Now that the new year is well on its way, most of us can exclaim, “We made it!” But not quite yet, as the new year brings more challenges, more adjustments, more overhauling of people’s lives, more retooling and upskilling, and being more resilient (an over-used word these days) than ever.
Among the higher education institutions in Dumaguete City, one that has relentlessly kept its head above water since the start of the pandemic two years ago is Foundation University, now approaching its 73rd founding anniversary. In our virtual interview with Architect Victor Vicente “Dean” Sinco, university president, a few moons ago, he expressed his desire to see the day when locals would have no compelling need to look for jobs outside because there are industries in the city or nearby, thus, you can choose to leave if you want to, or you can stay.
Excerpts of the interview:
Negros Weekly (NW): Foundation University may have had an “edge” in the present modality of teaching-learning as the students have been exposed to digital technology. Has this affected the delivery of teaching-learning?
Victor Vicente Sinco (VVS): The delivery of instruction at the Foundation Preparatory Academy (FPA) level wasn’t a problem as we have been utilizing technology with the 10-year-old iPad program. Our teachers were quite adept early in the academic year and quite frankly rose even more to the challenge. The college level was a bit more difficult as most instructors were more accustomed to face-to-face. We hired some consultants a month before the academic year started and this really paved the way for e-learning at the college level. There were a few mistakes in the early weeks, but we responded and recovered quickly to the students’ satisfaction. We had responded so well that our enrolment figures for this academic year are better than those prior to CoViD.
NW: Is this the way education will go in this 21st century? Revolutionizing education? Retooling skills? Upskilling?
VVS: We have felt that the inclusion of technology in instruction has always been a necessity for the past, present and, definitely, the future. But, it isn’t technology that is revolutionary as the digital devices are just tools. What we have realized is that technology lends itself very well to insuring that information and skills are learned, assimilated, and well implemented when the students are asked to do so. We have had PUPA (program of uncompromising personalized attention) for over two decades now and this philosophy works very well with today’s paradigm. We are moving from teaching to mentoring and now, finally, to coaching. That’s what PUPA primarily is. We see coaching quite different from teaching or mentoring in this way. As a coach, especially for the potential of future professionals, it is necessary to get the concepts that’s shared with the students well understood and implementable similar to a sports match. Coaching requires not only the training and assimilation of knowledge, but also understanding on how to get the students to peak such as in a sports match so the end results are of the highest caliber in performance. Grades, in this regard, are in our minds quite irrelevant, but performance is of the most import.
NW: Some schools have already applied for face-to-face classes, though limited, in certain courses. How ready is Foundation University?
VVS: F2F is merely a motor skill that we already know. I’m anxious just like everyone else to get to this level of normalization as physical presence is hugely important. Experience in education makes us feel that our students are getting shortchanged due to the limitations of CoViD precautions. Limited F2F is all right for some courses, but in general, the knowledge that we gained from e-learning is more important for our future paradigm. Our success with e-learning has shown us that we have the ability to teach and allow the students to practice the transfer of knowledge and skills anywhere and anytime. We are quite adept at using technology not just in communication, but most importantly, we have developed an acumen to practice in any learning environment or condition that is presented to us. We are looking forward to blending and showing all our version of F2F with e-learning in the coming academic year. We believe that this will be a real game changer.
Our conversation with Architect Victor Vicente “Dean” Sinco, president of Foundation University, continues in this issue as he refined his thought processes in a silo where there is enough empathy to learn from others and not feel intimidated. When asked if remote leadership is an ideal setup now as everything is virtual, Dean Sinco replied: “Since I’ve been stuck in Hawaii since March 2020, our experience with digital technology has allowed us to continue without skipping a beat. At the moment, classes are mostly online with some courses going to limited face-to-face, such as laboratory and post-graduate classes.”
Excerpts of the interview (continuation):
Negros Weekly (NW): At this point, is there a need to overhaul students’ evaluation of their class performance? Like, are grades (in the traditional educational system) the only tool to assess a learner’s performance?
Victor Vicente Sinco (VVS): Because of the CoViD-19 situation, we are using pass/fail as grades for the time being. Because of the country’s educational system, we will need to translate the successes of students into some form of a letter grade, albeit that process is counterproductive to our paradigm of mastering and implementing the learned content. We have learned that the traditional methods of utilizing grades is the most discouraging, destructive, and intimidating for students when it comes to learning at any grade level. The whole point of education is to educate, not create an environment of fear and intimidation.
NW: Can you expound on the university’s platform, the FUEL?
VVS: FUEL – that’s Foundation University Expanded Learning, which takes our level of teaching a step further. It isn’t just about Zoom classrooms. As I had mentioned earlier, we have gone from teaching to mentorship to coaching, which is an expansion of PUPA or the Program of Uncompromising Personalized Attention. Digital medium allows us flexibility to refine our methodology on the fly rather than depending on annual or semi-annual analysis of the various academic programs.
Offhand, here are to my mind some items that we intend to either change, remove, or improve on: round robin reading; teaching to learning styles; homework as the default; using interim assessments as “formative assessments;” asking, “does everybody understand?” the traditional question-and-answer; data-driven everything; publicly displayed data walls; content breadth over depth; adhering to rigid pacing guides; teaching to the test samplers; an analysis-only approach to reading; shortchanging science and social studies; ignoring curriculum experts; using behavior charts; and, withholding recess, among others.; homework as the default; using interim assessments as “formative assessments;” asking, “does everybody understand?” the traditional question-and-answer; data-driven everything; publicly displayed data walls; content breadth over depth; adhering to rigid pacing guides;teaching to the test samplers; an analysis-only approach to reading; shortchanging science and social studies; ignoring curriculum experts; using behavior charts; and, withholding recess, among others.
NW: Since Foundation University has been big on the environment ever since, what is your take/stake on the establishment of so-called “smart cities?”
VVS: Urban projects to expand any city are inevitable. Well thought out and planned urban projects are crucial not only for the community, but also for all design professionals and the economy. Because of this, city administrations must enlist the best experts in urban planning, not merely unlicensed people with a passion in urban planning. Any administration needs the trust of the community to be effective, the old paradigm of merely enlisting or depending on blind loyalty has proven to be insufficient and, unfortunately, counterproductive. The issue of trust is hard to gain, but easy to lose.
As it approaches its 73rd year this year, Foundation University goes by its core values of excellence, commitment, integrity, and service. In the words of her founder, Dr. Vicente G. Sinco, a native of Negros Oriental who was born of modest means, and who, among other achievements, became dean of the College of Law of the University of the Philippines (UP) and served as UP’s president from 1958-1962: “We want to educate men and women whose only passport is intellectual competence; whose pursuit is excellence of mind, body, and character; and whose quest is for freedom and truth.”