[Address: Orientation to AY 2020-21 Online, June 22, 2020]
Welcome to the new Academic Year, 2020-21, at Ateneo de Davao University!
This orientation will peak in the celebration of the Mass of the Holy Spirit at 11:30, over which I am privileged to preside. So for now I shall be brief.
The Coronavirus Pandemic
There was a point when we thought this academic year would not take place at all. Just over three months ago, the global specter of the Coronavirus Pandemic began to stalk this country. With our public health infrastructure so vulnerable, our only national defense against the virus was a campaign to wash hands properly, to practice proper hygienic protocol for coughing and sneezing, and above all to follow appropriate physical distancing. The general and enhanced community quarantines were imposed to enforce physical distancing. Rather than overwhelm our hospitals with thousands of coronavirus cases, we were told to stay at home. It was not an invitation. It was a mandate.
But the mandate and the general compliance of our people saved many lives.
The mandate to physical distance, and the identification of people above 60 and below 21 as especially vulnerable, had harrowing disruptive effects on our economy. But also in our schools. As early as March 10 Mayor Sara Duterte instructed all schools in Davao to prepare for online classes. The instruction was echoed by the CHED and the DepEd. President Duterte, wishing to protect the younger generation for the future, declared that for as long as there is no vaccine discovered against the coronavirus disease, there would be no face-to-face classes.
The seriousness of this social distancing is illustrated in the manner in which some countries have relaxed their physical distancing too quickly and are now experiencing a resurgence of infection. Other emerging economies like Brazil, India, Pakistan, and Chile are now among the most infected countries in the world. Decades of economic gains are destroyed in but a few weeks of devastation by this virus.
The University Mission Impelled the Shift Online
Early on, when many did not consider this conceivable, our University made the decision to go online. Early on, our University discerned that the virulence of the pandemic that has since infected some 8,000,000 in the world and cause the death of some 500,000 would not allow a return to the old normal. If the Ateneo de Davao was to fulfill its University mission to educate on the levels of higher and of basic education, it would have to do so online. The insight awakened the commitment of administrators, faculty and staff in the GS, JHS, SHS, the schools of higher education, and the college of law to go online. It was a commitment also motivated by the need to survive in a year of unprecedented disruption, institutionally but also personally. The commitment had many costs. It meant overcoming the natural resistance to having to learn a new online learning strategy, becoming familiar with the new learning platforms, recognizing that online pedagogy could not just be a transfer of face-to-face (f2f) teaching habits to an online platform. It meant relearning how to teach, not from the lecturer’s podium, but from the more empowering role of a mentor, a coach, a learning enabler, using a well-thought-out strategy to enable the student or learner to become an independent and self-disciplined learner; the strategy would not only enable to learner attain the minimum learning outcomes of a given course but transform him or her into an independent learner benefitting from a treasure trove of educational resources available online. The commitment has had costs, but also brought many joys. In the GS, it was a joy to learn how to connect with the youngest of our learners and their parents online. In the JHS, it was surprising to discover how learning mathematics through online games could be fun. In the SHS, it was moving to learn how formation online could complement effective instruction. In higher education brought faculties to insight into how the new strategy could enable more effective instruction in humanities and in specialized disciplines even as they could find more time for serious research.
From Dialogue to Partnership
Our higher education students through their student government have meanwhile taken great strides towards overcoming initial apprehensions to online learning through an ongoing dialogue with the administration that has meanwhile turned into a partnership. [Enrollment…] As far as possible concerns about connectivity and gadgets have been or are being addressed. Through published primers in academic online delivery in all of our units, there is more clarity on the challenge and method of online education. The students are to take primary responsibility for online learning through reflected insight into why and what they desire to learn, effective planning, scheduling and self-discipline, and the achievement of targeted minimum learning outcomes of courses step by step. But unto this end, the students are to interact effectively with their teachers who will coach, coax, and track his or her learning. The student will manage pressures with the help of an academic mentor and a named guidance counselor. Academic instruction will be complemented by formative interventions that will care for the student’s relation to God, to his or her family and friends, and to the human family which ADDU by special mission serves, especially here in Mindanao.
In basic education, especially among the youngest of our learners, lively dialogues with parents have resulted in an exciting partnership of teachers and parents for effective continued instruction online.
A Virtual Community Online with a Special Strenth
While ADDU has had for now to abstain from f2f classes and f2f mass gatherings of students, it has not metamorphosed into a faceless, feelingless, automaton functioning mechanistically. On the contrary, it continues to be a community of administrators, staff, teachers, students, and learners, still smiling, laughing, weeping, and feeling for one another, as together it transforms itself into a community helping each other to pursue truth and learning online. The past months have seen teachers helping teachers, students helping administrators, parents helping teachers, teachers helping students, and students helping students, all “coming together,” as we prayed every day in our live-streamed Mass, to make our online learning at ADDU successful. As in the past, it will continue to pursue and deliver truth through pakighinabi sessions, webinars, discussions and debates online and solid academic research. It will continue to come together to discuss the burning issues of the day, and to formulate shared positions on how to continue to foster peace in Mindanao, promote social justice, and help persons in need. With the rest of the Society of Jesus in the world, it will continue to participate in the Father’s reconciliation of the human being with himself, of human beings with one another, and of human beings with the environment. It will continue to lead people to God through the Spiritual Exercises, to promote inter-religious dialogue, to reach out to the marginalized and excluded, to walk with the youth, and to care for the environment. ADDU will be a virtual community online, but its community will have a special strength. That strength will come from faith in a God of compassion whose Son’s self-sacrifice expresses the Father’s Love for us all. The Father’s Spirit gifts us with the wisdom and knowledge that is the heart of this community. It is a wisdom and knowledge that even online must search for the truth that glorifies God and transforms the world, especially in Mindanao. Even online, that is our mission and joy. Face to Face with God, that is our commitment.
 My Homily at the Mass of the Holy Spirit: https://taborasj.wordpress.com/2020/06/22/on-the-gift-of-the-holy-spirit-and-his-seven-gifts-referencing-ignatian-spirituality/