Online education has been around for many years. Yet just as the pandemic has accelerated the digital transformation of businesses, so too is it changing the education system. This is why schools must accept that remote learning will be part of the new normal.
“The quarantine accelerated the adoption of online education. When the schools reopen, possibly in August, many students and parents, I believe, would still be fearful of face-to-face classes. There would be a need for an online option. Having developed their capabilities to implement online education, the schools would most probably want to keep it as an alternative mode of delivery over the long term. Online education will be a facet of life in the new normal,” Mapua University President and CEO Reynaldo Vea told Digital Life Asia.
“In order to thrive in the new normal, schools must prepare themselves to implement remote learning, whether the approach be through fully online education or through distance education. The former requires learners to have the required device and connectivity for it to be effective. The latter is more forgiving. The medium of the materials could be electronic (USB, DVD) and print, and the manner of content delivery could be electronic (internet, TV, radio) and physical (postal/courier, bookstore, in-school). Aside from satisfying demand from a segment of the student market, remote learning could also help schools solve physical distancing concerns in the classroom by reducing the resident student population at any given time,” he said.
Apart from implementing online learning, schools must also prepare their personnel for remote work.
“This will address physical distancing requirements in the office. It could also lead to operational efficiencies that can reduce the cost of education. This could help address the diminished financial capabilities of the students post-COVID,” Vea said.
One advantage of Mapua University is that it has always prepared for contingencies such as this crisis.
“Students and faculty of Mapua University have always been prepared for unexpected conditions such as the one brought by the current pandemic. Future-proofing its academic environment is a commitment shared by the institution with its mother company, the Yuchengco Group of Companies (YGC). YGC drives technology and innovation within its operations through its subsidiaries like Mapua, helping its stakeholders be properly equipped with the right tools for future eventualities,” he said.
Teaching the right skills
In order to prepare for the future, it is not enough for society to invest only in technology. It must also provide students with the right kind of education. How is Mapua making sure its students are learning the right skills for the workplace of the future?
“We have augmented and will continue to augment our degree programs with the incorporation of relevant microcredentials offered by reputable MOOC (massive open online course) providers. With this initiative, our students earn very bankable certificates on top of their Mapua diplomas as they exit the portals of the school,” Vea said.
Apart from these specific skills, he said they are constantly aligning the curriculum to the evolving requirements of the workplace.
“The workplace, like other aspects of life, has been much disrupted by the digital revolution. Among other things, it has enabled the generation and processing of previously unimaginable amounts of data. Artificial intelligence derives from the capability to process huge volumes of data and is part of this disruption. It is the age of data in the workplace as everywhere else. So we add this dimension to our programs with required appreciation courses and with content on the fly. Mapua has also instituted the country’s first master’s degree program in business analytics. It also now offers a bachelor’s degree in data science.
“On another less-noticed vein, Mapua has the only biological engineering program in the country. The institution of this program is a bet that biology will be the science of the 21st century, as chemistry was of the 19th and physics the 20th,” he said.
Training the faculty
Equipping students with the right skills of course also entails properly training the faculty.
“The school has in-house faculty scholarships for PhD degrees even as we support faculty application for external scholarships. We have partnered with schools in Taiwan and Korea for doctoral and post-doctoral studies. We have also sent faculty as visiting professors to Japan.
“Also, we have made available higher-level microcredential courses to faculty and funded their attendance in local short courses and seminars. We have heavily supported research so that they can continue to work at the envelope of knowledge in their respective fields. Naturally all these scholarly endeavors are geared towards relevant areas,” Vea said.
Using technology for good
At the end of the day, education is for the improvement of individuals and society. In this regard, does Vea see technology as a powerful force for good?
“The steam engine, electricity, the computer, and the internet have brought on four successive industrial revolutions that have dramatically led to economic growth, which has translated into higher standards of living and better quality of life. Agricultural technology has vastly increased the world’s food supply. Medical science has significantly increased man’s lifespan. Clearly, technology is a very powerful force for good,” he said.
Vea is also optimistic that humanity will be able to build a better post-pandemic world.
“The human race has proven to be very resilient. Past pandemics have not stopped it in its tracks. This pandemic cannot possibly erase the fund of human knowledge that has brought civilization to this point. If ever, it is accumulated scientific knowledge that will be brought to bear to win the fight against this virus. As it always has, it is the continued broader and deeper understanding of our world, natural or otherwise, that will bring on a better post-pandemic world. So, yes, I am confident,” Vea said.
Indeed, a better world is possible, if we learn from past mistakes and work together to build it.