Preparing PH for the futures of education

By Senator Pia S. Cayetano
Chair, Committee on SDGs, Innovation, and Futures Thinking

I rise today to report on and sponsor the findings and recommendations of the Committee on Sustainable Development Goals, Innovation and Futures Thinking, jointly with the Committee on Basic Education, Arts and Culture, under Committee Report No. 643, on the Futures of Education.

This Committee Report examines the country’s current situation, problems, aspirations, and gathers the recommendations of experts and stakeholders during the Committee’s hearings and further study, in order to secure the best possible future for education. Interestingly, the pandemic gave us the opportunity to invite foreign experts who attended our hearings online.

Mr. President, we have filed a lengthy committee report, and also prepared a detailed sponsorship speech, but in the interest of time, I will just be quoting certain highlights of the Committee Report.

Like many countries around the world, we remain stuck in the factory model of education, a one-size-fits-all model that merely gauges the worth of students according to their test scores. The ideal future of education must instead value, recognize, and hone the individuality of each learner.

According to Dr. Peter Bishop, Founder and Executive Director of Teach the Future in Houston, Texas, “most educators and the society at large believe that the mission of education is to transmit knowledge and experience” to the next generations.

However, he noted that this view means that… “knowledge and experience is useful only to the extent that [what] the students [will] have in the future is the same as the world of the past” but in fact, “much of what schools teach their learners might actually be irrelevant if the world of the future is not the same as the past.”

The World Economic Forum (2020) states that in 10 years, automation technologies, and artificial intelligence (AI) are expected to change 50% of jobs, while eliminating 5% of them. Due to this, 9 out of 10 jobs will require digital skills. 65% of students entering primary school today will work in jobs that do not yet exist.

The Committee makes use of futures thinking as a tool that provides a way of envisioning the different futures of education, and how to achieve the best one.

The Asian Development Bank explains the importance of futures thinking, I won’t read this into the record now, but they are part of this report.

Also in the report, we traced the history of education in the Philippines. We noted that the Philippines mirrored the factory model of education, which was prevalent in the West at the time of the industrial revolution. So, now we ask ourselves using Futures Thinking tools: “what does education look like in 10, 15, 20 or 30 years from now, based on the decisions we make today? What are the new skills and competencies that future generations are going to need? How are we preparing students for jobs that do not yet exist? And what kind of learning environments will be needed?”

Surprisingly, cartoons like “Betty in High School 2021 A.D.” – this is part of the Archie Series – published in 1997, and I show this on the screen, they were able to predict in 1997 that home-based education with the use of technology would become a thing. So if you look at the screen, it shows Betty studying in front of the computer.

In the ideal future of Philippine education, students are not only learning in the classroom, since blended learning and technology allow them to study and learn in different environments.

During the pandemic the lack of interaction between students became evident. Again, this was predicted in the 1997 cartoon series of Betty in High School, wherein Betty and her friends, Archie and Veronica and the like, visited their parents’ school and marveled at the canteen where the students could mix and mingle, and talk about their projects, they marveled at the classroom setting where all the students were sitting together. Something that they were not experiencing anymore, and something that our young students have now been experiencing for the past two years because of the pandemic.

In the ideal future, curricula and courses are redesigned to address the needs of the future economies and technologies.

Teachers are more focused on teaching students 21st century skills and the 4 Cs: critical thinking, collaboration, creativity, and communication. Learning is also more personalized to the capabilities of students.

Education is refocused away from learning one field to developing multiple abilities and skills for a variety of fields, keeping future workers adaptable to shifting work environments.

SDG 4 includes the attainment of education for all. Without a clear vision of our desired future of education, students will remain bound to classroom-based learning with little flexibility. Learners in remote areas without the ability to take advantage of technology, may find it very difficult to expand their learning environments and creativity, and learners will lack the skill set to thrive in a more competitive and connected work environment.

It should be emphasized that achieving SDG 4 on Quality Education will help us realize all the other SDGs – such as good health, sustainable cities and communities, decent work and economic growth, among others – and will empower Filipinos with the skills needed to build a successful, dignified life, contributing to not just on the national but on the global stage as well.

But still a lot of work needs to be done to achieve our preferred future. To this end, Dr. Alex Brillantes of the National College of Public Administration and Governance, University of the Philippines, emphasized the importance of cooperation, competition, and thinking globally and acting locally.

By employing futures thinking at the policy level, we can have a systematic assessment of education and its direction in light of the potentials of the future.

On this note, the Department of Education has been one of the first agencies to have created a futures office. According to Secretary Briones, this is the DepEd’s “response to the need for futures thinking in education, for readiness to confront the rapid changes, the challenges, and opportunities of the future.”

We also recognize our colleagues who have also been supportive of institutionalizing and mainstreaming futures thinking in the education sector, particularly:

Senator Gatchalian, the Chairman of [the Basic Education Committee], who has sponsored a number of education reform measures and agrees on the importance of assessing where we are, to come up with solutions to the problems we find, and to look at the future;

Senator Villanueva, the Chairman of Higher Education and TESDA, who has emphasized the need to integrate futures perspectives in higher education; and

Senator Angara, who has adopted our recommendation of funding various futures thinking initiatives in the last three years.

We have various recommendations, which are in our Committee Report. But let me just emphasize:

  • Institutionalizing and providing an enabling environment for Futures Thinking in education and relevant agencies is very important;
  • Focusing on the whole child and supporting their holistic well-being;
  • Prioritizing the knowledge, skills, and mindsets in order to develop 21st Century competencies;
  • Ensuring that our local workforce is prepared to join the global workforce through training in English proficiency and digital literacy;
  • Improving the teaching profession;
  • Taking advantage of and investing in technology and innovation to enhance education; and
  • Crafting and implementing the relevant legislation and policies, and providing the necessary budgetary support.
  • In conclusion, with the world changing and advancing so rapidly, we are faced with the choice of either adapting or being left behind.

In cultivating a better environment for education and learning, we must devote more time and resources into research, planning, and investments to take us steps closer into our preferred future of education.

While this Committee Report is far from exhaustive, the Committee hopes that it is a small step towards bettering our education system for the long-term, and challenging our current views so that we can empower Filipinos with the skills needed to build a successful, dignified life, contributing again not only to the country, but also on a global stage.

Thank you, Mr. President.#

Senator Pia Cayetano: schools should focus on teaching students 21st century skills, including the 4 Cs: critical thinking, collaboration, creativity, and communication.

Key gov’t agencies back Sustainable Cities bill

Key government agencies expressed their support to Senator Pia S. Cayetano’s proposal to transform the country’s urban centers into sustainable communities that are better equipped for all kinds of future scenarios, including new pandemics and major disasters.

The Senate Committee on Urban Planning, Housing, and Resettlement conducted a hearing on Wednesday (July 1) to discuss, among others, Cayetano’s Senate Bill No. (SBN) 65, or the ‘Sustainable Cities & Communities Act.’

Filed last year, the bill seeks to support local governments in transforming their respective localities into sustainable communities. This will be undertaken by ensuring access to basic social services, renewable energy sources, efficient waste management systems, and reliable mass transportation.

“Studies show that survival of the people really lies on the sustainability of their community,” said Cayetano, chairperson of the Senate Committee on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), Innovation, and Futures Thinking

“When I drafted this bill, a pandemic was not in my mind, but our targets for our SDGs. Now, it is very clear that we need to prepare for all possible future scenarios,” she noted.

Cayetano said the proposal complements the country’s commitments to the United Nations’ (UN) SDGs agenda, particularly Goal 11, which seeks to make cities and human settlements “inclusive, safe, resilient, and sustainable” by 2030.

Urban Planning Committee Chair Sen. Francis Tolentino described Cayetano’s bill as “very timely,” especially since COVID-19 has highlighted the need for policy and infrastructural reforms to address the “mounting problems in our urban sustainability programs.”

“Sustainability transcends this contagion. And we must look for solutions. More than ever, we have to review and recalibrate our approach on urban development,” Tolentino stressed, citing data estimating more than half of the world’s population will live in urban centers by the year 2050.

Tolentino also suggested that education and the right to adequate housing be included as key targets in creating sustainable cities and communities under the bill.

Meanwhile, Department of Human Settlements and Urban Development (DHSUD) Secretary Eduardo Del Rosario said SBN 65 will help enable the agency to assist different cities and municipalities in crafting their respective land use and development plans.

“DHSUD fully supports Senate Bill No. 65… [It] will further support the efforts of the national government… in fine-tuning and strengthening the crafting of the Comprehensive Land Use Plans of all municipalities and cities nationwide,” Del Rosario stated.

Department of Education (DepEd) Undersecretary Tonisito Umali meanwhile said that the agency “completely agrees” with the objectives of SBN 65, and how education will fit in the model for sustainable cities and communities, as articulated in the bill’s provisions.

Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) Undersecretary Ricojudge Echiverri also said SBN 65 will further promote local autonomy and community empowerment, which is one of the agency’s mandates.

“The department has been implementing programs and projects to promote sustainable communities at the local level. Thus, we manifest nothing but support for this measure,” Usec. Echiverri said. #

Strategic foresight needed for future of education

Senate Committee on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), Innovation, and Futures Thinking Chair Pia S. Cayetano on Thursday reiterated the importance of strategic foresight in crafting policies that will help the education sector prepare for all possible scenarios in the new normal and beyond.

Cayetano said a clear proof of the importance of Futures Thinking in the sector is the Department of Science and Technology’s (DOST) initiative a few years ago to develop 132 self-learning modules on science and math subjects for grade schoolers.

DOST’s Science Education Institute (DoST-SEI) director Dr. Josette Biyo shared details of this initiative during the Senate Committee on Basic Education hearing. She said the modules were conceptualized before the pandemic four years ago, and were developed in a span of two years.

Following consultations with educators, experts, and DepEd officials, the Institute was able to develop modules, transform them into scripts, and digitize them for animation. Teachers were also trained to use the modules, which the agencies made sure would fit the K-to-12 curriculum.

“We had to tap expert teachers to conduct workshops, write lesson plans, recheck lesson plans, and transform these modules into scripts that have been digitized. After digitization, we validated it. Then in coordination with DepEd, we implemented these coursewares’ [effectiveness] in 20 schools nationwide,” Dr. Biyo shared with the panel.

Dr. Biyo said the self-learning modules for Grades 1 to 8 were already uploaded via DepEd’s learning platform, whereas the lessons for Grades 9 to 10 have yet to be digitized. The two agencies are also discussing plans to develop radio programs for learners in far-flung areas.

Cayetano, in response, commended the DOST-SEI for its strategic foresight in preparing these materials early on, stressing that planning for the future of education indeed requires years of preparation and consultations with experts.

“I want to emphasize – in all fairness to the professionals and officials from DepEd and DOST – that it is really difficult to do this overnight. Obviously, there was a plan and a foresight. All the people who decided to put this together need to be acknowledged for their effort,” the senator said.

“We can now focus our efforts on the other aspects that have not been touched. Since we already have science and math modules up to the 8th grade, maybe we can focus our attention on the remaining grades. Perhaps the private sector can also be tapped to help with this,” she added.

In relation to the future of education beyond the new normal, Cayetano expressed support for bills pending at the committee level, particularly Senate Bills 1460 (Basic Online Learning and Distance Education Act of 2020) and 1565 (Education in the New Normal Act).

She said she recognizes the intention of the proposals, which is to put in place the proper standards for distance education and innovative learning methods when crisis would disrupt our education system.

The former chair of the Senate Committee on Education, Cayetano sponsored Republic Act No. 10650 or the Open Distance Learning Act, which institutionalized distance learning in tertiary education way back in 2014. #

Senator Pia S. Cayetano said a good example of Futures Thinking is the Department of Science and Technology’s initiative four years ago to develop 132 self-learning modules on science and math subjects for grade schoolers.