe, by tapping into the Filipino educators’ soul. By this soul I mean that area of interiority where Filipino educators are committed to teach, and to teach well. This is a commitment based on a personal vocation, either a discerned inner call of one’s human being, or a graced recognition of a sublime call of a Transcendent Being. It is in either case a calling responded to with ultimate personal freedom, where the educator is most autonomous and most authentic. This response is a source of great power, and, with great power, great responsibility. It is here where PAASCU’s shared commitment to Quality Assurance is rooted. It is not imposed from without. It is impelled from within, freely, voluntarily. It is a commitment that at 60 it is happy to share.

To Teach Well

hpic11To teach well is a free decision from within. It is a decision based on a personal desire to share what one knows or can know, what one does or can do with others. Or, from another perspective, it is the ability to draw out from one’s student (ex ducere) what can be known or can be done. This is at the core of the Filipino Educators’ Soul. Passing on knowledge and skills is what human beings do from generation to generation, sometimes with great urgency and severity, more often with great love and abiding hope. For many, it resonates with how God, who is Truth, passes on truth in his creative Word and in the whisperings and power of his Spirit.   In teaching, there is great joy. There is profound fulfillment. You have experienced this joy and fulfillment: when you see the faces of your students light up with understanding; when you experience the excitement of your students who have just broken through to insight. There is great joy in seeing how students and their families are transformed by education, how through education your erstwhile students are able to pull their entire family out of poverty. There is great satisfaction in witnessing how well-educated former students become doctors, lawyers and statesmen, and contribute to the humanization of society, and knowing that because you taught, and taught well, you were and are part of it.

PAASCU taps into this free interior decision of the teacher to teach well.

To Participate in a Profession that Teaches Well for the Social Good 

hpic9To teach well is to teach not in isolation, teaching arbitrarily, but as part of a public profession that teaches through educational institutions in the service of society. One teaches knowledge and skills through fixed programs supported by institutions. What one teaches in educational institutions responds to needs or desire of students for their own good or the good of society.   Those needs may be for learning in mathematics, language, history or religious education. Those desires may be for competencies in applying mathematics to physics, or in relating philosophical principles to tackling current ethical challenges in society. Those needs and desires may be for qualifications in engineering or nursing or in the social sciences. All of what is taught and learned ultimately redounds to the public good, the enrichment of society.

In this context teaching well involves achieving minimum program standards binding on all, it involves excellence in achieving outcomes beyond minimum standards, it involves advancing the mission and vision of the educational institution through teaching, it involves contributing to the transformation of society through transforming learning outcomes into learned service.   Teaching well is for the good of society.

That is why it is repulsive to the soul of Filipino educators when teachers and educational institutions profess to teach, but do not teach well. Where hard-earned qualifications are marked by respectable diplomas, the soul of Filipino educators is repelled by diploma mills. For the Filipino educator, education is a prize of the human spirit, not to be cheapened in commercialization nor diminished in incompetence. It is from the depth of this Filipino educators’ soul that in 1950 the Philippine Accrediting Association of Universities and Colleges (PAAUC) was initiated. It was a private initiative against public laxity, a prophetic statement of the importance of standards even as the sanguine participation of the private sector in education was welcome.

PAAUC was short-lived. It was put to sleep a year after its birth rather than be allowed to succumb to alienating spirits that would subject it to government control. But the soul of the Philippine educator, committed to teach and to teach well in a shared teaching profession, resurrected PAAUC’s accreditation mission in the Philippine Accrediting Association of Schools, Colleges and Universities (PAASCU) in 1957.   It was organized to resonate with the Filipino educators’ soul: it would be private, voluntary, non-stock, non-profit, i.e., operating not for money and not under the control of the State, but in the free authenticity of the Filipino Educators’ Soul: just wanting to teach, and to teach well.   Its avowed objective was “to improve education throughout the Philippines without an increase of government control over private schools” through voluntary private accreditation. Eleven CEAP schools would be its charter members. That was 60 years ago.

PAASCU was therefore not just anti-diploma mill. It was its members’ continuing desire voluntarily and proactively to improve themselves in their professional teaching and their service to the community. It was born from its members’ soul.

To Check That I am Teaching Well

hpic15The inner decision to teach and to teach well was a decision for quality in teaching. The educators needed to assure themselves that they were achieving the quality they were committed to, despite historical vicissitudes of running schools under circumstances that are not always ideal: instability in the market, changing personnel, faculty who fall short of performance expectations, administrative mess ups.   They also had to assure others – stakeholders like parents, educators in other schools both local and foreign, employers and professionals – that the quality they claimed was actually achieved.

Of the many types of possible quality assurance procedures, PAASCU chose the most challenging – accreditation. This involved the school’s evaluative self-survey of academic programs based on an instrument that carries the standards of the PAASCU accreditation process, including standards for faculty, instruction, administration, facilities and community involvement.  It involved a visit to the school by trained and competent peer accreditors to check on the self-survey using established standards and procedures. It involved a review of the accreditors’ report by an appropriate Commission of experts, and a Board of Trustees to judge finally whether the school be accredited or not.

Originally, PAASCU accredited only four liberal arts programs of the eleven charter members. Today “as PAASCU completes 60 years of service to Philippine education, the total membership of accredited institutions on all levels is 507. It has accredited 96 elementary schools, 111 secondary schools, 146 basic education schools, and 122 colleges and universities. The latter represent 821 programs. There are also 16 graduate schools with 90 programs and 16 medical schools that have been accredited. On the average, PAASCU conducts 200 site visits a year.”[1]

PAASCU was founded in 1957. In time, PAASCU’s leadership in quality assurance through accreditation was followed by others: the Philippine Association of Colleges and Universities Commission on Accreditation (PACU-COA) in 1973, the Association of Christian Schools, Colleges and Universities Accrediting Association, Inc. (ACSCU-AAI) in 1976. In 1977, the Federation of Accrediting Agencies of the Philippines (FAAP) was organized with PAASCU, PACU-COA and ACSCU-AAI as autonomous founding members. FAAP would eventually certify the accredited status of the private programs and schools[2] as the National Network of Quality Assurance Agencies (NNQAA) would take care of certifying the accredited status of State Universities and Colleges (SUCs) through the Accrediting Agency of Chartered Colleges and Universities (AACCUP) and that of Local Colleges and Universities (LCUs) through the Association of Local Colleges and Universities Commission on Accreditation (ALCU-COA).

But from the very beginning, PAASCU grew out of the interior need of the teachers and the educational institutions to teach, and to teach well, to be assured that what they were committed to deliver was what they actually delivered. The driver of the accreditation process was not the external check but the internal driving will – the voluntas – of the teachers and institutions for quality – the Filipino Educators’ Soul. It was never externally constrained. It was essentially voluntas, voluntary, an imperative from within. PAASCU was at the service of that will.

Voluntariness, Autonomy and Standards of Accreditation  

photo14In its enlightened moments, Government recognized the voluntary character of accreditation. Official policies in DepEd and CHED acknowledged the voluntary nature of accreditation in aid of quality and excellence.[3] Both DepED and CHED repeatedly encouraged the use of voluntary accreditation.

But official policies sometimes undermined the voluntary nature of accreditation. They worked against the principle that voluntary accreditation proceeds from self-governance according to rules, procedures and norms freely imposed by the members on themselves autonomously (autos [self] nomos [law]) towards their own improvement as educators. Whenever government did that, it was counter-productive for education in the Philippines, and called forth appropriate opposition.

Such a case was when in 1984 under conditions of martial law the Ministry of Education and Culture and Sports (MECS) called for the organization of a single accrediting agency. The proposal attacked the voluntariness and autonomy of the existing accreditation agencies; it attacked the Filipino Educators’ Soul in PAASCU. In a national COCOPEA-FAAP consultation, the signs carried in the picket lines read, “Retain PAASCU!” PAASCU overwhelmingly rejected the proposal. With the 1986 People Power Revolution and the appointment of the erstwhile President of PAASCU, Lourdes Quisumbing, as DECS Secretary, PAASCU and the Filipino Educators’ Soul triumphed.

CMO 15, s. 2005 on “Institutional Monitoring and Evaluation for Quality Assurance of All Higher Educational Institutions” (IQUAME) failed because it tried to take over in institutional accreditation what the accreditation agencies were already doing autonomously and voluntarily.[4] CHED was appropriating the private, voluntary, and autonomous function of accreditation to itself. It learned it could not take over the voluntary and autonomous soul of the Philippine educators. Accreditation was not among the functions accorded CHED in the law that constituted it. What it was authorized to do, it ought not to have overreached. What it did not need to do, it ought not to have done.[5]

CMO 46, s. 2012 on Outcomes-Based and Typology-Based Quality Assurance set the stage for a protracted dispute with CHED that is still unresolved. Before its issuance in December 2012, PAASCU formally advised CHED that it be deferred, considering that HEIs had to deal with the uncertainties of the K-12 Reform. The advice was not heeded. CMO 46 was issued with the ill-advised declaration that all reforms had to be implemented at the same time. The extraordinarily complex document sought to base quality assurance on “outcomes based education” and on a new typology of HEIs. The contentious “outcomes based education” opened the floodgates of protest by HEIs against CHED’s violation of academic freedom.

Meanwhile, the typology-based quality assurance policy drove counter flow to the natural desire of HEIs to develop into universities. Where quality assurance sought to guarantee quality outcomes in education, it did not make sense to talk about outcomes-based quality assurance. For how could outcomes assure outcomes?

Quality assurance needs emphatically to consider all the important inputs that PAASCU’s accreditation has considered essential since its inception: classroom teaching, faculty, facilities, libraries, administration. Even in trying to define quality, CMO 46 opened a hornet’s nest: it viewed quality from the aspect of “exceptional” and “exceeding very high standards” but failed to appreciate the essential importance of that were the main mandate RA 7722 gave it to set.[6]

In this failure, CHED deprived HEIs of important discretional space for academic freedom. Remarkably, in CMO 46 s. 2012, CHED again overreached its legal functions in appropriating to itself the accreditation function.   Referring to itself as an external quality assurance agency on the same level as the other accrediting bodies,[7] it entered illegitimately into the realm that is private, voluntary and autonomous. The blunder violated the QA principles of the ASEAN Quality Assurance Framework (AQAF).

More recently, CHED again overreached its legal functions by creating a private body to accredit IT programs and declaring it the only body authorized to accredit IT in line with the Seoul Accord. It transferred a large amount of public money to the private group for its start-up activities.

PAASCU has resisted these activities through its assemblies, its public statements and through legal action in order to defend voluntary, private, autonomous and independent accreditation. It did so to protect and advance quality standards even from the missteps of government, its caretakers and their private collaborators. It did so according to the imperatives of its educators’ soul.

Enriched by and enriching global accreditation

photo03PAASCU looks back over sixty years with gratitude. PAAUC lasted hardly one year. But in fidelity to its voluntary, autonomous and rigorous commitment to quality, PAASCU has endured.   In its alliance with global leaders in accreditation, it has itself become a global leader, enriching other countries with its rich accreditation experience, and being enriched by the experience of global leaders.

Since the 1990s, PAASCU has earned the recognition of regional and international accreditation and quality assurance networks.

It is a founding member of the International Network for Quality Assurance Agencies in Higher Education organized in 1991, and the Asia-Pacific Quality Network, established in 2003. Since 2004, its Basic Medical Education Program has been recognized by the National Committee on Foreign Medical Education and Accreditation (NCFMEA) of the US Department of Education. Only 23 countries in the world have received such certification from the US Department of Education.

PAASCU is the only accrediting agency in the Philippines that is a full member of the ASEAN Quality Assurance Network (AQAN), established in 2008. In 2012, PAASCU became a member of the CHEA International Quality Group (CIQG), an international division of the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) based in Washington, DC which addresses issues and challenges regarding quality and quality assurance in an international setting. The PAASCU Executive Director serves as a member of the CIQG Advisory Council.

Over the years, PAASCU has partnered with international organizations such as the Asian Development Bank, the World Bank, the European Union, the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), the United States Agency for International Development, and UNESCO in conducting training and capacity building workshops on quality assurance in higher education in Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Mongolia, China, Egypt, Yemen and Ethiopia. With its vast experience in quality assurance and accreditation, PAASCU has facilitated the global and regional knowledge sharing of good practices and promoted inter-regional communication and cooperation across a diverse set of agencies and professionals.

PAASCU was actively involved in the AQAN Task Force which crafted the ASEAN Quality Assurance Framework (AQAF) currently being pilot-tested in the region.

Over the past nine years, PAASCU has been invited by foreign governments and institutions to conduct program accreditation. So far, we have accredited 12 programs in Bangladesh, Bahrain, Cambodia, Indonesia, and Independent Samoa. At present, there are applicant institutions from Guatemala, Indonesia, and Micronesia.

In this context the Board unanimously decided this morning to change the name of PAASCU to PAASCU, International.

PAASCU’s Vision and Mission at 60

DSC_0193With its vision of being “the leading independent resource in the Philippines and beyond that fosters quality education among its member institutions by advancing excellence in the standards and process of accreditation, and its mission to support, empower and sustain the quality initiatives of its members through site visits, training, consultancy service and collaborative undertakings with national, regional and international agencies that advocate quality standards and practices,” PAASCU “serves the nation and beyond through the pursuit of quality culture in education.”

This vision and mission shape its objectives now and in the future:

  • To promote and integrate the efforts of institutions to elevate the standard of education in the Philippines;
  • To strengthen the capabilities of educational institutions for service to the nation, ASEAN and beyond;
  • To encourage and assist institutions to improve themselves through a culture of continuing evaluation, self-assessment and peer review.
  • To provide counsel and assistance to institutions for quality improvement;
  • To assure the public of quality education in accredited programs and institutions;
  • To assist institutions in their quest for national, regional and international recognition of their academic programs;
  • To collaborate with national and international agencies and organizations involved in quality assurance;
  • To provide training, consultancy, and quality assurance services to educational institutions inside and outside the country.

These are urgent objectives in the light of ASEAN integration. The role of quality education in the creation of a region unified in its cultural and religious diversity cannot be gainsaid. We must tackle not only the mismatch between education and jobs in the ASEAN economy, but also the mismatch between education and leadership for the common good, the creation of a regional consciousness, the protection and defense of the environment, religious freedom amidst religious diversity, and the creation of counter narratives against religious extremism.

ASEAN is not just an economic community, it is a humane community. The role of quality education for ASEAN cannot be over-emphasized.

The objectives are urgent in the light of the recently forged partnership between the Philippine Association of State Universities and Colleges (PASUC) and the Coordinating Council for Private Educational Associations (COCOPEA) which resolved to “jointly commit itself to the culture of Quality Assurance guided by the ASEAN Quality Assurance Framework (AQAF) and the ASEAN Qualifications Reference Framework (AQRF).”[8] This commitment must not remain on the level of good intentions. With PAASCU in the lead, it must be translated into improved delivery of higher education through genuine external quality assurance associations (EQAAs) and EQAA standards and processes appropriate for the Philippines and ASEAN.

These objectives are also urgent in the context of the recently passed Universal Access to Quality Higher Education Act (RA 10931). As its title states, this law is as much about quality as it is about universal access. It is not about providing free access to poor quality public education, or providing funded access to poor quality private education. The implementers of this law must be committed to a culture of quality assurance guided by the AQAF and the AQRF.

And these objectives are urgent as PAASCU must continue to work with the Department of Education (DepED), the Commission on Higher Education (CHED), the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) and the Philippine Regulatory Commission (PRC) voluntarily, independently, critically, but always helpfully. It must continue to work for the proper implementation of the K-12 program, for consensus on a national quality assurance program, for a review of all requirements in the context of the AQAN and the AQRF, and for increased self-governance among the higher education community to promote the complementarity between public and private education and the genuine integrity and independence of quality assurance in the Philippines.

For 60 years, PAASCU has been successful by tapping into the Filipino Educators’ Soul. That has always been a powerful interior source of will, autonomy, and commitment to individual and institutional excellence in education. It has defined our relations with our members, our stakeholders, our partners, our allies, and even our adversaries. It is from the depth of this educators’ soul that PAASCU at 60 says thank-you to all who over the years have freely given PAASCU its life, its strength and its power. It says thank you to you.

DSC_0039But today from the depth of its Filipino Educators’ Soul, PAASCU says thank you especially to one person, who for the past 40 years of our 60-year-old institution was, in her words, “its footsoldier,” its handmaid, but in our experience the embodiment of its spirit, our revered and deeply-loved Executive Director, Chita Pijano. She is the embodiment of PAASCU accreditation who in your name
DSC_0148has brought PAASCU to where it is today in the Philippines and beyond. We express to her today our undying gratitude and love.

Even as you know that Chita will be giving way to a new executive director on April 1, 2018. Today the Board unanimously determined that the new director shall be Mr. Ric Palo.[9]

It is through the inspiration of the people of PAASCU like Chita Pijano and from the depth of your Filipino educators’ soul, that PAASCU looks forward with courage and hope.

DSC_0046

 


[1] Cf. “PAASCU Self-Assessment Report for SHARE Pilot Review Exercise,” (QC: PAASCU, 2017), pg. 10

[2] Department Order 93 s. 1992 (c).

[3] This included: … DO 93 s. 1992 “Revised Policies on Voluntary Accreditation and Deregulation”; DepEd Order 32 of 2006, “Revised Policies on Voluntary Accreditation of Elementary and Secondary Private Schools in Aid of Quality and Excellence”; CHED Order 31 s. 1995 “Policies on Voluntary Accreditation in Aid of Quality and Excellence”; CHED Memorandum Order 1, s. 2005, “Policies and Guidelines on Voluntary Accreditation in Aid of Quality and Excellence”. Both DepED and CHED encouraged the use of voluntary accreditation.

[4] “The monitoring and evaluation shall be implemented by the Commission through the Office of Programs and Standards (OPS) and the CHED regional offices (CHEDROs), and coordinated with the Office of the Executive Director” (CMO 15, s. 2005, Sec. 7).

[5] Cf. RA 7722, Sec. 8. Even the blanket provision that CHED perform functions necessary “for its effective operations and for the continued enhancement, growth or development of higher education” (Sec 8[o]) could not warrant doing what was already being done by the accrediting agencies.

[6] Cf. CMO 46, Art. II, Sec 6. Among the clear, positive, non-recommendatory powers of CHED under RA 7722 is to “set minimum standards for programs and institutions of higher learning recommended by panels of experts in the field and subject to public hearing, and enforce the same” (d). These are different from standards of excellence, and are essential for recognizing what is “exceptional”.

[7] Cf. CMO 46, Art. II, Sec 9: “QA can be carried out with the help of external agencies like CHED and the accrediting bodies.” Being a government body, CHEd is not an external quality assurance agency (EQAA) as the accrediting bodies are.

[8] Resolution 7. 2nd PASUC-COCOPEA Conversations on Complementarity Between Public and Private HEIs, Davao City, Jan 12-13.

[9] The Board also resolved in its meeting of November 27, 2017 to officially appoint Mrs. Concepcion “Chita” Pijano as Consultant for PAASCU for a period of one year effective April 1, 2018, renewable on a yearly basis by mutual consent.

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The K-12 Reform: We Must Stay the Course

[Panel Discussion Contribution. 2017 Philippine Educational Conference, SMX Convention Center, Pasay City, 28 Nov. 2017.]

IMG_2436Where we had only required ten years of basic education, the K-12 reform was effected to put us on par with other nations whose basic education consisted of twelve years.

Our reform was to add a mandatory Kindergarten and two years of senior high school to our existing ten years.

We originally wanted to decongest the 10-year curriculum, to give the learners more time and space to learn fundamentals. We also originally wanted through this reform to acknowledge that not all of our graduates need to go to college, but that many of them would want to join the mainstream labor force after graduation from basic education.

In the course of our reform, however, courses formerly taught in college were pushed down to basic education. What had been decongested was re-congested. And the original insight that not all students have to go to college, gave way to a scruple that a basic education system that does not prepare all students for college is a substandard basic education system.

So when the CHED articulated its college readiness standards, meant originally to guide the SHS experience of those opting to go to college, the entire SHS was eventually designed to make all graduates of SHS college ready.

Private sector education supported this reform in the interests of the educational needs of our youth. But it paid heavily. It lost years of enrollment in college last year and this year as senior high school was being introduced mandatorily; it will continue to suffer college underpopulation as those enrollment vacuums travel to 3rd, 4th an 5th year. But it also suffered because of the lack of respect for the complementarity between public and private education. The public side upped its compensation to close to twice the amount affordable in most private schools causing a migration of teachers to private schools. The public schools got their teachers. But well-functioning private schools, especially those serving the poor, were crippled.

As we come to the close of the implementation of first batch of universally-required senior high school, perhaps it is not out of place to congratulate ourselves that through our focus on the need for this reform the senior high school as such has been established and now enjoys wide acceptance throughout the nation. The reform has gained for us new respectability in the international arena. Because of this reform, our professionals abroad can now be recognized and appropriately compensated for their professional qualifications.

But I think it is only right that at a forum like this we take the time to take stock – even if only to agree on questions that must be asked in order to evaluate where we are, and what we have yet to do to shepherd our reform to success. Some of the questions may be as follows.

Did we make the right decision in demanding of our SHSs that they prepare all their learners to be college ready? Do we not over-demand academic courses of those who should be better trained for the workforce in vocational education? Do we not thereby weaken the focus on preparing those committed to go to college even as we hinder those wishing to work to get the skills necessary for them to be welcomed into the labor market?

At the same time, with all the good will that went into the design of a senior high school that would develop the general and specialized potentials of the learners, have we created a SHS program that with its multiple tracks and strands, its learning outcomes and performance tasks, is unnecessarily complex, difficult to manage, and exhausting not only for the learners but for the administrators and teachers as well?

Are our and DepED personnel, teachers and administrators trained enough to tackle the academic and formative challenges of SHS harmoniously and productively? Our attempts to provide In Service Training especially through PEAC are laudable. But they also reveal gaps in teacher competency and preparedness to achieve the cognitive and practical learner outcomes of SHS.

Are we managing the complementarity between public and private schools optimally? In the beginning of the reform when DepEd worried that there would not be enough senior high schools, DepEd encouraged the private sector to invest in SHSs. To do so, it said that it would restrain its provision of SHS. But when the private sector started investing in SHS and the public compensation scale for SHSs was published, the DepEd seemed to forget its commitments to restraint. Activity on the ground proved very different from policy in the center. We were told that in Region XI for every ten existing high schools, only one would be designated to develop a SHS. When the private schools began investing, news of more and more public SHSs was dismaying. Public school principals, intent on populating their own SHSs, were even withholding information from learners about their ability to opt for a public or for a private school given the vouchers that has been developed. To make matters worse, SUCs were forced to provide SHSs, while basic education is not their proper mandate as public HEIs. Up to today, the SUCs wish to be relieved of SHS, but they are still forced to provide it, even though private sector provision is undersubscribed.

Finally, the quality assurance question: how can we assure ourselves and others that what we undertook to achieve in SHS we are actually achieving. Will we subject our graduates to a standardized exam for college readiness? But then how would the results of such an exam be handled? Shall it be possible to fail this exam? Even if failure in this exam shall not be possible, and learners either just do poorly or do well, what consequence would doing poorly have for their futures in career or college? Would we use the results of such an exam to improve the design of our SHSs?

A culture of QA would help us develop the quality of our SHSs, but also of our entire basic and higher education.   The ASEAN QA Network, of which the PH is a member, demands of quality assurance – that is best when it is private, autonomous and voluntary – that there be an external quality assurance agency (EQAA), EQAA-Standards and Processes comparable with international standards and processes, functional Internal Quality Assurance (IQA) mechanisms, operating within the Philippine Qualifications Framework (PQF). How could the quality of our SHS be assessed by truly external quality assurance bodies following appropriate standards and processes? Do all of our SHSs have IQA mechanisms that respect the National Qualifications Framework?

Finally, let me say that all beginnings are difficult. In the K-12 reform, we have made a good beginning. Now we must stay the course, listen to one another, learn from our errors, and undertake to improve ourselves. To do so we must work together in genuine public and private complementarity.

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