Her education

Photos By Jacqueline Hernandez

“We’re not a school that’s like a factory, where everybody does the same thing. Miriam is a school where we try to develop the girls into individuals. We want them to know that they can be the best that they can be.”

One of the more progressive Catholic institutions where women of all ages truly rule and make their mark is Miriam College.

It is here where students and teachers, collectively called “Katipuneras,” go out of the campus to bravely voice out their stand on national issues such as the pork barrel scam. It is here where programs to give more women a central role in the peace process as negotiators are developed through the Women and Gender Institute.

It is here where students conduct flash mobs and other activities to generate awareness on global issues such as disarmament and the manufacture of nuclear weapons in First-World countries. It is here where students counsel and comfort their peers who come from troubled or broken families, and most recently, the survivors of Typhoon Yolanda. It is here where students work with the local churches, doing clerical work, cathechesis, medical missions, and assist in worship activities.

It is here where award-winning faculty excel in various fields, the most recent of which is literary writer and Filipino Department chair, Dr. Rebecca Añonuevo, who is among the 2013 recipients of the South East Asian Writers Award. It is here where the academic community has earned an environment award for seriously implementing advocacies as a “Dark Green School,” which means green in curriculum, activities, and research.

It is here where persons with disabilities and out-of-school youth and elders are given a chance to study, finish their education, and acquire the much-needed training to help them thrive in the real world and workplace.

It is here where a college student can visibly express her individuality by going to class wearing a big ribbon on her hair and studded shoes that are not part of the school uniform and at the same time, be accepted and taken seriously by her classmates and teachers.

From the creation of a teacher-training program for women in 1926 by the Sisters of the Maryknoll Congregation in New York to the establishment of the then Malabon Normal School to its metamorphosis into Maryknoll College and finally to Miriam College, the all-girls institution has remarkably evolved into one of the leading model schools for Catholic education today.

At the helm of Miriam College is president Dr. Rosario Oreta Lapus who was recently invited to speak about the future direction of Catholic education at the Vatican’s “Congregazione Educazione Cattolica” in Rome. Dr. Lapus was recommended by the International Federation of Catholic Universities (IFCU) for the forum after being handpicked along with 14 other university rectors/presidents by Msgr. Guy Thivierge, IFCU executive secretary, to participate in its new program, “Leading Catholic Universities in the 21st Century: an Action-Oriented Program for Institutional Heads.”

In her well-received speech at the forum, Dr. Lapus talked about the transformative programs of Miriam College as well as the steps that the institution has taken to make itself relevant, to effectively connect to its students, and to further contribute to the development of the country’s future leaders and Philippine society.

Because of its quality of education, service learning program, and progressive approach in teaching, the institution has continuously produced exceptional woman leaders in government, business, education, and socio-civic work. To date, 19 alumni have been cited as The Outstanding Women in the Nation’s Service (TOWNS) awardees for making a difference in their communities.

In this 60 Minutes interview, Dr. Lapus tells us about the role of Catholic schools in molding woman leaders and the proper way to educate the youth of the 21st century. (Rachel C. Barawid)

ON FIGHTING FOR THEIR RIGHTS: ‘People should not disrespect you as a woman. If this happens in the workplace you have to speak up. That’s why we teach them to develop their voice.’

STUDENTS AND CAMPUSES BULLETIN (SCB): What are the factors that you consider in educating the 21st century youth or the so-called millennials?

DR. ROSARIO ORETA LAPUS (ROL): When I first came here, we started to do our soul-searching and planning for my term and I saw that the most important thing is relevance. We have to be able to connect with the students because it’s not going to be of any use if you don’t connect to them, if they don’t want to move forward. So the first thing is connecting and that’s the same message that I gave in Rome – we have to listen.

Listen, know who they are, and then make plans considering who they are, what their characteristics are. So it should vary from school to school and from clientele to clientele. For the 21st century, I guess they should list things that are important in their lives and I think even in girls’ psychology – and I guess all psychology – you have to make that connection. Make sure that they want to do something – it’s motivating essentially – every teacher knows that. You begin motivation with a lesson plan. Make sure you have their attention and they want to be with you in this journey because learning and teaching is a journey that you take together.

SCB: Are the millennials harder to deal with than previous generations?

ROL: The general principle in teaching and learning is you have to connect with the people that you are working with. How do you connect? That’s where the millennials come in. First, you have to know them, how different are they from the previous generation? And of course, there are many, many different factors.

It’s so fast-paced now. I just came from a conference in Philadelphia and the speaker was a brain specialist. He said, “People can’t really multitask efficiently because even when you start thinking of things, there has to be all those connections made, there’s a down time, it’s like driving a car that you have to shift gears.” So in terms of time and quality, things suffer when you multitask. This generation is a multitasking generation (laughs!) Moving! Moving! Moving! Doing everything together, so I guess that’s one characteristic. What I always say is, “Okay, so they’re like that. What do you do now in order to mitigate things, to balance everything?”

SCB: So what does Miriam College do to balance things?

ROL: We’re trying to move to the 21st century as well. We have e-learning in the units – to certain extents. Not all the same but the high school has more of that because we feel that they can cope with it and they do it responsibly. First, they are taught how to do it well and then the faculty is in-charge. We have tablets in the high school and that enhances their learning. A lot of the things are real time, so if you’re teaching arts you can move to the artwork that you want to present to the students.

However, we don’t lose out on the other side, too. As I told you, life is a balancing act di ba, I’m a Libra so I guess I believe in that (laughs). Although, we have science that’s high-tech, we also have a science garden. We don’t want our children to be out of touch with nature, we want them to realize that they can also go there, watch the butterflies in the different phases of their development. We try to make sure that they get learning experiences that are balanced because that’s what we want them to be eventually – to develop as a full person, to develop to their full potential. So there is the very modern side but also the deeper and more reflective side.

ON ALL-GIRLS EDUCATION: ‘There’s a lot of research showing girls education as good education. Girls education has certain advantages for the girls involved that the co-ed doesn’t have. That’s the opportunities given to them.’

SCB: They say that in 21st century learning, teachers are now more of facilitators who no longer dominate the lectures or discussions. How do you balance that so it would not go out of hand and so students won’t think that they will not need teachers anymore?

ROL: I don’t think it will come to that (laughs). We think that the teachers are the lifeblood – they make or break a school so we really have to develop them. That’s an investment that we make, we are willing to make and we continue to make. Faculty development is very important for us and one of the aspects that we are trying to bring in is to enlarge the faculty vision as well. For example, you should not just think of teaching Math this way. Go around! Look around! We bring them out to different schools and different settings and then they’re exposed, they’re enriched in their viewpoint regarding teaching that it’s not just one way – you can do it many ways depending on your subject matter, on your students and on what you want to do.

There’s a lot to be said also for physical environment and really preparing the site so we feel that it is very important for the teacher to have a class size that is manageable. That again balances the need of the school to be able to cope with the financial aspect, at the same time, making sure that they are working with the students in a more personalized and individualized basis. Our class sizes are smaller than they used to be. In some of the key subjects – Math, Science and Language – we divided the classes into groups so that sometimes you have the high-performing or advanced groups working on themselves.

SCB: Are there results from this balancing act or is it just being implemented recently?

ROL: The e-learning that we have put into place has continuous assessment. For example, in English there are indicators in terms of student’s quizzes, student performance and outcome, but also for the teachers. “How many topics was I able to teach?” Things like that and then self-assessment, “Was I effective? Are there things that I should work out?”


ON SPIRITUALITY: ‘We don’t see too much of the old rituals. It’s hard to get them to go to the regular everyday Mass but we see them using their skills to help others.’

SCB: How do you work with parents who still prefer traditional Catholic education for their children? How do you make them understand and accept that Miriam is towards progressive education?

ROL: First of all, I think it’s a good match. I think the parents that send their children here also realize that we are teaching the girls to be their own persons. We’re not a school that’s like a factory, where everybody does the same thing. Miriam is a school where we try to develop the girls into individuals. If you look at the parents that we have, they seem to be very progressive themselves and looking for ways of making sure their girls enter and work in the 21st century effectively and with confidence.

We also continue to hold consultations with them, especially for the tuition fee increase. We let them know what our plans are. For example, we are going to build a library where we will use more multi-media materials. We are going to spend this money for faculty development because we want the faculty to develop their skills. So we work with them through consultations and other ways of developing the students.

In the high school department, the parents felt that they needed as much help or more help than the children in using technology. So we developed a program called “Passport to Learning” which helps parents to become digital migrants. They took all these courses and they learned how to use the tablet the way their children did. This will enable them to know how to help their children at home.

SCB: Is it a challenge to teach spirituality with the young people especially now that you are going into modernization?

ROL: Actually, that was what the campus ministers were saying. They said, “We cannot go by the old ways of developing spirituality. It’s a more personal, more active type of spirituality that the girls are looking at now. Maybe they’re not into the rites that we used to have like saying the Rosary and things like that. But when you talk to them in their retreat and you try to deepen their conviction, it’s there. So I guess it’s more of the loving kind of approach rather than the old style.

SCB: More New Testament rather than the Old Testament (laughs). So they’re not being forced anymore to attend the first Friday Masses?

ROL: At the college level, we don’t force them, we encourage them. But at the lower levels, they have to attend. It’s really exposing them so they are able to understand it deeper.

SCB: In terms of faculty development, are the teachers receptive to the new techniques in teaching?

ROL: I think so. Of course, you will always encounter resistance especially with the older ones but generally, we find that the faculty themselves also want to learn. They want to learn how to do things in a different way. They want to know how to connect with the young girls that they are teaching so it hasn’t been that difficult.

GIRL POWER – Dr. Rosario O. Lapus makes sure that the students of Miriam College (MC) are ready for the real world. Clockwise from top left: Dr. Lapus interacting with deaf students from MC- Southeast Asian Institute for the Deaf; graduates joining in the Miriam Volunteer Mission; Dr. Lapus as a delegate of the International Federation of Catholic Universities (IFCU) Rectors’ Program in Rome; Dr. Lapus with fellow speakers at the IFCU forum; and students helping build homes and schools. (Photos courtesy of Miriam College)


SCB: In Catholic schools that are too traditional, some students who are very sheltered tend to rebel and when they get out of their schools, they go wayward or head for the wrong direction in life. What do you think is the proper way to nurture them without being too limiting?

ROL: I guess we’re all trying to find that, di ba? For the girls that we have, we don’t see too much of the old rituals. It’s hard to get them to go to the regular everyday Mass but we see them going in another direction. They’re using their skills to help others and to become good Catholics. It’s not coming out in their old rituals but they show their faith and service in a more active way.

For example, they help each other through peer counseling. They’re more action-oriented and like to do volunteer work. Every year, we have a group of volunteers who go to various places, some go as far as Cateel, Davao Oriental, and they stay there for a year and work with children. When Typhoon Yolanda came, the students were all here working at 4 a.m. The Psychology students also went to Villamor Air Base and provided counseling to the people who were traumatized.

SCB: We learned that your students who come from broken and troubled families are also being counseled…

ROL: A lot of the peer counseling happens there. It’s the students that began this program. They know who to attend to. Sometimes they have their own causes.


SCB: Your students are among the most vocal when it comes to social issues and they are not afraid to stand by side with activists in rallies. Even the institution is very active in voicing its stand on certain issues, along with other Katipunan schools…

ROL: Yes, we’ve been very active here and I think most of the activities are on the streets.

SCB: So how do you prevent this activism from turning into something radical?

ROL: I guess the first thing is you’re an academic institution so you allow people to talk and discuss. They can discuss different viewpoints. For example, the bill on Reproductive Health, that’s something to be discussed. People have a right to their own opinions. However, when it comes to the point where they’re over-reaching themselves, it should be talked through in the class with the guidance of the faculty member, making sure they still listen to the other point of view.

Usually, the school would have its stand on the issue but the students can give their own opinions.

SCB: And they’re not going to be punished for that?

ROL: Unless it’s something very violent in which case, “Okay, let’s talk about this.” But we don’t muzzle them.

SCB: Do you also limit the freedom you give to students because some of them tend to treat their teachers as equals which can sometimes be disrespectful?

ROL: Essentially, I believe that if you’re a person who deserves respect, you will get respect. Sometimes you have some people who are not well-respected but within campus, you still have to show respect to everyone no matter what. You don’t disrespect someone by going out of bounds or saying something that hurts. There are certain parameters to all our actions and speech. They cannot go overboard and go beyond certain limits and things like that. And I don’t think that’s Catholic, its civilized society. We may differ but you have to respect my opinion and to respect the fact that I’m saying this.

SCB: Do you think values education is lacking in some schools?

ROL: We’ve had Values Education in the classroom for a long time. I don’t think it’s that eh. Values are really caught, rather than taught in the classroom. I think we really have to make an attempt to make sure that people who do bad things are punished and then we have to show them that there are things that you can do that are important. I think it’s more the practice and the community and the people you grow up with. I think what you have to teach is values processing. Okay, this is what you want, this is what you value. In the end, how do you get to that? More than preaching.

SCB: In Ateneo, at the height of this pork barrel issue, they said that they’re encouraging the issue to be integrated in the curriculum. Have you done the same thing?

ROL: Well, in certain classes, we don’t even need to tell the faculty member to do that because they know that this is part of what is current, what is relevant. For example, you’re teaching an Ethics class or Government class, these things are discussed. We even have college-wide fora that we sometimes open to outsiders.


SCB: Is women education still as popular as before, especially now that more all-girls schools have shifted to co-ed education?

ROL: There’s a lot of research showing girls education as good education. Girls education has certain advantages for the girls involved that the co-ed doesn’t have. That’s the opportunities given to them. Researches show that more girls from girls’ schools go to STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) subjects. In a mixed class, the boys seem to dominate and there’s a certain bias being showed by the teacher who listens more to the boys or assigns the choice homework to the boys. But in a girls’ school, there’s none of those difficulties. All the leaders are girls. The opportunities are there for everyone. Girls develop well in collaborative situations, not competitive situations. The fact that they can become leaders and you can design programs that are really meant for them to advance. That’s what we’re really trying to do here.

However, whether schools go co-ed or not, there are many factors that you take into consideration. Some are the more practical ones. I think some of those schools changed because it is a business decision on their part. However, you’ll be surprised at how this seems to be something that’s gaining ground again. In the U.S., for example, they have public schools that are single-sex because they see the value of single-sex education.

SCB: Bakit sa Miriam College Nuvali, nag co-ed na kayo?

ROL: As I said, when you go co-ed it’s because of a business decision. Here we are thriving as a girls’ school. There, however, we are beginning with the young kids. That’s the problem. It’s convenience instead of what may have an edge academically. There we think parents don’t want to go to two campuses to drop off one child and the other.

SCB: What does Miriam have that made it thrive as an all-girls school?

ROL: I think it’s location to be honest with you. As an all-girls’ school, we do our best to show that these girls can also be the best that they can be. In other words, we’re looking at the strengths of these girls and developing them. As I said, there are researches that show that there are ways of doing this better for girls.


SCB: Is this focus on STEM a recent development, or has Miriam always been into STEM?

ROL: Historically, the school was known for its language arts and communication because this was a school founded by the Maryknoll Sisters, who were American. Even my own mother, I remember, that was her generation. During her time, the schools were either Spanish or American. They all went to Maryknoll because of the draw of speaking English. That’s what carried us through the 50s and 60s. Of course, along with that, Math and Science also had to be of good quality.

However, this sustained focus, this studied focus, is a little more recent. It was probably in the 2000s. Dr. (Patricia) Licuanan (former Miriam College president and now Commission on Higher Education chairperson) said that we should look around, make sure that we rationalize our Math and Science. When I came in, I made a really clear effort to make sure we do everything correctly in terms of the curriculum, faculty development, material, and the students. That’s something that we really took on ourselves. Now, we have adjusted it to become STEAM.

SCB: What’s the “A”?

ROL: The A is for the arts, because we don’t want people to forget that the arts are very important and it makes for holistic education. It’s already there and it just needs that system and continuous work. Let’s look at how we can develop STEM and the arts further.

SCB: How do you prepare your students who are taking up STEM to the fact that they may not get jobs here?

ROL: I think in the 21st century, you will see a lot more jobs in STEM. That’s really what’s everyone’s predicting.

If you look at the fields, that’s where the differences lie. In the biological fields, alam natin na a lot of girls go into courses like Medicine. However, do they go into Engineering, hindi ba? Actually, Engineering is something that we are trying to push in the high school. We’re introducing Engineering courses across levels because engineering is problem-solving. You’re using math and science to solve problems. It’s the application.

Very few girls have been going into Engineering, so far. But I think it’s improving. I think girls can play a good part there. I remember one conference I went to, the main speaker was a female engineer. She said that what got her into engineering was that she used to ride the bus and saw that the river was so polluted. She thought that one day she would do something about that. Again, research shows that girls want to solve problems that are based in reality, problems that will help people. We want to put girls there because they’re sure to be helping people.

SCB: Is it difficult to tell these girls that they don’t need to conform to gender roles? You may encourage them inside the school, but outside, they’re bombarded by all these messages that are contrary to what you teach.

ROL: That’s what we’re trying to do. We want them to make sure that they don’t just follow all these powerful messages coming from media and other people. Carol Gilligan was saying that, too. You have to develop your voice, you have to make sure that you go into a path that you want. Ang sabi ni Sheryl Sandberg, “Lean in. Stop thinking about other people. Do what you want to do.” If you want to become a housewife, sure, but make sure that you want to become one. You also need to have the maturity to accept what will happen to you later on.

We’re trying to develop their courage, their sense of being themselves, their confidence, so that they don’t listen to all these messages around them and they do what they want to do. We want to show them that they can do it. We expect them to be able to do it. Hindi ‘yung you’re a girl, you have to be a nurse. You can be what you want to be, whether you’re a girl or a boy.

I don’t think that’s too much of a problem also now. I think with these young girls that we have, I saw their great possibilities in high school. It’s not college that makes you eh, it’s the high school, kasi it determines where you go to college, what you take in college. And now we’re seeing in middle school palang that you need to strengthen them, you give them confidence, courage and leadership.

SCB: In an all-girl environment, people can speak up and pursue STEM courses if they want to. But the workplace will not necessarily be that friendly and may even be male-dominated. How do you prepare the students for a working environment that may not be as conducive as Miriam?

ROL: You know, when you come out of college, I think people already have the strength. I think this is just a bigger part of developing courage, self-confidence, and knowing that people should not disrespect you as a woman. Therefore, if this happens in the workplace you have to speak up. That’s why we teach them that it’s important to develop your voice and speak up. You have to say something. When you see something, say something. That comes from modeling, from people around the students like the faculty who also speak up. Like the PDAF, we all tried to speak up. It’s important for you to speak up when needed.

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