During these unprecedented times presented by the global pandemic the third UAP, “To Accompany the Youth in the Creation of a Hope Filled Future”, has become even more important than before. Many schools are doing amazing work to accompany their students through this strange times. With the aim to echo and share some of the wonderful ways in which the schools in the different Jesuit Provinces have been accompanying students over the last few months we invited Fr Aristotle C. Dy, SJ Chair, Jesuit Basic Education Commission, Philippine Province in JCAP to share some of this work by replying to the following interview.
1.What is your general opinion on UAP #3 now that our education system has been forced to adapt to a “new normal”?
Walking with the youth (UAP #3) has taken on new meaning, as if it was written with the present pandemic in mind. Digital culture was already recognized in UAP #3 as transformative for young people, but it has been brought to a new height because of the shift to online learning. Digital culture has suddenly included formal education for thousands of students around the world, and this may change the way we do education in the long-term. Past efforts to integrate technology into education have found a new urgency, and those who have been making the effort in the past had an advantage in this year’s rapid shift to online learning.
2. Could you share some examples of how schools in your Province have been accompanying and caring for students? What steps have you and your Schools taken?
Jesuit education aims to be holistic, but in the shift to online learning, the temptation was there to focus only on academic formation as a strategy for short-term survival. It became apparent, however, that no one could predict how long online learning would have to be the mode of delivery, and so it became imperative that online education also aims to be holistic. This means that what we traditionally call “formation” must also be done online. Cura personalis has taken on new forms, and is the starting point of any attempt at online learning during the pandemic. Our learners are facing challenges on all fronts, being largely confined at home where family dynamics, whether positive or negative, take pride of place. Parents are adjusting to new ways of earning livelihoods while managing the education of their children at home. Everyone is stressed, including educators who did not have the luxury of time to prepare an online educational program.
Keeping all this in mind, the academic expectations have been reviewed so that the focus is on the learning process rather than the acquisition of knowledge. All our schools have tried to do this, and to put structures in place to provide accompaniment to students. For example, schools with big class sizes organized the adults in school, including non-academic personnel, to become Teacher Companions and assist the Main Teacher by managing the online class (monitoring of attendance and technology). Guidance counselors and spiritual companions have reached out to students to let them know that there is someone they can talk to at any time. One school has even subscribed to a company offering 24/7 psychological services so that both students and teachers can call a hotline if they are encountering mental health issues.
Wellness programs like physical education and club activities have also migrated online, in recognition of the role played by such activities in helping students maintain a sense of balance in their lives during the pandemic.
3. What would you say have been and still are the main challenges of this UAP , for the schools in your region?
Aside from the concern for mental health of young people, regardless of social class, the shift to online learning has also laid bare the inequalities that exist among our schools and students. Each school is at a different stage of internet development, for both the school and its students. Despite best efforts, not all can participate well and fully in online learning due to their location and access to gadgets and the internet. What a school is able to do is a function of its population and the revenues that are available from tuition fees, since all our schools in the Philippines are private and receive little if any support from the government. Thankfully, while all our schools have experienced an overall decline in enrollment, the decline has not been as bad as initially feared.
Walking with the youth, therefore, has to take place among a wide range of contexts during the pandemic. Beyond the needs brought about by the pandemic, other longstanding challenges have been identified. This includes authentic evangelization even for the predominantly Catholic culture of the Philippines. In our schools, students have a religion class, often called Christian Living, but it is often perceived as just another subject despite the efforts of teachers to make the subject relevant to daily life. The schools have solid programs to promote Catholic identity, but is has also been observed that once they graduate, many of our students no longer practice their faith.
Furthermore, Christian Living programs have so much content to cover and yet few have solid programs for Catholic social teachings, relationship and sexuality education, and other urgent concerns. We cannot assume that we are imparting these values to our students; we should not be surprised if they hold very liberal views fueled by popular media. It is an immense challenge to form the social conscience of the youth, and to share the wisdom of the Catholic moral vision.
It may be part of the reality that while we have very strong relationships with our students, we may not be doing enough to explicitly proclaim the Gospel to them in an effective manner. On their part, they have many assumptions about the values of a Catholic and Jesuit school, and may not feel free to share what they really think about many life issues. For example, surveys have shown that gender equality is a top value for the youth, and this is translated as respect for the LGBT community and their “rights” to gay marriage, etc. The youth may not see the Church or their Jesuit school as a dialogue partner in such concerns.
4. What would your advice be to other schools/provinces to consider, while using this UAP as a lens for their work? I.e., how can we better accompany our students or why do you feel this is so important?
We need to go to the details behind the formal structures of schools, and ask difficult questions. What really lies behind the Catholic and Jesuit identity of a school, beyond formal policies and practices? Do we really understand the youth and are we able to meet them where they are? Have we taken the time to create safe spaces, and ask them what they really know, and think about the Church? What are their real and urgent concerns, and how can we help?
The attempt to answer questions like these is a good place to start.