As I reflect over the past few months of dramatic changes and challenges induced by COVID-19, I remember Apostle Paul's exhortation to the young Timothy. "Be prepared in season and out of season" (2 Timothy 4:2). Though I take it seemingly out of context, these words are quite relevant. As an educator and leader, I take pride in our students and staff who with their multifarious technological skills already instilled in them, even before the pandemic, could rise to this difficult situation. The impetus to use technology to enhance traditional learning systems was instilled in our students and faculty members much ahead of the onslaught of the virus and the drastic changes that have distraught our life and the educational system.
In spite of the preparedness there are students who suffer the impact of the Digital Divide. Students living in remote villages and from economically challenged families are not able to afford a smart phone or a data card. For such students, access to online education is one more mountain to surmount. Amidst the entire churn and the change, as a Christian Institution we try our best to help out these students. Occasionally, I get information about students who go through emotional disturbances because they miss face to face class and meeting with their teachers and peers. Our counsellors and teachers are connected to such students and they keep in touch with our students and lend them timely counsel.
The joy and jostle of campus life has been brought to a standstill. Living inside the campus, coping with the emptiness is yet another challenge I face. At this time of the year college campus normally buzzes with life. There would be anxious students and parents queuing up for admission. This year queries have been received as letters at the gate (due to the SOP of lockdown restrictions), by email and incessant phone calls but answered with efficiency by staff donning new responsibilities as part of a 'back-end' team along with administration. Applicants were also given the freedom to write directly to me and whoever had trouble with online payment and thus couldn't get their admissions were immediately helped. Maya Angelou's words, "Hoping for the best, prepared for the worst and unsurprised by anything in between" best renders our preparedness.
So even at a time when all hope seemed to shape itself into despair, with the power of the resurrected Lord Jesus and His ever abiding presence we only got inured to the challenges and changes!
About the Author: Dr. Christianna Singh, the Principal of Lady Doak College is also a former United Board Scholar & Fellow and an economist par excellence with her area of specialization on Gender Economics. Beyond her scholarly purviews, she extends her talents and expertise in areas like music and technology. She contributes both as a vocal-trainer and as a violinist. Dr. Singh has been a visionary in having the foresight on the need to stress on the importance of technological enhancements in teaching which has proved invaluable during these times. Ever ready to lend a helping hand, her main focus has been on the upliftment of the underprivileged learners who continually seek and receive guidance and support from the Lady Doak College.
About the Institute: Lady Doak College, the brainchild of Ms. Katie Wilcox, the American Missionary, has had a unique history in providing quality education to women based on Christian precepts and ideals. Begun in 1948, Lady Doak was one of the first women's colleges in the region at a time when women could not find opportunities for higher education. Now, the college hosts over 4,500 students, 40% of which are first generation learners. Ever true to its roots, Lady Doak holds fast to its motto, Semper Pro Veritate (Always for the Truth).
The onset of COVID 19 has created upheavals, set in place “the new normal sets of behaviors” and in the midst of it all, for us members of ACUCA, apart from scrambling to cope with disruptions and changes, we have had moments to stop, focus on the Lord of our lives, and reflect: where do we go from here? With what purposes do we educate our learners, how are we challenged to form them into responsible citizens of tomorrow?
From the standpoint of a Catholic Higher Education leadership, I see that we in the Catholic world have for long followed the trends set in place when Education was the core of Religion, when monasteries took on the roles of libraries and research and innovation centers. However, Education has evolved as a social need pivoted on knowledge creation and, teaching has at best evolved with task orientation. In my belief, we have somehow missed the agenda of the Whole Person formation through education. As we set our sights to the post-COVID 19 landscape, it is our hope at Assumption University of Thailand that we have to entrench our mission to be, in the Christian spirit, “the light” that leads the way to the true source of knowledge and life. To such an end, we have to seek to impart our education as an efficient instrument to develop our students as human beings in all dimensions, but core to all, is that they reach moral maturity according to the Christian teaching. The knowledge of Truth in this sense, is meaning in life and ethics in living as service to God and man. We hope that through our education, we can somehow transform the lives of our students as learners to grow in the fullness of what they perceive of knowledge, in their personal contexts, and in the faiths that they espouse. But this need not be an agenda for a Catholic Higher Education Institution alone. I would like to invite all members within ACUCA to participate in my reflection and to ponder on what needs to be done to ensure that our value of education is not scuttled by concerns of a pandemic. To this end, I suggest the following thoughts:
The strategy we should encourage in our faculty and staff, is to place the student at the center of all learning. In order for us to be able to achieve such strategy, we must encourage close relationships between students and faculty, students and staff, students and students. Lecturers play a pivotal role in the learning of students. Teaching is not a job per se, it is a mission and vocation to enthuse students into a learning flow. While teaching inspires the students to learn, it should also challenge them to think by themselves, and for themselves, to enter into the intricacies of knowledge through probity of thought and efforts to deepen understanding. Teaching Faculty are not meant to recycle knowledge in their teaching, but to motivate students to look deeper into learning, to search by reading and reflection on different authors within specific subject domains, and to construct for themselves new paradigms of thought which would empower them to think and act in new ways. Effective teaching methodologies ideally structure student disciplines in learning, and students are best formed through the dialogues of two-way communications: feeding back what they have learned, and adding to the broader understandings of the new dimensions of knowledge, beyond the immediate confines of the classroom, and into the larger environment of life itself. The question that may be asked is: is this culture of learning possible even in the present context of the COVID 19 pandemic, and in the technology assisted learning mode? Yes, it is. Technology, after all is only the tool to impart knowledge and discipline, learning is what results from talented and patient application of teaching, which should result in the fuller formation of the human being, the student of the present, the “Whole person” citizen of the future. Allied to this axiom is the renewal of investment by teachers by imparting the best of their teaching talents and spirit: Lives, love, care and concern, and time for their students.
Our Christian institutions are challenged not to be alarmed by the duration that the Covid 19 infections last, or may extend as with attendant uncertainties. Our lecturers can by adopting new technologies in teaching, build TRUST in our students, to persist in learning. The second needed aptitude in lecturers today is the ability to motivate learners to adopt new learning mechanisms and goals which they can use as life skills. Ideally, the classroom learning is complemented by meaningful co-curricular and extracurricular activities, which lecturers can use to reinforce lessons and encourage in students the love of learning, and hopefully, inspire them towards life-long learning, whole person formation.
In summary, I believe that we all as Christian Higher Education Learning Institutions can lead our students to Trust - in God, in themselves, in bodies of knowledge, in their fellow learners and in the social systems in which they participate. My invitation to all colleagues in ACUCA institutions is to take on the “teacher-ness” of education, in the true Thai spirit. Such a spirit embodies the true sacrifice in teaching and the appropriate discipline of learning. The lecturers give of their goodness and intellectual prowess, and thus create new capacities for students to learn and to become better individuals, formed by meaningful thinking, meaningful living, through meaningful learning and sharing of values. Teachers and administrators are welcome to enter into the spirit of teaching towards whole person formations, in our vocations of the ways and means of learning, for our students.
About the Author: Rev. Bro. Dr. Bancha Saenghiran serves as the President of Assumption University (AU) of Thailand since 2002. He is a member of the religious congregation of the Montfort Brothers of St. Gabriel in Thailand and was assigned in the past to be administrator of the St. Gabriel affiliated schools for many years.
About Assumption University of Thailand: Assumption University of Thailand was initially originated from Assumption Commercial College in 1969. In May 1990, the institution was upgraded into a University, and named “Assumption University of Thailand.” Assumption University is the first international University in Thailand and as a private Catholic Higher Education Institution is administered by the Montfort Brothers of St. Gabriel (SG). The University’s campus life revolves around the motto Labor Omnia Vincit (Work Conquers All Things).
Old Testament Reading: Exodus 30:17-21;
"Make a bronze basin, with its bronze stand, for washing. Place it between the tent of meeting and the altar, and put water in it. Aaron and his sons are to wash their hands and feet with water from it. Whenever the enter the tent of meeting, they shall wash with water so that they will not die. Also, when they approach the altar to minister by presenting the food offering to the Lord, they shall wash their hands and feet so that they will not die. This is to be a lasting ordinance for Aaron and his descendants for the generations to come"
Based on the above Old Testament reading, one can understand that washing hands with water was a part of the divine ordinance for priest Aaron and his descendants to follow for generations so that they were to be saved and secured from the dangers of death. I have thought over how washing of hands got connected to liberation from death in Biblical time. Why did priest Aaron and his sons need to wash their hands to be liberated from death? Was there any suspicion of the spread of pandemic Corona virus in this Old Testament time? Of course, it was not. But the fact which I would like to point out is that washing hands in Old Testament time was a kind of divine ordinance – the requirement of God for men to do for a certain purpose, although we do not know why God required them to wash their hands . The meaning could be either to prevent any biological virus from infection or to remove all sin-virus polluted mind-sets that could encapsulate human hearts and souls. The later would mean making oneself liberated from pollution of sin and evils.
New Testament Reading: Matt.27:24-25
“When Pilate saw that he could not prevail at all but rather that a tumult was rising, he took water and washed his hands before the multitude, saying, “I am innocent of the blood of this just person. You see to it.”
How about the practice of washing hands in the New Testament teaching? Shall one think about what Pilate means when he washed he hands, "…… he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd, and said, “I am innocent of this man's blood.”.…"It is your responsibility!". All the people answered shouting, “His blood is on us and on our children." Here Pilate found out very clearly that Jesus was not guilty and so allowing the crowd to kill him on the cross would be a great danger for his soul. So, in order to free himself from the judgement and condemnation of the people, Pilate washed his hands to liberate himself from the legal judgement of the law. Washing of hands here had a symbolic meaning of standing for the truth and justice. Although no one knows whether God would forgive Pilate for handing over of Jesus the innocent to the crowd to nail him on the cross, we learn that washing hands here means upholding of the truth and justice for one's liberation of life. In this sense, the spiritual significance of washing hands would be a symbol of spiritual, moral, ethical transformation of life - a life that stands for truth and justice.
About the Author: Having earned Bachelor of Theology & Bachelor of Divinity from Myanmar Institute of Theology in Myanmar; Master of Theology from Princeton Theological Seminary, USA; Master of Arts from University of Dubuque, Iowa, USA, and Ph.D. from International Christian University, Tokyo, Japan, Dr. Rev. Samuel Ngun Ling joined the Faculty of Myanmar Institute of Theology since 1998 as Professor of Systematic Theology until he became the President of the Institute (2010-2022).
About Myanmar Institute of Theology: Established in 1927, the Myanmar Institute of Theology offers not only a post-graduate level theology program but also an undergraduate level liberal arts program since the year 2000, with total student enrollment of more than 1400..
Colleges and universities face a sudden and major disruption with the outbreak of the coronavirus. The COVID19 pandemic triggered not only a global health crisis but also economic and social challenges, as well as deep psycho-spiritual anxiety and despair. Today, Christian educational institutions are pressed to organize new resources and find the resolve to weather the storm, thus opening some pathways to a shelter in which creative and constructive initiatives can be explored.
Due to the pandemic, colleges and universities must resort to cancelling in-person classes and moving to alternative learning systems. Within higher education, programs for flexible learning are fast-tracked, while extensive retooling and capacity building are undertaken in the areas of human and physical resources related to information technology. Partnerships with public and private agencies are being pursued in the acquisition of skills and equipment, and the enhancement of goodwill in the communities we serve.
Today’s students will have a different school experience - social distancing restrictions will cause alternative forms of instruction, staggered days on which students attend classes, virtual counseling services and psychosocial support interventions, creative internships and remote graduations, to mention some. Given the disruptions caused by the pandemic, existing management and operational processes must be given rigorous review, and new approaches must be explored that address both continuity issues as well as the challenges of a not-so-certain future.
As a Christian institution of higher learning, Silliman University remains committed to carry on its ministry of teaching, healing and witness, especially at this time of the pandemic. As a teaching-learning community, we ask ourselves:
•What immediate challenges are we facing due to Covid19 and what preventive as well
as proactive measures can we take?
•What will the new realities for our own university look like?
•What can we do within our own institution to prepare for the post-Covid19 scenarios that are likely to emerge?
There will always be answers that look good on paper. We must sift through these to find
realistic strategies to help us through the rough-and-tumble times. We will find ways to
catapult us into new situations, on the lookout for innovations that will not allow us to slide
back to our not-so-relevant old ways of doing things.
These are trying times that will test our resolve: to hope more than despair, to advance more than retreat, to have courage more than fear, and to trust more in the capacity of people to work together towards a common goal.
It is important for us to focus on a sense of the future, and to remind ourselves that we are in this with others. The Association of Christian Universities and Colleges in Asia (ACUCA), inspired by the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ, has demonstrated the efficacy of working together towards a common purpose. Our special charge is to reflect the Christian character of our institutions through cooperation, mutual support, and encouragement. How can we fulfill this charge during this Covid19 crisis? Let not the pandemic defeat us; let our faith and Christian character define us.
About the Author: Dr. Betty McCann currently serves as the President of the Association of Christian Universities and Colleges in Asia (ACUCA). She served as the Vice President for Programs of the United Board for Christian Higher Education (UBCHEA) from 2007 until her optional retirement in 2013 where she had general oversight of grant programs and special projects to over 100 universities and colleges in Asia.
About Silliman University: Founded in 1901 by the American Presbyterian missionaries and recognized as the oldest American-founded University in the Philippines, Silliman University’s campus life revolves around the motto Via, Veritas, Vita (the Way, the Truth, the Life).