Engaging the region, embracing the future
Nilo L. Rosas
“The future is bright for education innovations even if many of them arise from acute needs and concerns. Such that for INNOTECH, its service and relevance is best exemplified by how it responds to the present pandemic.”
My first encounter with SEAMEO and INNOTECH was in the 1980s during the incumbency of Dr. Lourdes Quisumbing as Secretary of Education. Through Dr. Minda Sutaria, I was nominated and formally appointed as the Philippine Representative to the INNOTECH Governing Board (GB) where I was a three-term GB Member, and served as Chair. I was Director of the Bureau of Higher Education, which was under the then Department of Education, Culture and Sports (DECS). Throughout my years in DECS, SEAMEO matters have become part of my portfolio as High Official and as part of the delegations to the SEAMEO Ministerial Conferences. When the SEAMEO Council Conference was held in Manila, I served as High Official and host.
Exposure to the SEAMEO mechanism of having GBs, the High Officials Meetings (HOMs) and the SEAMEO Council Conference, which was the Ministerial Meeting, made me appreciate the Southeast Asian way of doing things. As neighbors, we can be informal and open with our needs and concerns, and so many of my HOM colleagues were helpful. Issues at the Center level — such as participation in the regular training programs of a SEAMEO center or offering special courses for education professionals in a SEAMEO member country — are discussed and solutions are arrived at by consensus at the GB level. At the HOM level, we look at issues and concerns in a broader scope and help move cooperation forward by setting aside resources and ensuring commitments. Sometimes, it would involve exerting strong influence on representatives of donors and Associate Members to support a program. All these are resolved during the HOM with frank and open discussions.
At the Ministers’ level, countries can formally initiate cooperation and offer assistance that are readily approved by the Council. These appear like simple conversations among the Ministers, but behind these decisions is the significant groundwork done by the Regional Centers and staff of the Ministries. To do this, a great deal of trust and confidence, not to mention deep fellowship among officials, is essential. SEAMEO does a lot in building collegiality among education officials. Shared experiences, like being former classmates or having attended the same international programs, are an added element in the trust-building process.
The INNOTECH GB Meetings are memorable, especially the time I chaired one. It was always a source of pride to have the Center’s impressive work on giving training services for teachers and teacher trainers. At that time, DECS consisted of 127 schools divisions. INNOTECH was present in all divisions, serving their training needs. As host and Chair, I focused on teacher education and development and leveling up the capacity of school administrators. We were able to take advantage of other countries’ knowledge and practices; particularly Singapore and Malaysia. I distinctly recall Singapore as an important resource because of the work of its National Institute of Education (NIE). They were always willing to share new knowledge and innovations that worked. As Chair, I focused our cooperation with these two countries.
With those encouraging results, I emphasized the value of interaction between local educators and educators from other countries. During that time, the Philippines was constantly playing host to various fora. As expected, the Philippines had the biggest number of participants in events held in the country. It was a way for Filipino educators to fully utilize the opportunity to engage with their counterparts. These fora were platforms for free exchange of knowledge and ideas; and the Filipino educators were able to share, and in turn, learn from the others.
The close working relationship with Associate Members and donors provided access for the INNOTECH programs to experts and resource persons. Rotating the venue of GB Meetings among member states also afforded us an excellent opportunity to learn from other countries and to benchmark. One learning from the interaction with the region’s educators is the opportunity to study, compare, and contrast the philosophies of education adopted and operationalized by the different countries. This is best studied as a function of the overall social environment, the prevailing development issues, and the economic imperatives supported by the education system.
One of the GB’s more important roles is being able to set an agenda for INNOTECH research. Most of the research then was done in a multi-country setting. For instance, the In School-Off School Approach initially covered Singapore, Indonesia, and the Philippines. The Associate Members played a more pronounced role and were active in supporting the different programs. The Instructional Management by Parents, Community, and Teachers Project or Project IMPACT, developed and field-tested the learning system with the support of the International Development Research Center of Canada. INNOTECH always enjoyed good working relations with Associate Members and donors.
The biannual International Conferences convened by INNOTECH also steers the Center into being a leader and catalyst for change in the region. It is a venue for the private sector, other government agencies, and academics to learn from each other and discuss important education issues. Among higher education institutions (HEIs), internationalization is a hot issue. Understanding the trends and movements in the internationalization of education is very relevant for HEIs in the Philippines, the region, and beyond, with increasing mobility among academics and learners.
Filipino participants of INNOTECH programs also develop professional and personal friendships with their counterparts. These interactions contribute immensely in developing ideas and programs, including their own professional development.
For the future, I envision the Center providing the necessary leadership in emerging areas such as robotics, virtual learning environments, and artificial intelligence. New knowledge is being developed every day on how the new generations of teachers and learners engage with technology. INNOTECH need not refocus resources on all these but should serve as a platform for making knowledge in other countries useful. With ASEAN countries working together, INNOTECH can take on a bigger role in the development of instructional materials for different categories of users. The work being done by NIE and others in the region can complement the knowledge generated by the Center. As host, the Philippines stands to gain much from these path-breaking technologies and innovations that many other countries are embracing.
The future is bright for education innovations even if many of them arise from acute needs and concerns. Such that for INNOTECH, its service and relevance is best exemplified by how it responds to the present pandemic. INNOTECH’s raison d’etre is to address present and future education problems in the region.