Transformative Education and Quality Assurance

[Address to the PAASCU Annual Assembly, La Salle St. Benilde, Nov. 24, 2014]

 

PAASCU has been alive for 57 years. It has a sterling record of providing Quality Assurance for this country.   That record is unbroken in the PAASCU 2014 Annual Report that that you have. It provides you data on its officers and trustees, its various commissions, its increasing membership, its strong applicant status, its survey performance for this year, the special seminars, workshops and projects undertaken, and this year’s new developments and challenges. Among them: our involvement with the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (APHRA), the Seoul Accord, and the ASEAN Quality Assurance Network, as well as a listing of our treasured international affiliations and recognition. But since the theme of this assembly is “Issues and Trends in Education: Implications on Accreditation,” I thought that I would speak about a topic that is not unfamiliar to many of you, “Transformative Education,” and attempt to articulate its implications on quality assurance, or more specifically, on accreditation.

Last week the world was shocked by the ISIS murder of the American aid worker, Abdul Rahman Kassig. He had once been a soldier, but was drawn in compassion to the suffering Syrian people. He was once a Christian, but was drawn in the people he served to embrace Islam. He was a person of kindness and compassion, admired globally for his having chosen to leave the warmth of his family, the security of his country, and the familiarity of his culture to serve the wounded and “least of God’s sisters and brothers” in a strange land cursed by the ravages and inanities of war. Footage of him at work drew many people to him; he was a good man with a warm smile, both idealist and realist, his parents said, romantic and pragmatic. This good man, they killed.   Brutally, they cut off his head. That it had been done to four other Western captives before him did not mitigate the horror. All decent people were shocked; horror and frustration wrestled with anger and helplessness.

 

A Broken World

Before people could recover from the shock, the grieving parents of Abdul Rahman Kassig faced international media with extraordinary dignity and courage. “Our hearts are battered,” they said, “but they will mend. The world is broken, but it will be healed in the end, and good will prevail.” Out of the depths of their grieving, they asked for time “to cry, to heal and forgive.”

“The world is broken, but it will be healed in the end, and good will prevail.” For us in education, both basic and tertiary, our question is: How does our educational activity relate to this “broken world” which we could spend the whole morning trying to describe. Pope Francis helps here: “The great danger in today’s world, pervaded as it is by consumerism, is the desolation and anguish born of a complacent yet covetous heart, the feverish pursuit of frivolous pleasures, and a blunted conscience. Whenever our interior life becomes caught up in its own interests and concerns, there is no longer room for others, no place for the poor. God’s voice is no longer heard, the quiet joy of his love is no longer felt, and the desire to do good fades. That is a very real danger for believers too. Many fall prey to it, and end up resentful, angry and listless. That is no way to live a dignified and fulfilled life; it is not God’s will for us, nor is it the life in the Spirit which has its source in the heart of the risen Christ.” The quotation from the opening paragraphs of Evangelii Gaudium describes provocatively and profoundly this broken world. It is reflected in the attitudes of many of our students, or even of our teachers and administrators, listless, confused, bored, laid back, uninspired, despairing of a future in denying the present. The Ebola crisis is scary, but far away. The population crisis is disturbing, but religiously taboo. Climate change is evident, but too huge to really affect. Corruption is real, but has already become part of the culture. The economy excludes, so the drive is to benefit from it, not change is. And the country is asked to support an ASEAN integration on which, according to former PRC Director Teresita Manzala, proudly there is agreement on everything but ethics.

 

Transformative Education

“The world is broken.” We operate presumably not to preserve it in its brokenness, but to transform it. We operate not to feed it in its self-destruction, but to nourish it in its self-regeneration and cultural creativity. We operate not to abandon rationality to self-interest, violence and war, but to promote a rationality that transcends selfishness, manages conflicts, and insists on repairing and healing this world. If the world is broken, we work to repair it. If the world is sick, we labor to heal it. If the world is confused and on the brink of despair, we struggle to break the confusion, find warrants for hope, and contribute to the good we believe must ultimately prevail. At bottom, this has to be the framework within which we have supported the K-12 reform, no matter how frustrating and tortuous this endeavor has become. We believe that, as the Constitution provides, all our citizens should have the basic education that transforms them into human beings who can contribute to an increasingly humane society in the Philippines and in the globe. We believe that they should be equipped to contribute productively to a given society in a basic manner, or to move on to tertiary-level studies for professional development and for deeper exploration of the truth of the human spirit and the requisites for shared human flourishing in the Philippines. We believe that from the halls of our tertiary-level institutions the instruction must be of such excellence, the formation of such depth, the research of such relevance and the outreach of such effectiveness that cultural, institutional and individual transformation does take place. Truth must be sought and found; not the illusory “truth” of vain good intentions inspiring grand but irrelevant conceptual castles, but the truth of spirit-driven transformative praxis supported by established knowledge. “The world is broken, but it will be healed,” the Kassigs declared.   Our schools and universities should be part of its healing, part of its transformation, not part of its brokenness.

 

Transformative Education and Academic Freedom

Transformative education requires academic freedom. Should our schools, colleges and universities be part of the transformation of a broken world, they must be able to understand and evaluate the presuppositions of this brokenness in order to take steps to transform it. They must understand its dependence on addictive consumption, its escape from personal depth to universal superficiality, its denial of the human spirit in its surrender to materialist dehumanization. They must understand its denial of a loving God in its subservience to silly idolatries. Transformative education cannot be so enslaved to those presuppositions that it is unable to evaluate and criticize them. It cannot be told, transform the world, just don’t disturb its governing principles or its sustaining activities. It cannot be ruled by those who benefit from those presuppositions, or by those whose power flows from them. If a person is sick with malaria and one is missioned to cure the malaria, but, first, prevented from understanding it, and second, prevented from acting to eradicate the anopheles mosquitoes that carry the malaria, the mission is thwarted by the limitation. Higher education can be thwarted by boxing it in the murky rationalizations of the broken world. The higher education that transforms cultures must be free to work with ideas that are not bound by particular cultures, nor by particular customs of culture; the higher education that transforms nations cannot be bound by the ideas which fix the nation where it is, and fix for all that that is the optimum realization of the quality nation. This has been our problem with CMO 46’s “mandate” that that all HEIs in the Philippines contribute to “a quality nation.” A “quality nation” in the view of particular national leaders may be one that compromises human rights for political expediency, or seriously harms the environment for the sake of economic advancement, or compromises the legislature in favor of a judicial activism. Higher education is not the servant of a given “quality nation,” nor of a set of government leaders, nor of a political or economic regime exploited by the leaders, nor even structurally of a government entity like CHED. This is why the Constitution determines that “academic freedom shall be enjoyed in all institutions of higher learning” (Art. XIV Sec 5(2)). In compliance with this determination, RA 7722 states, “The State shall ensure and protect academic freedom…” (Sec. 2) and explicitates a “Guarantee of Academic Freedom: Nothing in this act shall be construed as limiting the academic freedom of universities and college…” (Sec 13). In healing a broken world, or in repairing a broken nation, it is not the nation that dictates the method of healing on the HEIs; in academic freedom, the HEIs, private and public, address the transformation of the broken world.

We will return to further determinations by law and policy of academic freedom later.

 

Transformative Education and Academic Responsibility

Academic freedom entails academic responsibility. Ultimately, it is the truth sought in academic freedom that determines academic responsibility, which is, as it were, but the reverse side of the coin of academic freedom. In the pursuit of transformative truth, both theoretical and practical, academic responsibility insists on the structures and procedures that assure that academic freedom achieves its end. This is quality assurance. If our education is ultimately transformative of cultures, institutions and individuals, how can the integrity of that transformation be assured at its various stages? Where the pursuit of the transformative truth is necessarily ongoing, because the goal of transformation, the socially just or the ultimately humane society that heals our broken world, is never fully achieved in history, the quality assurance must be ongoing.   Among the most demanding forms of quality assurance is accreditation. We know: it is a self-regulating, ongoing, peer-driven relentless pursuit of quality in transformative education, self imposed in academic freedom and responsibility. That is why you and are here today.

With Congressman Roman Romulo in his HB 3993, we affirm that quality necessarily has four dimensions: the verified achievement of government-set minimum standards, the verified achievement of distinguishing excellence, the implementation of the school’s or HEIs vision and mission, and the responsiveness to stakeholders. Quality assurance therefore must be able to assess the school or HEI in relation to these four dimensions. If a school or HEI achieves the imposed minimum standards, then the school can be assessed for various levels of academic excellence. Beyond minimum standards, the school exercises academic freedom in choosing how and where to distinguish itself; in quality assurance this particular exercise of academic freedom may be appreciated. The school is then assessed on how it is able to implement its vision and mission. Finally, the school is assessed on its responsiveness to its stakeholders.

In this context, one may note that the CMO 46, Sec 6 definition of quality only provides for two of these four dimensions: quality as “fitness for purpose” and quality as “exceptional”. “Fitness for purpose” in CHED’s view requires the “translation of the institutions vision, mission and goals into learning outcomes, programs and systems.” No problem with that. But, “Quality as ‘exceptional’ means either being distinctive, exceeding very high standards, or conformance to a set of standards based on a system of comparability using criteria and ratings.” This definition is unfortunate. The lack of reference to minimum standards as a dimension of quality is a catastrophic omission in CHEd’s understanding of quality. Without recognizing where the minimum is, the criterion goes directly to the exceptional, finding distinctiveness in “exceeding very high standards.” But even these very high standards are not referenced on minimum standards; they are referenced possibly and not definitely on a floating system of “comparability using criteria and ratings.” This is unfortunately not at all clear. The consequence is: the Technical Working Groups, which presumably are supposed to work on minimum standards, come out with optimum standards “exceeding very high standards”. Instead of setting minimum standards, CHED sets optimum standards but calls them minimum. A small circle of normally Manila “experts” from the top schools sets the optimum standards for all. The result is a vitiation of wide-open fields where local academic freedom might be exercised for a single track where all are chasing the same standards down the same road. With the vitiation of academic freedom, creativity and innovativeness are killed; the challenge to step up to the plate to exercise local academic freedom responsibly is dissolved. This is followed by the exceedingly bad habit of higher education administrators waiting for the TWGs and CHED to dictate to them not only the content of their courses but the manner in which they are to be taught. This is of course contrary to the accepted definition of academic freedom where it is left to the HEI to determine, whom may be taught, who may teach, what should be taught, and how it should be taught.

In this context let us look again at the provision on academic freedom in RA 7722: “Nothing in this act shall be construed as limiting the academic freedom of universities and college. In particular, no abridgement of curricular freedom of the individual educational institutions by the Commission shall be made except for: (a) minimum unit requirements for specific academic programs, (b) general education distribution requirements as may be determined by the Commisssion, and (c) specific professional subjects as may be stipulated by the various licensing entities” (Sec 13). The academic freedom of universities and colleges is recognized except for minimum unit requirements. RA 7722 does not even allow imposition of content requirements on the HEIs. Nor does it allow the imposition of a pedagogical type. The imposition of a pedagogy of outcomes-based education[1] on HEIs is in this light illegal.

Since the field between the achievement of minimum standards and of excellence is a field for academic freedom, it is inappropriate for the government regulator to be making demands in this field. Excellence is pursued in freedom, and in this pursuit the HEI makes the decisions and investments which support it. It is inappropriate for government to declare: in these areas you exercise academic freedom, you use your talents and make your investments in pursuit of excellence, but you can only do it teaching what I tell you to teach and teaching it the way I tell you too. This is why accreditation is off limits to government. The assessment of the way HEIs exercise their academic freedom is the business of the HEIs not of government. It is inappropriate for government to say, “You exercise your academic freedom, and I will assess you based on the standards I impose on you.” It is inappropriate for government to say, “You exercise and pay for your academic freedom. But I will direct it, assess it, exploit it”. It is unreasonable for government to function on the principle: “Yours the academic freedom, mine the control.”

 

Public-Private School Complementarity and Quality Assurance

Finally, while we have brought the benefits of our accreditation to some state universities both in the PH and abroad, the vast majority of us represent private schools. The contribution of private education in this country cannot be gainsaid; it was in place providing basic and higher education long before the public school system was instituted. Today, when we consider the shared roles that public and private school systems play to provide universal access to quality education on all levels as the Constitution mandates (Art XIV, Sec. 1), there is need to better understand the complementarity that the constitution calls for between public and private schools and universities. “The State recognizes the complementary roles of public and private institutions in the educational system…” (Art XIV, Sec 4(1)). It must be decided how the long term trajectory of educational development in the PH shall promote this complementarity, with law possibly ascribing wider access and stabilizing homogenous education to the public schools and more select access and innovative creative education to the private schools.   Much can be said about how complementarity can be supported creatively by new legislated funding schemes, public-private partnerships (like ESC), the increase of public and private support for scholarship and teacher salaries. I would only wish now to point out the unlevel playing field that continues to exist between the public and private schools. Public schools operate from legislated charters; they cannot be closed by CHED. Private schools operate by CHEd permit; the permit can be withdrawn by CHED. Public schools operate substantially on state funds; private schools operate substantially on privately raised tuition and fees. In the provision of the educational products necessary for the common weal like doctors, civil servants, politicians, teachers and lawyers, both systems need funding.   Both systems today are exploring benefits beyond old boarders: the public schools are now charging tuition, the private schools are exploring state funding. When the State imposes on private schools standards of excellence beyond minimum standards pertinent to course requirements, teacher qualifications, library collections and personnel, counseling services, athletic training and facilities, excursions, and the like, it does so without providing the requisite funding. Yet, the quality demands remain the same for both systems. On the private schools, these are imposed as unfunded mandates, especially when beyond the affordability of the private schools. Yet the minimum learning outcomes for an engineer trained in the University of the Philippines ought to be the same for an engineer trained in Assumption College of Davao, even though engineers in Davao may be more crucial for the common weal than in Manila. As public and private school pursue quality, equitable public funding should support both systems.

 

Transformative Education towards the Common Good

In summary: faced with the broken world, when HEIs engage in transformative education, they do so only by exercising academic freedom responsibly: academic freedom, lest they be enslaved by the culture they undertake to transform, and academic responsibility, lest they be thwarted by inefficiency or ineffectiveness or self-delusion in their transformative mission. They work to establish the common good, the set of conditions where every person and the whole person can flourish in society, curing the exclusion of persons or the denial of whole dimensions of human life that they now in truth see in the world’s brokenness. Seeing, they judge, judging they act, acting they transform through the multiple activities and disciplines available to them in academe. The responsible exercise of academic freedom entails quality assurance, the highest exercise of which is accreditation. Because fields are assessed in accreditation where levels of academic excellence are freely pursued by an HEI, its submission to accreditation’s assessment of these pursuits is necessarily voluntary. It is similar with assessment of the pursuit of the HEIs vision and mission. Once the permit to operate has been granted, government should allow the higher education institution to operate, grow and thrive in academic freedom. The heart of the institution’s academic freedom is in its identity and mission, and the implementation of that vision and mission is its most profound exercise. A private school may be Catholic, Protestant, Muslim or non-sectarian. It may consider itself missioned to the fight against corruption, ineffective governance, ignorance, the degradation of the environment, violations against human dignity in small or large scales in a broken world. The manner in which the private school implements its vision and mission and organizes itself institutionally to do so belongs to the school and the peers the school freely invites to assess it, not government. Institutional assessment of our private schools is our business, not government’s. Because we take responsibility for our academic freedom, the assurance of quality is ours, not government’s. If we do not stand up for this, and further allow the captains of a broken world to impose themselves and their values on us, we do not engage in transformative education. Our education becomes part of the world’s brokenness.

We are proudly private education, and in pride we labor to guarantee the quality of our education. We believe that in pursuit of a socially just society or, from the Catholic view, “the fullness of life that Jesus brings,” we can educate students, form their freedom, deliver relevant research, and as whole schools serve our stakeholders in transformative education. We believe we must do this, pursuing a call from within. Our stakeholders therefore are not just the qualified-labor-thirsty economy nor the professional organizations hungry for better-qualified members. They are also human society that has been sapped of the joy of socializing, wealth that has become its owners’ curse, poverty that has become the capitalist’s wealth, human intercourse that is reduced to digital likes and dislikes and protests of, “It’s complicated,” and religion that that relates us to a God who is all-powerful, all-loving and compassionate, but is grotesquely associated with the beheading of such as Abdul Rahman Kassig . “The world is broken, but it will be healed in the end, and the good will prevail.” In transformative education we are about that, rejecting the brokenness, contributing to lost hope. But not without academic freedom. And not without quality assurance.

 

 

_____

[1] In the recent CEAP Conference of Catholic Higher Education Institutions (CHEI) held in St. Paul University in Manila on 20-21 November, 2014 CHED Commissioner Cynthia Bautista stated that the CHED through CMO 46 is not imposing a pedagogy of “Outcomes Based Education” (OBE) on the HEIs. But on the ground, policy pushed by CHED activity on the regional level is different. Fr. Gabriel Gonzales, SJ., Academic Vice President of the Ateneo de Davao University describes his experience of a CHED-sponsored Workshop on OBE: “In an OBE conference for Vice Presidents and heads of academic affairs for Regions X and Regions XI, the OBE Implementation Committee made presentations that explicitated a constructivist approach as underpinning ‘an outcomes based teaching and learning.’ Although constructivism may have its merits, CHED’s assertion virtually imposes a pedagogical approach in the classroom. In so doing, it encroaches on the academic freedom of HEIs to determine how they will teach. Furthermore, it was quite alarming to hear the speaker from U.E. examples of OBE which by any standard were high-school appropriate and not higher-education appropriate. For instance, she asserted that only 10% of information is absorbed from reading and that therefore we should prioritize other methods like role playing. She made no point about the essential role of reading in higher education.” CHED’s use of “OBE” in its policy on quality brings with it more that its legitimate intended emphasis on learner outcomes.

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About Joel Tabora, S.J.

Jesuit. Educator
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