Embracing Online Education, We Move On

[University Address:  Academic Convocation.  June 30, 2021.]

We have another year of online education.  This year as last year, it is not something we asked for.  It is not a mode of educational delivery many of us would prefer.  But it is a way of allowing us to implement our vision and mission under the disruptive conditions of the current pandemic.  Considering the complex conditions necessary to make online education not only possible but successful, not only in ready and useful information and communications technology but in acquired administrative and teacher competence,  online education at ADDU is now not only an emergency recourse but a privilege we embrace during these difficult times in academic freedom. 

To come to this point, we had to accept face-to-face (f2f) classes were no longer possible, and shall continue to be impossible until the anti-COVID vaccinations are generally available and “in the arms” of our community.  We have come a long way from the hasty emergency shift to any available learning management system in March of 2020, when it was widely assumed the f2f habits of teaching and learning could simply be migrated into the new online habitat.  With a great deal of patience and humility we had to look at ourselves and the tools that we had, and adapt.  It was not an easy journey.  There was admittedly a lot of pain.  Slowly, however, teachers, administrators and staff adapted.  Students adapted.  We were not going to let the pandemic rob our students of the education they come to us for; we were not going to let the pandemic rob our professionals of the mission that has shaped their lives, their futures, and their families’ futures.  We learned to work together – online.  With our students we cried, tayo tayo! 

Today, with more confidence painstakingly acquired by most in the academic community, we look forward to a more fruitful academic year.  We have learned that through online education our mission and vision can be implemented.  We have learned that online we can deliver and students can learn not only to achieve minimum learning outcomes in instruction and formation but to reach standards of excellence as well.  We know we can package our instruction and formation so that in all our programs and courses, from the GS to Graduate School, we are impelled by our identity as a Jesuit, Catholic and Filipino University for Mindanao and can achieve the profile of the ADDU graduate that we aspire to.  That is a graduate who has not only acquired, if not mastered, the basic knowledge and skills of 21st century learners and the more complex competencies of the profession of one’s personal calling, but has also opened him- or herself to strength in the faith, finding thereby peace with God, hope in the ultimate glory of God, and hope even in the afflictions of living in our world today.  Hope, during this pandemic as well, where mental health has been a challenge to many of us, ultimately comes from the conviction of being loved by God unto Christ’s dying for us, allowing us to take consolation even in our trials, which we endure in his Spirit. Loved by God who died for all, we learn even in our affliction to live for love that gives for all.  At ADDU, we do not educate to make selfish, but to make generous, as God is generous;  we do not educate to focus our students solely on their individual good, but to direct them to the good that is common or universal on this globe today.  We do not educate our students to be self-advancing messiahs, but to participate humbly in the loving work of God, the Father, in reconciling ourselves to him, ourselves with each other, and ourselves with creation.   Even as we celebrate the humanity God created in his image, we are not about promoting of the tyranny of man, but the liberating submission to the reign of God. 

Framed therefore by our vision and mission and the profile of the ADDU graduate, our online education is designed for personalized learning mediated by instruction that exploits the technology available to enhance that learning.  It is student-centered in the sense that it is ultimately the student who must learn in self discipline.  But it is essentially conditioned by teachers and professors who in their mastery of their disciplines and familiarity with the technology facilitate learning through the instructional design embedded in their courseware.  The student must understand what is to be learned and why, and what the steps are to achieve the learning.  But the teachers must help the students, breaking down program and course objectives into learnable chunks, “most essential topics” if you will, and taking care that the students learn those chunks.  In this process, while the student learns, he or she should never feel abandoned; while the teacher may design asynchronous learning sessions,  he or she in pedagogical responsibility – the eros of an educator’s soul – should check that the actual learning of each of his or her students is really taking place.  This means that through personal conversation, coaching, formative exams or preparatory assessment activities the teacher is able to track learning and help lead the students to success in the final summative exams that certify acquired knowledge, skills, attitudes and competence. 

With deep gratitude to all who have worked so hard to improve our University system of online delivery, especially to our Academic Vice President, her Assistant for Online Education, her Assistant for Basic Education, our Deans of HE schools, and our BE unit heads.  We also wish to recognize those who have distinguished themselves in the use of available technology to deliver content through appropriate pedagogy and courseware development.  We will do this through the certification of online quality education with complementary financial remuneration for the deserving.  These laureates shall be a leaven for growing excellence in coarseware development for use even beyond the pandemic when we move into blended learning – also in the context of lifelong learning and of our internationalization interventions for Mindanao. 

We are happy that online education works well for lifelong learning.  Part of our mission is “to promote lifelong learning and the dialogue between academe and the world of work.”  We are proud that CHED is proposing that under Ms. Ayessa Velasquez we take on the responsibilities the national hub for adult education.[i]  This invites us to better understand the nexus between what we teach or learn in the university and how it is utilized in human society for the upliftment of human society.  That understanding, I believe, will eventually occasion a transformation in the way education is delivered on the higher education level – less towards the certification of learning outcomes through academic grades and degrees but through their fruitfulness in the world of work, or economy.  Hence, the importance of the dialogue between academe and the world of work. Especially since the finality of our university life is not subservience to the status quo economy fueled by increasing consumerism;  with Fratelli Tutti it may mean engaging in good politics, and understanding how to engage in such politics, that transforms the economy to promote humanity and not enslave it, to protect and preserve the environment and not destroy it. 

Our mission also commits us to “promote cultural understanding and friendship with [our] Asian neighbors” even as our vision understands our being a Filipino University in its service to Mindanao.   Unto this end, online education and online communications have already proven  invaluable, even in a pandemic world.  Throughout the pandemic our Confucius Institute has continued to teach Mandarin on campus and beyond online.  The ADDU Internationalization for Mindanao (AIM) Office has not only succeeded in attracting foreign students or Filipinos in foreign lands to enroll in our online courses; it has also pioneered in providing creative online service-learning experiences based in Mindanao for foreign clienteles; it has also initiated online international lectures.  In the future, our AIM will bring more students and professors to our campus in f2f promotion of understanding and friendship in cultural diversity, even as it shall facilitate members of our community experiencing other academic communities in foreign lands for the same purpose. 

As we embrace online education, ADDU is not only about online education.  That is clear in our Vision and Mission.  We are also about research and outreach as well, even if we need to do all online.  As a Jesuit University we embrace the Jesuit mission of participating in the Father’s work of reconciliation of humanity to himself, of human beings to one another, and of humanity with the environment.  We value the globally discerned Universal Apostolic Preferences – to show the way to God through the Spiritual Exercises; to walk with the poor, the outcasts of the world, those whose dignity has been violated, in a mission of reconciliation and justice; to accompany young people in the creation of a hope-filled future; to collaborate in the care of our common home – as we participated with the Philippine Province S.J. in discerning our mission today. As a fruit of this discernment, we embraced and appropriated the Renewed Province Plan with its five thrusts,[ii] which seeks to unite the whole Philippine Province and its co-workers in addressing the ill-effects of the pandemic and the challenges of Philippine national governance in a sensitive period of transition.  It does so without repudiating for the long term the Province commitment to “go to the peripheries” as mandated by Pope Francis in Mindanao – especially in addressing issues of peace disturbed by terror and war rooted in often state-sponsored social injustice perpetrated against the Moro – now the Bangsamoro – community and the Lumad peoples.  In this context, the three Jesuit universities of Mindanao have been tasked to take the lead in furthering the gains achieved in implementing the preceding province plan, the Roadmap to Mindanao, which also included an openness to mission in Asia Pacific.  Unto this end, for our University we have organized the ADDU Committee on the Implementation of the Renewed Province Plan (ACIRPP) and with Xavier University and the Ateneo Zamboanga we have revived the Consortium of Jesuit Universities in Mindanao. 

I will leave the details of those plans to other fora, especially to Atty. Meong Cabarde, Fr. Ernald Andal, and Kenny Lloyd Angon, who have been working very hard in the ACIRPP and representing us in the build-up of the Consortium of Jesuit Universities in Mindanao.  These plans are now being integrated by VP Suzette Aliño in our strategic plan, One Ateneo, One Plan

Continuing to implement the Jesuit university mission in Mindanao through excellent instruction and formation, robust research and vibrant community service,” I believe that in the actual work we do today even during the pandemic we must confront eight contradictions.  We must:

Confront the contradiction between faith and non-faith, belief and non-belief, the searing difference St. Paul describes between faith and the flesh, or between faith and works, or between belief in God through Jesus Christ in his Spirit and belief just in ourselves.[iii]  Confronting this contradiction, however, we commit to ever more deeply appreciate the deep bond between faith and faiths and to enter into an ever deeper dialogue in Mindanao between Christians and Moros in their diverse identities and lived contexts, and between Catholics and the varying beliefs and cultures of our Lumad peoples.  In the grace of this sacred pursuit both in the spirit of forthright evangelization[iv] and of genuine repentance for historical injustices and naked violence committed in the past, sometimes masquerading as expressions of faith, we seek the lasting peace that is consistent in truth with the one God we worship even in our different ways.  To lead us in this commitment, we will lean on all who are dedicated to religious instruction and formation in the University and the researched discussion of history in Mindanao, but especially on the men and women in the theology department, the Al Qalam and the Mindanawon.

Confront the contradiction between faith and social injustice.  St. James expresses this contradiction powerfully: “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works?  Can that faith save him?  If a brother or sister has nothing to wear and has no food for the day, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well, but you did not give them the necessities of the body, what good is it?  So also faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (Ja. 14-17).  For the Christian, doing social justice is a criterion for eternal life; not attending to social justice is a warrant for eternal perdition (Ma 25:31-46).  The Christian does not earn salvation through his works, as Paul insists.  But faith is also not genuine if it does not express itself in deeds of love, especially for the lost, the least, the lonely, the marginalized, the uneducated and the hungry.  This is the challenge of the parable of the Good Samaritan that is at the heart of Pope Francis’ Fratelli Tutti.[v] In what we teach, in how we search for truth, in how we reach out, in how we form ADDU sui generous leaders, in how we model our Christian lives, we must all attend to the demands of social justice.  That is why we do not position ourselves to create wealth without at the same time taking responsibility for its equitable distribution.  Even in the global distribution of vaccines according to human need and not just private gain!  Today, with the Philippine Province, we are called urgently to feed the hungry.  This does not exhaust the social justice imperative, but only obeys it in an initial urgent fundamental way.  The UCEAC through its new Duyog program is feeding severely and moderately malnourished children.  I ask you all to support this effort in faith as a personal and institutional contribution to social justice.    

Confront the contradiction between truth and lies.  That belongs to our identity as a university: to get to the truth, especially when it is not obvious, when what appears flat is round, or what appears endless is vanishing and threatened, or when what appears to be harmless is pernicious, like an invisible non-living virus.  We must be able to affirm or discern the truth, distinguish fact from the fiction­­, the real from the ideological, the truth from the big lie.  We must be aware of how we arrive at truth from the perspectives of our differing disciplines, and be able to argue to truth and stand to truth despite the incessant repetition of the opposite in offices or echo chambers, books or in journals, in mainstream or social media.  For this we must rely on our research and advocacy capabilities, and our expertise in inter-human communications and in information and communications technology.

Confront the contradiction in “The Social Dilemma”[vi] between innocent self-expression in social media and pernicious manipulation or degradation of people through such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Tiktok.  Through the powerful algorithms of their creators, these platforms nurture personal addictions, addict users with what their addictions demand, and isolate them from the truth and relevant context, even as they are increasingly convinced that they have truth.  The social media as “social dilemma” amplifies the advertising myths, the self-concepts, the dreams, the nightmares, the anger, the rage, the rants, the conspiracy theories, and the big lies that deny truth, harm human relations, and erode humanity.  Because the social media is not indifferent to truth in a university that seeks to discover and transmit truth, the proper and mindful use of social media in our university must be defined and accepted by all as a fundamental condition of our being a Jesuit university community.[vii]­­­­  I pray for the insight and consensus that would allow us after appropriate consultations to declare the ADDU Policy on Social Media Use 2021 as our policy.  

Confront the contradiction between internet-for-some and internet-for-all.  This is a demand of social justice in a global context where Internet access is considered a right of self expression for all. [viii]  Our online education surfaced this contradiction all the more, as some students and teachers experienced good access to the internet and many not.  Generally, Internet is relatively slow for most users in the Philippines;  for many people in Mindanao who live on remote islands or in mountainous areas there is no access at all to the internet.  Through the project ADDU Connecting Communities Empowered through Satellite Services (ACCESS Mindanao) we have not only connected 13 remote communities to the internet by satellite technology but have provided the empirical proof-of-concept that satellite technology works towards internet democracy.  This has motivated such as the Department of Information and Communications Technology and the BARMM to provide internet services “for all” using satellite technology.  But we are yet far from the internet democracy we aspire to.  The control of the internet by a few players protected by their congressional franchises has been at the root of social injustice in internet provision.  Hopefully, the recent presidential issuance of EO 127 allowing investors in satellite technology for internet provision to operate without a congressional franchise will improve the situation.  Hopefully, towards fuller internet democracy, the Philippines might launch its own communications satellite in Mati with ADDU as a major contributor to this effort. 

Confront the contradiction between democracy and autocracy.   US President Biden made this contradiction a theme of his recent meeting with the G7 leaders and NATO, representing wealthy democracies of the world in contradistinction to the autocracies of the world, like that of Russia, China, Belarus, Chad, Afganistan, North Korea and Iran.  He rallied the leaders of the richest nations, all democratic, to reassure the world that democracies can deliver for the people, even belatedly and limpingly like on anti-COVID19 vaccines,[ix] and stand up to the autocrats, like Biden stood up the autocrat, Putin, and through their military alliance defend their peoples against the autocrats’ “malign” activities. This includes political destabilization, military invasions, and cyberattacks.  Putin did not fail to point out however that the US democracy was floundering in its unsolved racism and in the disruptive January 6 insurrection against the Capitol, an insurrection against democracy, an event the attacked Legislature has voted not even to investigate in a bi-partisan manner.   ­­So how should Biden be preaching the virtues of democracies against the autocrats today?

In this context, Biden called out the “false populism” and “fake nationalism” of his predecessor:  his political posturing to represent the interests of “the people,” of “the ordinary Americans,” who are white working-class anglo-saxons of European descent, and his medacious manipulation of this group, while in practice favoring the richest Americans with sweeping tax breaks.  “Make America Great Again (MAGA)” is make the wealthiest Americans wealthier again through white supremacy on the backs of the working and marginalized people.

The situation suggests we pay attention to the contradictions of our own democracy in the Philippines in a situation where the President has been styled as a populist, a politician for “the ordinary” Filipino, most of whom are still poor.  Here, we recall the People Power revolution where dictatorship lost and democracy won.  But this was followed by a series of leaders who invoked “the people” to build up a Manila-centric, illustrado-led, elite-inspired “democracy” that failed to liberate the poor from their poverty and marginalization from development, adversely affecting especially Mindanao, but most adversely affecting the BARMM.  Democracy was not delivering.  President Duterte was elected and continues to be supported by “the poor”, whose ultimate benefit he has invoked in his policies.  But he has increasingly concentrated power in a few, or in himself, as populist autocratic leaders do, egregiously in his war against drug abuse, and has not promoted the people’s participation in governing nor the healthy national discussion that such would entail.  Under him, such as health care, access to public education, the service economy, overseas contract working, and the care for the security sector improved, but not without corruption, serious harm to private education, serious harm to Filipino families, and a robust taxation policy that is ultimately regressive. Under him, complex issues like the West Philippine Sea, the relationship with China and with the Western democracies, the relations to ASEAN and to the United Nations were tackled without broad national consensus.  The COVID Pandemic centralized power in the populist leader all the more, as he combined the providence of a paternal Patriarch with the autocratic power of a militarist, as he incurred significant national debt to acquire vaccines, while capitalist global vaccine producers and the nationalist policies of the rich democratic countries in which they were produced, were preventing their equitable global distribution.  The distribution is ongoing – with “the best vaccine being the one that is in your arm.”  In the Philippines, that includes Sinovac, Pfizer-Biontech, Astrazenica and even the Sinopharm in the arm of the President. ADDU is happy to be part of this distribution effort.

Preparations are now underway for the next round of democratic elections. In this context our university, and especially our social scientists, philosophers, theologians and young ADDU sui generis leaders, must tackle the contradiction between democracy and autocracy.  Do the people want to be ruled by a democracy or an autocracy, by the patient discussion of and deliberation on competing ideas, as a democaracy’s legislature or parliament require,  or by the quick decision-making of the autocrat – like Singapore’s Lee Kwan Yu or like Brazil’s Bolsinaro – that gets things done – for better or for worse?  At the same time, we must not forget Myanmar, where we are heavily invested through our School of Education and our Cardoner Volunteer Program.  Myanmar is now a mission area of the Philippine Province S.J.  But today, after the military coup of Feb. 1 whose brutal Tatmadaw robbed the people of its democratic election, jailed its democratic leaders, murdered peaceful protesters on the streets calling for a return to democracy, where is Myanmar In the contradiction between democracy and autocracy – as ASEAN failed to convince its military strongman to respect the democratic election and the G7 did not even bother to mention it?

Confront the contradiction between humanity vs selfish interest, or, a fortiori, between the Kingdom of God and mammon.  I have recently delivered a homily on this in which I contrasted key concepts of Marxian materialism with the Kingdom of God of the Christian gospel.  Marxianism, if understood from its Hegelian philosophical framework, is really a utopian humanism.  It resolves the contradiction between the private or selfish interests of capitalist production and alienated human society in Marxian communism where human production is transformed in the individual’s realizing him- or herself in freely working purposefully for the human species or humanity.  I will not repeat that homily here but invite you to read it in my blog.[x] How much Marxianism is just an ideal that flounders in its actualization can be seen interestingly in the widespread capitalist mindset in what is now socialism “in the Chinese way” or even in the diminished international (universal) influence of the Russian variant.  In both variants the respect for the concrete-universal human being is sacrificed in autocratic governance and expedience.  I think this poses a great challenge for us in this university dedicated to truth.  Looking at atheistic models, are the Christian or religious variants more humane, more respectful of truth, more resistant to corruption and violence, more celebratory of the fullness of life? Or even in Christian or Islamic or Buddhist influenced models are we forever bogged down by the same old selfishness and corruption and sinfulness that lead inexorably to crimes against humanity? 

Finally, confront the contradiction between humanity and the environment.  The human species is killing the planet. Because of its burgeoning size, it is annihilating other species and their natural habitats in order to survive and, in ecologically disastrous manners, thrive.  It is increasing the global temperature, inducing climate change, and transforming God’s Garden of Eden into a wasteland.[xi]  In the Philippines the President, once a stanch defender of the environment through the influence of Gina Lopez, has just declared that new mining permits may be processed.  There is in Mindanao the resurgence of the SMI Tampakan open-pit mines.  And its President, Gibo Teodoro, has presented himself in Davao as a running mate for Inday Sara, an environmentalist.  Meanwhile I am elated that in line with our VM our research projects aimed at producing renewable energy through photovoltaic solar energy, concentrated solar thermal energy, ocean renewable energy, and even, most recently, through a biomass gasification power system has won the attention and support of the Dept of Science and Technology and of the TESDA.

Are the contradictions perennial or is there hope for the future in participating in the Father’s work of reconciliation?  Are the eight contradictions eight devils?  Or eight opportunities in our world for the revelation of the glory of God?

In this Jesuit University, in the faith through which we have peace with God, as we recall the 500th anniversary of the coming of Christianity in the PH, and recall thereby approximately the 700th of Islam here, in the current Ignatian year, 500 years after the cannonball experience of Ignatius of Loyola which brought about his conversion, we open ourselves in the grace that is at the heart of our academic freedom “to see all things new in Christ” and to find the peace the Father works for in our shared humanity and our shared common home.

[i] Atty. Lilly Frieda Milla, OIC Executive Director of CHED, has suggested to Ms. Ayessa Velasquez of ADD-ALL that we submit a proposal for this.   Terms of Reference have been agreed upon.

[ii] Thrust 1:  Foster integrity and accountability in our communities and institutions; Thrust 2: Feed the hungry (childen) and create sustainable livelihoods; Thrust 3:  Summon our youth to engaged citizenship; Thrust 4:  Build faith-based hope and resiliency; Thrust 5: Cultivate personal and institutional ecological converstion.

[iii] Cf. Romans 1 – 8.

[iv] Cf:  Pope Francis.  Evangelii Gaudum: Apostolic Exhortation of the Holy Father Francis … on the Proclamation of the Gospel in today’s World  (Pasay City: Paulines, 2013)

[v] Cf:  Luke 10:25-37 and Pope Francis, Fratelli Tutti: Encyclical Letter…on Fraternity and Social Friendship (Pasay City: Paulines, 2020), Chapter 2

[vi] Available under this title in YouTube.

[vii] This has been defined recently in our “ADDU Social Media Use Policy 2021” approved on June 3, 2021 for further consultation with various sub-communities of the University.

[viii]  In my blog posting, “Control Space for Internet Democracy – Today,” I reference the Statement of the World Summit on the Information Society, 2003.

[ix] Together the democratic G7 countries were committing one billion vaccines for the world while autocratic China had already donated five billion to poor countries and much of the vaccination supply in the Philippines.

[x] Homily: “You Cannot Serve God and Mammon.” ADDU Mass, June 19, 2021: https://taborasj.wordpress.com/2021/06/19/you-cannot-serve-god-and-money/

[xi] Cf David. Attenborough’s Documentary in Netflix, Our Planet: from Deserts to Grasslands, 2020. A fuller reflection on the state of the planet today is Pope Francis’ Laudato Si’:  Encyclical Letter … on Care for Our Common Home (Pasay City: Paulines, 2015).


About Joel Tabora, S.J.

Jesuit. Educator
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