On November 29, education tech (edtech) solutions provider Anthology partnered up with the U.S. Embassy in Manila for a Higher Education Leadership Forum in Grand Hyatt Manila, Bonifacio Global City, Taguig.
The forum aimed to look at the pain points the education sector faces in the aftermath of the pandemic, how these pain points have affected the Philippines in particular, and what new solutions in edtech can do to solve them. Discussions during the forum specifically focused on combating learning loss, enabling learning accessibility, and the provision of in-demand skills for students and educators. The forum is especially timely as educational institutions make their way into the ‘new normal’ of teaching.
The aim of the forum dovetails perfectly with Anthology’s mission of supporting learners and educators with the world’s largest edtech ecosystem. Anthology currently supports over 150 million users in 80 countries, providing them with a learning management system, server intelligent storage, and customer relationship management tools.
Moderated by Senior Solutions Engineer Nick Benwell, the forum kicked off with a welcome note by Anthology’s Regional Vice President for Asia Phillip Murray. Murray’s note pointed out that the use of tech in education has now entered its ‘holistic’ era: meaning rather than forcing technology to fit education or using it as an afterthought, educational institutions today must leverage technology to create a richer educational experience for all. For Murray, educators must understand the value of leveraging data analytics and learning management systems to better answer student needs.
“With data, you can look beyond just what students are doing in the classroom,” explained Murray. “You can look at how engaged they are, what they do, and how much support they get in their education. It enables institutions to better answer student needs.”
It is the mission of answering student needs that the opening note speaker, Senior Commercial Officer Hanes Roberts of the U.S. Embassy Manila, also addressed. Roberts reiterated that it was the embassy’s mission to help US companies thrive and contribute to Philippine society, noting that Anthology was a perfect example of a business accomplishing social good in the country. Roberts noted that cooperation with Anthology was especially apt given the embassy’s past work furthering tertiary education in the country and partnerships with institutions like Silliman University.
Keynote speaker Dr. Mary Sylvette Gunigundo of the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) gave a thorough overview of the challenges and opportunities facing Philippine higher education. For example, Dr. Gunigundo revealed that higher education participation rates have improved in the country. However, attrition rates still remain high with students dropping out of school. Another problem plaguing the Philippine education landscape is the learning loss that occurred when schools shut down for two years during the pandemic—affecting all levels of education from primary to tertiary.
Yet Dr. Gunigundo also revealed blended learning initiatives from CHED were being deployed to enable to make education more accessible. In fact, CHED has worked hard to shape regulations like Republic Act 10650 or the “Open Distance Leaning Act” tasking the University of the Philippines Open University with helping develop distance education programs throughout the country.
Dr. Gunigundo herself is keenly aware of the evolving role distance learning plays in education. “In the past, distance learning was mostly used to access higher education. Then during the pandemic it was used to ensure the continuation of higher learning,” said Dr. Gunigundo. “Using distance learning today gives us an opportunity not only to address pandemic learning loss, but also make sure students are learning relevant skills in a way that suits them.”
Dr. Gunigundo’s call to leverage distance learning is just part of CHED’s overall agenda to revolutionize education in the country. According to Dr. Gunigundo, CHED aims to address gaps in digital transformation among higher education institutions (such as helping out schools without proper equipment, funds, or internet connectivity), upgrade the department’s information and communications technology infrastructure, and even work to make sure Philippine credentials are recognized abroad.
“As many challenges there are,” said Dr. Gunigundo. “There are also plenty of opportunities to improve.”
The forum’s final speaker was Anthology’s Principal Strategic Consultant Dr. Caroline Steel. Dr. Steel focused on the emerging field of microcredentials, which are mini-qualifications that demonstrate skills, knowledge, and/or experience in a given subject area or capability. Microcredentials have proved particularly popular among young people taking short courses enabling them to reskill/upskill for better job opportunities.
Despite the practicality of microcredentials however, Dr. Steel noted there are still pain points to solve before microcredentials reach mainstream adoption. For example, there is still no one widely-accepted definition of what microcredentials really are. There is even the argument that microcredentials are only ‘gig credentials for a gig economy’, taking away the focus from holistic education to focus only on employability.
Yet Dr. Steel also noted microcredentials have the power to change higher education by giving students a flexible way to learn practical skills in a short time. The popularity of skills-based, short duration courses is already quantifiable: during the pandemic, 62% of Americans looked to non-degree and skills programs for the purpose of reskilling.
The event concluded with a panel consisting of Dr. Steel, University of Mindanao Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs Dr. Ronnie V. Amorado, and Lyceum of the Philippines University Officer-in-Charge for Academic Affairs Ms. Jennifer Tucpi. The panelists fielded questions on the changes they anticipate for Philippine higher education institutions in the near future and even what kind of changes they personally wanted to see.
“Universities these days have to stay relevant,” concluded Tucpi. “The way to do that is to keep up with advancements in technology.”