The Ateneo Center for Educational Development (ACED):
The Ateneo de Manila University’s Response to the Call for National Development through Public Education

by Anne Lan H. Kagahastian-Candelaria

The Ateneo Center for Educational Development (ACED) was estab lished by the Ateneo de Manila University in 1997 in response to the call of “closing the gaps” – the gap between our country and our Asian neighbors, and at the same time the gap between Ateneo and the rest of the country. In a larger vision, as a Christian Catholic University, closing this gap means continuing Jesus’ mission to create a community, within our families, within our country and with our neighbors, to be able to share and care for one another, closing the gap between God and us.

Focusing on the public educational system where more than 90% of our Filipino children are enrolled, ACED became an important instrument of the university in utilizing its resources to reach out to public schools, as a commitment to its mission—an Ateneo that is not simply involved in the formation of individuals who will be leaders in bringing about development and change in the country but as an institution playing a role in institutional change and development, particularly in the education sector.

In a larger perspective, ACED responds to the renewed call to involve private entities in improving capacities of public schools, especially during a time of political and economic crisis: real per-capita spending on basic public education continues to lose impact as population grows and teaching productivity has remained low as evidenced in the declining achievement levels of Philippine public schools vis-à-vis their Asian counterparts in Thailand, Malaysia and Vietnam.

International standardized tests like TIMSS (Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study), which shows that we are ranked 3rd from the bottom, have made the obvious more threatening: our educational system is gradually falling apart. These findings are consistent even with our national exams, revealing that only half of our students in the public school have mastery of the core subjects in our curriculum (52 percent in Elementary, NEAT 2001; 53 percent in Secondary, NSAT, 2001).

These macro problems have a large implication for us as a Developing state. Our main resource as a nation remains in our skilled labor. For us to sustain this advantage, our educational institutions are expected to achieve these twin goals: Raise our national average in comparison to other countries on the one hand and, reduce the lower average variation below that national average on the other hand. While the policy of universal public education has its merits, there is no denying that this has stressed the quality of our educational system near its limits.

The ACED in Action:

As a response, the ACED was established to provide a systematic, high impact and visible program of support for public school systems in the Philippines. Specifically, the Center focuses it efforts in four major areas of educational development: (1) Teacher Training and Development, (2) Management Development for Schools, (3) Research & Development, and (4) Curriculum, Textbooks and Instructional Materials Development.

The Public School Teacher Training Program (PSTTP)

Its flagship program, the ACED Public School Teacher Training Program (PSTTP), provides public school teachers with opportunities to improve their content development and instructional skills. This gives participants a stronger sense of proper instruction and classroom management, in order to create a better learning environment. A team of faculty from the Loyola Schools, Grade School and High School develops the modules and conduct the classes every Saturday morning at the Ateneo campus for a total of 80 hours (about 20 consecutive half-day sessions spread out from July to February of the school year). Public elementary and secondary school teachers are trained in the areas of English, Mathematics, Science and Information Technology. At the end of the training, participants receive a Certificate from the Ateneo de Manila University. Since 1997, ACED has trained a total of 1,700 public school teachers in about 14 DepEd divisions in Metro Manila, Laguna, Pampanga, Aklan, Kabankalan City (Negros Occ.) and Davao City.

The Center recently conducted an impact assessment of the PSTTP through a special project called Baliktanaw Teachers’ Congress, Revisiting the ACED-PSTTP on February 20, 2004. This provided ACED an opportunity to ask past trainees of the teacher training program of specific improvements in their teaching career and classroom management styles. The survey revealed that on professional development, majority of teachers were (1) asked to teach a higher section, (2) given additional teaching load and (3) given supervisory work after they have participated in the ACED program.

In terms of classroom management, teachers were able to (1) promote cooperative learning among their students; (2) construct quizzes/tasks that promote critical thinking; (3) write lesson plans that are more appropriate; (4) use other resources (print/non-print) to enrich learning; (5) develop innovative instructional technologies; and (6) conduct new/alternative class activities and instructional technologies.

Principal Empowerment Program

Among the new programs of ACED is the Leadership Program for public elementary and secondary school principals. ACED realized that the development and training of public school heads as organizational professionals is as important as its PSTTP, as this addresses the problem of managing scarce school resources. This program is a whole year program that kicks-off with a three-day and two-night live-in colloquium that will provide a venue for conversations on the important aspects of their roles, common concerns and challenges as school heads.

This activity also hopes to prepare them in the succeeding academic modules/sessions in the school year by strengthening their competencies, improving their beliefs and attitudes, and in the process, increasing their effectiveness; after which eight academic modules are designed based on the pressing problems and issues raised during the colloquium.

These will then be delivered by a team of administrators and faculty from the Grade School, High School and the Education Department of the Loyola Schools beginning August through February. They are partnered with respected practitioners from the public education sectors in both the development and delivery of the modules.

School-Community Development Framework

During the course of ACED’s dynamic engagement with public schools and other major sectors involved in public education, it realized that macro-level involvement should be complemented with micro-level initiatives so that the target beneficiaries—the pupils in the public school—can fully experience the impact of such interventions. Thus, from May 2001 to June 2004, ACED managed a special project launched by the Ateneo de Manila University in partnership with Mr. Washington Sycip and Mr. Alfredo Velayo with an immediate goal of building commitment among the school leadership and school community, the Local School Boards and the business and civic groups. Dubbed, Project SSPEEd (Sectoral Support for Public Elementary Education), the project provided ACED with significant lessons and insights on how it can fuse macro-level interventions and micro-level involvement. Furthermore, SSPEEd provided a framework on how institutions can assist the public schools and create impact in the surrounding urban poor communities as well.

At this juncture, the ACED finds ripe opportunities to link its more institutionalized networks and programs with a more grassroots approach towards addressing sustainability, effectivity and efficiency. Thus, ACED has since then moved into its other educational development areas.

Specifically, ACED remains an active catalyst in the public schools and community as it has committed to support to the following public elementary schools:

Payatas B Annex Elementary School

Located in Barangay Payatas Trese, Payatas B Annex Elementary School has a population of about 820 pupils. Although the latter has had a hundred percent completion and graduation rate since it was established, it is ironic that it has dealt perennially with non-readers at all levels. The school started in 2001 with 81 non-readers that ranged from 35 in Grade one to six. With the constant influx of pupils every year, the school currently has 199 non-readers, majority of which are found in the first grade.

Payatas C (Madja-as) Elementary School

The school is one of the most depressed urban poor areas in Quezon City. Although the school was established in 1983 through community bayanihan efforts, it has been deprived of infrastructural improvements, particularly new school buildings, since the school lot is not titled to the school or to the government.

Lupang Pangako Elementary School

The school is located about a hundred meters from the dumpsite in Payatas, Quezon City. Expectedly, majority of its 60,000 residents are informal settlers and relocates, around 15% of whom survive by garbage scavenging. Although such circumstance clearly puts the school in a clear disadvantage, the school leadership has succeeded in increasing the number of classrooms and computers.

Bagong Silangan Elementary School

This school is in Barangay Bagong Silangan, an urban poor community adjacent to Payatas, not far from the Batasan Complex that houses the House of Representatives. Bagong Silangan Elementary School has a population of about 6,000 pupils including more than 200 preschoolers. Even with infrastructural improvements and the construction of two three-storey buildings over the past two years, overcrowding remains to be a problem.

This intimate partnership with the schools allows ACED to understand in-depth the situation being faced by the public education sector as well as try to adopt and implement intervention programs that will help the school as an “institution” (or a system). This undertaking is rooted in the objective of preparing the school and community initiate and manage future systems and programs for the improvement of the whole school in the areas of infrastructure, human resource development, networking, and professional management of school and its relations with the community. This endeavor involves three stages: (1) School-based Research, (2) Strategic Planning with the school and community and (3) Capability-building training/programs that will support the implementation of the school plans. ACED firmly supports the precept that schools and community should establish a good communication system between one another to help identify problems as well as solutions concerning their children’s education and future.

For this school year, ACED has already organized two school-based strategic planning workshops at the Ateneo on May 6-8, 2005 for Bagong Silangan Elementary School and Lupang Pangako Elementary School and on May 26-28, 2005 for Payatas B Annex Elementary School and Payatas C Elementary School.

Facilitated by seasoned community developers, the workshops helped representatives of the school and community-teachers, principals, parents, pupils, barangay and LGU officials identify problems and construct feasible plans for three years. Each completed school plan becomes ACED’s basis for crafting capability-building programs in partnership with various institutions within and without the University.

Research and Development

Grounding on all these work, ACED believes that it should engage itself in research initiatives that will help other institutions set-up their own programs for the public education sector. Its recent research endeavor, entitled “The Local School Board: Managing Local Reforms in Education” takes a look at four cases of Local School Boards that have managed, developed and sustained programs that uplifted the quality of public education in their localities. The study analyzes important issues in reforming public education and good governance such as the role of leadership in reform, approaches to a more participatory process of reform, and transparency and accountability in resource mobilization, generation and utilization. The study was collaboration between ACED, Ateneo School of Government, Ateneo de Manila Political Science Department and Synergeia Foundation. It is funded by the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung Foundation through the Ateneo Center for Social Policy.

The ADMU Soul: We Believe

In all of ACED’s undertakings, whether in its Teacher Training Program, Leadership Program or its schools-and-community-based work, it seeks the support of all stakeholders in public education. This call of unity, to come together as one big community, to address the problems of public education has enabled ACED and the University to extend its resources to more teachers, principals and schools. Indeed, the burden becomes light if everyone helps carry the basket.

The private sector and civic groups, over the years, have been generous partners to both the ACED’s training programs as well as some school-based projects. The local governments through its Local School Board readily allocates counterpart funding in every program that their teachers, principals and schools participate in. Funding support also comes from various government officials ranging from Congressmen to City Councilors. Civil society groups, local NGOs, local neighborhood groups, PTCA (Parent Teacher Community Associations) also participate in the planning and implementation of the school-based projects.

Internally, the various units in the Ateneo de Manila University supported the ACED programs in many touching ways. Faculty and administrators willingly devote their Saturdays to train public school teachers and principals despite their full academic load from Monday to Friday. The University allocates an amount equivalent to a 50% tuition discount for public school teachers currently attending the ACED programs each year for the last 7 years. And even if now that units are no longer required, the University has graciously offered discounts for the use of facilities, classrooms, library, and other resources to all ACED participants for the duration of their program. Students are also encouraged to reach out to the public schools. In fact on various occasions, ACED has conducted advocacy sessions for both students and faculty of the University concerning the crisis being faced by the public schools today.

Lessons Learned and the Road Ahead

There is one big lesson to be learned in the ACED experience of bringing forth social development through addressing the needs of public education, that is—TRUST. We, as a nation, should learn how to trust each other in critical and challenging times. As an institution, ACED maintains a strong working relationship between the DepEd, the various government officials, private sector, civil society because it has been operating on a relationship grounded on the credibility and trustworthiness of the Ateneo. We strive to give them the best programs run by our best people. But we also acknowledge that even with the best program in mind, we must remain sensitive to the unique conditions of the public schools. We consult with our best people, but we also consult with people who know what is suited and needed by the public schools—the public school themselves.

For the past 8 years, ACED has engaged itself in various programs that helped shape the lives of children, teachers, school heads, and parents by showing them that if we just work together and trust one another, the crisis can be contained and eventually solved. However, the most valuable realization derived from this experience is that, in the University’s attempt to heed the call to “close the gaps” between our country and our neighbors and between Ateneo and the rest of the public schools in the country, we have actually closed another kind of gap that is of equal, if not of more, importance as well—closing the gap between ourselves. As a big university, the Ateneo has numerous academic units as well as non-academic offices catering to thousand of students from the Grade School, High School, Loyola Schools and the Professional Schools. Finding a common direction in fulfilling that mission of serving others through public educational development programs has transformed the Ateneo from a rigid academic institution into a community of people who is committed in transforming this nation into something great.

The challenge now is to multiply these programs into the various provinces in order to hasten public educational reforms that will help rebuild our country. ACED receives a lot of request to conduct programs and similar endeavors in the provinces. Since ACED coordinates and utilizes only existing resources and efforts of the university, it can only answer certain requests if there are available resources at that time. Thus, ACED calls on other academic institutions to consider offering educational development programs to help uplift the quality of public education towards a faster recovery of our nation. After all, our nation can become great again if we all work towards improving our educational system—hopefully, for them not to commit the same mistakes we made.

(Anne Lan H. Kagahastian-Candelaria is currently the Managing Director of the Ateneo Center for Educational Development or ACED. She also teaches Fundamentals of Public Management, Current Issues in Philippine Politics and Governance, and Introduction to Politics and Governance at the Ateneo de Manila University. The above article is her paper presentation during the 2005 National Convention of the Catholic Educational Association of the Philippines held last September 14-16, 2005 in Davao City – Ed.)