Of Covid, Corals and College

Of Covid, Corals and College

Betty Cernol McCann, PhD
[Presented during the Virtual University Convocation on 22 September 2021]

To the Silliman community of learners, good morning!

I bring you greetings from the Silliman Board of Trustees and the University Administration.

Today, we are inside an empty Luce Auditorium. But in our hearts and minds, we are filled with your presence.

It is said that convocation is an academic ceremony to formally welcome incoming students to the University. It brings together administrators, faculty, and students to commemorate the start of the academic year, providing a bookend to commencement.

Last school year, we were not prepared to transition into a virtual University Convocation as we were orienting ourselves with the new school opening, the celebration of the Founders Day, and the many details that competed for our attention as we launched our online university learning.

This academic year 2021-22, the Founders Day events last month served as teaching-learning moments about our history as an institution, the tenets and principles we are grounded on, and the strong bond and loyalty created among students and graduates over the years.


Key Disruptions

I have given this presentation the title “Of Covid, Corals and College” as I will reflect on three key disruptions that are obtaining as we enter the current school year.

I. First, we continue to be in a Covid19 pandemic. In fact, a Covid’s new reality is that its risk is here to stay for an extended period of time.

Our World in Data, a data tracking project by the University of Oxford in England, reported recently that 62.16 percent of Japanese people were at least partially vaccinated, compared to 61.94 percent of Americans. In the same data set, the Philippines is reported to have vaccinated 15 percent of its population, one of the lowest vaccination rates in Asia.

Even after getting the shot, vaccinated persons are facing a disheartening reality: we’ll have to live with some level of COVID risk for the foreseeable future. Now we have the Delta variant, and others more are being identified.

So, we all have to figure out what is a sustainable and ethical level of risk to incorporate into our day-to-day life. Students like most of you who are young and healthy may be low-risk persons. For this group, the main fear may not be getting the virus. The fear may be in contributing to its spread among the unvaccinated and the vulnerable.

This means that responsible citizenship in the area of health safety and security, should keep us wondering whether we should dine indoors, struggling to make travel plans and taking coronavirus tests after being in what is perceived to be high-risk situations, or being in quarantine or not leaving home when we are exposed to those who are Covid positive. These are all things we had hoped were behind us after being fully vaccinated. But not yet. For the good of all, we must continue to wear face masks and face shields, observe physical distancing, and frequently wash hands. When available, queue up and submit yourself to vaccination. The safety of one is safety of all. For this reason, the University has its own vaccination program. Also, in-person classes are limited to health-related programs with strict observance of health safety and security protocols. As certified by the Commission on Higher Education, we have limited face-to-face instruction in Nursing, Physical Therapy, Medical Technology and Medicine.

II. Second, a disaster which we try our best to avert is ecological in nature.

The proposal to build artificial islands along the Dumaguete shoreline has been vehemently opposed as this will effectively decimate the living ecosystems and marine protected areas for our over 200 species of fish and various marine life habitats on which many households depend on for their source of protein. The campaign against the destruction of the environment is an articulation of the university’s vision “to be a leading Christian institution committed to total development for the well-being of the society and the environment.”

Our concerned academic units are hard at work in sharing science-based data, legal arguments and factual information, and in cultivating community partnerships with government agencies, nongovernment units, church-based groups and people’s organizations. We continue to deal as a university with ways to prevent ecological disaster via information, education, communication and community engagement strategies.

III. A third disruption is in our school or college life: Online learning is here to stay as part of a 21st century education.

So, what are the characteristics of a 21st-century learner? The learner of the 21st century is flexible and adaptive, a lifelong learner, technology savvy, a team leader and collaborator, and is creative and innovative.

To what extent are our teachers and students able to meet the required 21st century skills in education? Are efforts at retooling and upskilling of learners in pace with the demands of online digital learning? Here at Silliman we instituted a digital learning platform through our Silliman Online University Learning (SOUL) managed by a full-time officer and staff to cater to those online learning needs. Together with SOUL our Office of Instruction assists in aligning learning designs and assessment consistent with the online delivery of learning.

Given the fact that we are creatures of habit, our ways of teaching and our ways of learning may have been much influenced by the pre-Covid education scenario— face to face learning in a classroom, a conventional place that we thought could be used forever with the right instructional techniques.

We weren’t being trained enough on how to manage for change in the classrooms. Rather, we were being trained on how to keep things as they were in the past. That means nearly everyone in one’s line of work was caught unprepared for the current reality. We now have a whole profession of people, not just in education, having to shift how we think, feel and act.


Some General Responses and Specific Achievements

Thanks to the creativity, resilience and adaptive capacity of the Silliman learning community and the acquisition of the tools of information technology, we resolved to learn as we go, and we had to learn fast enough. Given the demands of the present-day education fueled by new educational technologies, there’s clearly a lot more skills to be learned as we face our preferred future in global education.

The current situation is teaching us to abandon the concept of “forever” and embrace the concept of “change.” The former approach might have been flawed from the beginning anyway. The rule of nature, after all, is change. Now, the impact of the health crisis, threats of ecological disaster and changing landscape in education make it clear that change is inevitable, in our ways of thinking, in our ways of doing- – as persons and as members of an institution.

Because of the expectation to adjust and to cope with changes in our workplace, there is a place for a program of care for those who feel isolated or are unable to cope with the rapid changes taking place. We have our online guidance services and counseling sessions. Some of our own faculty and staff have instituted an online service to promote mental health. We also encourage our teachers who extended best efforts at demonstrating a program of care by attending to students who feel lost and are weary in the face of changes perceived to be beyond their personal control.

Since January 2020 when the first case of Covid19 was detected from a tourist from Wuhan who passed by Dumaguete before going to Manila, Silliman University has had its own share of darkness associated with the pandemic. But it will not be the full story if we as a university, simply dwelling in darkness, do not share our own light, our shining moments and achievements.

As Mahatma Gandhi said “In the midst of darkness, light persists.”

It is my pleasure to announce that the Commission on Higher Education has given us the following recognition:

  • Plaque of Exemplary Institutional Performance in QS World University Rankings: Asia 2020-2021 Philippine Institutions;
  • Plaque of Exemplary Leadership;
  • Plaque of Institutional Excellence as Autonomous HEI;
  • Plaque of Leadership Excellence;
  • Plaque of Program Excellence for SU programs awarded as Centers of Excellence and Centers of Development; and,
  • Certificate of Appreciation as a CHED partner for Quality Assurance in Higher Education

We are granted a renewal of our autonomous status effective June 1, 2021 to May 31, 2023.

We fared well in other league tables, such as placing 6th in the 2021 Philippine University Rankings.

We showed good performance in licensure examinations such as in the recent Nurse Licensure Examinations wherein we have 2 topnotchers, one in 5th place and another in 9th place.

We are designated by the Supreme Court as a local testing center for this November’s bar examinations.

The university hosted a number of international events and conferences.

We even increased enrolment at the tertiary level.

We often cite in our Silliman logo the three words: Via, Veritas, Vita. In that logo is actually a lighted lamp that is seldom referred to. A lamp that is lit symbolizes that education and the things we do in our respective roles as faculty and students can lead us out of darkness— in the scourge of a pandemic, in the violence against the environment, and in the disruptions occurring in global education. Let us carry with grace, loyalty and dignity our brand of lighted lamps to eliminate darkness around us.

“Let your light so shine before men (and women) that they may see your good work and glorify our Father in heaven.”

Blessings and cheers to us all in this new school year!