Brother Bancha Saenghiran, f.s.g., Ph.DPresident-Rector MagnificusAssumption University of ThailandBangkok, ThailandJuly 20, 2020
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).