PAASCU Building on Strengths, Navigating Change

[Address: PAASCU General Assembly, 2012]

It is my privilege to welcome you from all over the Philippines to this General Assembly of the Philippine Accrediting Association of Schools Colleges and Universities (PAASCU), with its theme: Building on Strengths, Navigating Change.

Strengths

Let us discuss “Building on Strengths” first.

You have this year PAASCU’S Annual Report in your kits. I will comment only briefly on items in that report.

First, our membership. The biggest source of our strength is our members. There are 449 today – diverse, inter-denominational, and spread throughout the country. That is a long way from the original 11 catholic schools of PAASCU 55 years ago.

Second, our accreditors. From the beginning, the essential challenge to accreditation was to find accreditors “of sound judgment, of great experience, and of unquestioned integrity.” Over the years, PAASCU has trained, honed and built up its powerhouse today of a thousand accreditors to be just that. You see in the Annual Report that in last year’s round of accreditation work, 787 such accreditors were involved. This is a second source of great strength in PAASCU – and a sine qua non of quality assurance work in the Philippines. You cannot do quality assurance without competent and dedicated accreditors. PAASCU’S accreditors are not paid, they are not bribed, they are not controlled by their home schools, they are not beholden to government. They are simply dedicated to the ongoing improvement of Philippine education in the voluntary quality assurance community that PAASCU is. As the PAASCU awards for this year indicate, their dedication is proven through 10, 50 and even over 100 surveys. I think we should appreciate this strength. It is strength that comes from within and among us. It is nothing that a CHED Memo can decree nor a Republic Act legislate.

Third, the commitment to ongoing accreditation is an enduring commitment to quality assurance that succeeds. That is a strength. Last year, based on the rolling demand for accreditation determined by years of validity of the accreditation status, PAASCU visited 162 schools, differentiated as grade schools, high schools, basic education, tertiary, graduate and medical schools. In areas of faculty, instruction, administration, student services, facilities and service to the community, the schools went through the time-honored process of self-survey, a site visit based on rigorous standard instruments of evaluation, accreditors’ recommendations, PAASCU evaluation and judgment, all accomplished in the voluntary spirit of quality assurance and quality improvement. Of course, the PAASCU’s quality assurance instruments are sensitive, and have always been sensitive, to the competencies a student has upon graduation; our instruments have checked for performance in board exams and have been open to the demands of industry. And as others’ have talked fashionably about the importance of outcomes-based quality assurance with large letters, then outcomes-based quality assurance with small letters, then as competency-based education, we have been content to stay with the simple word “accreditation,” knowing that good outputs are possible only on the basis of good inputs, that faculty must be academically qualified to teach well and search for truth freely, that facilities and libraries and laboratories must be in place for any quality results, that administrators must be competent and institutions healthy – and that the eros to go beyond the minimum Policies, Standards and Guidelines of CHED is not just a matter of articulating horizontal types and vertical values, but of peers encouraging peers to freely improve, of peers being inspired by the successes of peers, of peers freely taking on the challenges of responding to the need for improved education in the global world. Today, quality education in the Philippines is not the preserve of just 11 elite sectarian schools of Manila; it is the achievement of those nationwide who freely embark on a journey of ongoing self-improvement through accreditation. That this works in PAASCU is definitely a strength.

Fourth, we have been doing this for a long time. That is a strength. Where CHED is now undertaking to preside over a scheme of tertiary-level quality assurance based on a re-classification of HEI types, focused emphatically on outcomes, and still abstracted from the achievements of basic education, we have been doing multi-level quality assurance for 55 years. When Bro. Gabriel Connon, FSC and Fr. James Meany, S.J., founded PAASCU in 1957, we were the pioneers in quality assurance work in the Philippines, second only in the Asia-Pacific region to Japan (1947), and third only in the world to the United States (turn of the 20th C). It was founded “to improve the quality of education in the Philippines everywhere without an increase in government control over the private schools.” It was inspired by a dream: that somehow government would delegate to PAASCU its supervisory and regulatory function over its member schools. It clearly recognized the right of government to regulate, but it was motivated by an eros to achieve such quality in education that it did not need regulation. It was based on the dynamic norms of ongoing voluntary autonomous quality improvement that we imposed on ourselves – in a type of honors’ system that didn’t need policing.

This has been and continues to be important because the missions of our schools cannot be compromised by any real or virtual subordination of their finalities to ends that are not our own.

Today, with the Philippine Association of Colleges and Universities – Commission on Accreditation (PACU-COA) and the Association of Christian Schools, Colleges and Universities Accrediting Agency, Inc. (ACSCU-AAI), we are one of three institutions that comprise the Federation of Accreditation Agencies of the Philippine (FAAP), chaired by my predecessor, Fr. Antonio Samson, S.J., that represents voluntary accreditation in the Philippines today. It is through this agency that PAASCU will continue to represent the values of voluntary, independent and autonomous accreditation in the Philippines today.

Fifth, we enjoy international recognition. We have been hearing of the need for education in the Philippines to step up to the challenges of globalization.
In the global arena, PAASCU is a founding member since 1991 of the International Network for Quality Assurance Agencies for Higher Education (INQAAHE) -“a world wide association of over 200 organizations in the theory and practice of quality assurance in higher education.” In the Asia-Pacific arena, PAASCU is a founding member since 2003 of the Asia Pacific Quality Network (APQN) which serves the needs of quality assurance in our “region that contains half the population of the world.”

In the international medical accreditation arena, PAASCU has been recognized by the National Committee on Foreign Medical Accreditation (NCFMEA) of the United States Department of Education (USDE) as having standards comparable to those being used for accrediting medical schools in the US. PAASCU is one of 23 countries in the world that has received this recognition.

PAASCU is also part of the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) International Quality Group (CIQG), an international forum for colleges, universities, accrediting and quality assurance organizations and others worldwide to address issues and challenges focused on quality and quality assurance in an international setting, combatting both degree mills and accreditation mills.

Finally, and this is very important, PAASCU alone is part of the ASEAN-QA Project, “a joint initiative aimed at strengthening the capacity for internal and external quality assurance through dialogue and training events” (2011-13). It is a project towards shared capacity in internal and external quality assurance for the whole of ASEAN based on inter-regional cooperation and dialogue.

In the Philippines PAASCU is the lead accreditation agency with international credibility. That is definitely a strength.

Navigating Change

Now, a few remarks about navigating change. In your concern for education in the Philippines you may agree or disagree with them.

Educational reform in the Philippines, if we may call it that, is being primarily driven by an effort to meet standards of education in the global world – where our graduates with only ten years of elementary education, no matter the quality of their knowledge through their engineering and nursing degrees, were disadvantaged. That is why we have already embarked on the K-12 reform, even though this is not yet legislated. The global world with its unforgiving agenda won’t let us wait. That is also why there has been much discussion, sometimes passionate, about quality assurance. The outcomes of our schools and HEIs must be quality outcomes. And so our Commission on Higher Education has proposed its Outcomes and Typology Based Quality Assurance (OTBQA) Proposal.

I don’t know if anyone had any inkling about how difficult adding two years to our formally tranquil system would be. The idea was to decongest 1-10, to have more time to teach elementary level subjects well – which was a laudable idea. So to the 10 years we already had, we added Kindergarten in the front (to better insure that grade schoolers don’t drop out!), and two grades 11 and 12 in the end. Somewhere in the process the idea was added that there are many subjects in college that don’t belong there. So the years, 11 and 12, that were there to de-congest 1-10 were now congested by subjects that were pushed down from college. Add to this now the idea that one who finishes grade 12 should either be able to work or to go to college. That meant, instruction of a more technical nature needed to be introduced to prepare students to work, even as instruction of a more academic nature needed to be planned to prepare students now for the really real college. For the standards of technical instruction, TESDA was involved; for the standards of college preparedness, CHED was involved. It published college readiness standards. DepEd focused on preparing the lugubrious system of the public schools for the transition, and welcomed the suggestion that private schools take care of themselves. CHED focused on OTBQA.

Meanwhile not everyone understands which college subjects are going to senior high school, and what the effect of these shifts on the CHED Policies, Standards and Guidelines (PSGs) of particular disciplines shall be. Not everyone understands how subjects in senior high schools shall be taught and with what teachers. Meanwhile, there is a new proposal for 36-unit multi-disciplinary general education program for the new scheme of things, for which teachers must be special trained. But the effect of the general education program on the PSGs of the individual disciplines and on the mission-based core curricula of the schools is still uncertain.

In the midst of this – or on top of it – instead of CHED focusing on this key administration reform, CHED is talking about a reorganization of the HEI types and horizontal standards of evaluation that must be sensitive to type and evidenced on outcomes. Now three horizontal types are being proposed: the professional institute, the college and the university. Fr. Samson, however, has written CHED to point out there that is really not that much difference between the professional institute and the college, so why not stick with the college? Meanwhile, the emphasis is on outcomes based quality assurance. I have written to point out that you can really not assure outcomes unless you have appropriate inputs. Not long ago it was pointed out that for outcomes-based quality assurance in the international discussion a well-defined and well-understood National Qualifications Framework is necessary; last October 2012, an Executive Order (E.O.) was suddenly signed by the President promulgating a National Qualifications Framework that only very few have seen. I understand it is more of a skeleton rather than a substantial guide on the basis of which outcomes at our various academic levels can be articulated. Furthermore, the PSGs of the individual disciplines necessary for any quality assurance evaluation are still a “work in progress” – needing the confusing implementation of K-12 to first settle before they are finally determined. The pressure however in CHED seems to be intense to approve the CMO on OTBQA – even though it is not ready to implement it.

How navigate change here?

My suggestion is: focus on K-12. This is the substantial educational reform that must be implemented. The law has not yet been passed. But the House has passed it; soon enough, the Senate will pass it as well. Focus on K-12 which will shake all of us up, but which we will survive, if we focus on this reform. Not all the public schools will be offering 11 and 12; for that matter, neither will all the private schools. But where 11 and 12 are required by law, there will be a demand for these two new years, especially for 11 and 12 that can competently prepare students for college. Focus on a dialogue with CHED that will clearly spell out the PSGs for colleges after 2018. Focus then on understanding how K-12 will affect you in the concrete, and how you will survive it, even though for two years there will be no freshmen. Insist through your networks that this is the reform to focus on. And here, let us help one another.

My second suggestion is: join me in reiterating to CHED that the CMO on OTBQA should not be approved. If it must be, it should wait until K-12 has been properly implemented. There are too many elements in the OTBQA proposal that are amorphous and indefinite “works in progress,” including the issue of the level playing field between private and state universities. Pass an assembly resolution calling on CHED not to pass nor implement it at this time. Ask CHED to focus on the concerns of K-12. Mandate me and the Board to work , if not with CHED, then with the President or with Congress or even the Courts for this postponement.

“Navigating change” means understanding what change must be implemented at this time, and what later. “Building on strengths” means understanding that we will continue to use our formidable membership, our arsenal of accreditors, our proven-successful processes of quality assurance, our experience, and our international recognition to continue voluntarily to improve education in the Philippines today.

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About Joel Tabora, S.J.

Jesuit. Educator
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