Amb. Laura Q. Del Rosario
Ninth President of Miriam College
5 February 2020
Marian Auditorium, Miriam College
Good afternoon! What a heartwarming sight. With so much brainpower before me I am tempted to shut my mouth and just return to my seat. But I have to say something, and I hope it will make sense. I have thought many times that it was a mistake to give me this appointment and considering my age, a bigger mistake on my part in thinking that I can hack it. But my sons assured me that though I am older than many, I have a progressive mind, better than those born after me whose way of thinking still belongs to the 20th century. Their exact words. They gave me confidence to carry on.
But meeting with Grade One students made me think again of my capacity and the generational distance. Last week, I was asked by the Lower School Principal to talk to a section of Grade One students about how to lead. Seeing the super-quiet girls before me, I thought that I should break the ice. I did something stupid—I asked them how old they were! They proudly answered that they were six, going on seven. That made my mind go computational. Wow, I told them, you are lucky. You will live to witness the coming of the 22nd century. And You will only be 86 years old! Their smiling faces fell. They seemed to be thinking—what is great about being 86 years old? 22nd century? The year 2020 is already
hard to understand. I was a total disaster in that class session. I will never accept any
invitation to speak before Grade One students again!
These girls are the children of the Alpha Generation (yes, we ran out of the letters of the alphabet, so we are back to the beginning). They are the children of the millennials, born after 2010—what many consider an inflection point in the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Miriam College is one of a few tertiary level schools involved in educating kindergarten to college students who now belong to both the Generation Z and to the Alpha Generation.
Living to be 100 years old or more is a big possibility now due to medical nanotechnology used in medical devices inserted inside man’s body to intervene in certain diseases or developing human internal organs in laboratories to replace malfunctioning ones. Assuming that one can afford them.
The question on how the Alpha Generation, and Generation X, will live and survive the 21st century is what challenges us in the art and science of education. In the past, the future was always seen as brighter which would make life for each one easier and would lift us higher economically, give us more time for leisure, more time to create, and more time to deepen our relationships, and make us live longer through breakthroughs in medicine and engineering. But discussions in various conferences, including in the recent World Economic Forum, are about the uncertainties and complexities of the future brought about by the Fourth Industrial Revolution, the age of digitization and artificial intelligence.
Like some of you, I am a baby boomer, born during the Second Industrial Revolution or the era of electricity which started in the 1880s due to Thomas Edison and Nicola Tesla. So the television set which we called the “idiot box”, the record player or the stereo or a tape recorder were ubiquitous in my generation’s daily entertainment. The baby boomers’ children were born during the Third Industrial Revolution when computers became personal and affordable, and they communicated by electronic mail. As the phenomenon of globalization became intertwined with information technology, the world became super-connected in everything from e-commerce to free online courses at Harvard or Yale, to long distance complex surgical operations done by a surgeon in one country being guided by an expert doctor in another via the internet. Then came the Fourth Industrial Revolution of digital technology and artificial intelligence that is exciting to all of us—Baby boomers, Generations X, Y, Z and the Millennials and the Alpha Generation. But there are downsides.
And so, as a learning and formation institution in a developing country with many needs, Miriam College has a continuing discussion on the kind of learning experiences, skills set, what mind set or way of thinking, and values that we wish our students to have, as exponential shifts in technology are happening, as a developing country continues to develop itself. These shifts are good, but not always positive. I wish to focus on the downsides today,
not to be an alarmist, but because this is where real collaborative work is needed within our country or across borders and where education can play a big part. Allow me to review the contexts with you as colleagues and friends interested in education and partners in public policy. I also wish to take advantage of this gathering of the faculty to articulate what Miriam College can and still needs to do to build up on its 21st century objectives of design learning and promoting innovation that my immediate predecessor Dr Rosario Lapus centered her presidency on.
We are now facing four big challenges as a people and with the rest of the world. The biggest two threats to our very existence are among these four challenges. It has been said that there are only two ways to destroy the earth and humankind. These are through a nuclear catastrophe and climate change.
The dangers of nuclear annihilation did not disappear with the end of the Cold War. We just have to read the news coming from North Korea or the Middle East on weapons of mass destruction.
The devastation being brought about by climate change is all around. There is the drying up of the Tigris and the Euphrates, the cradle of civilization. We just have to read the news about the fires in Australia that have been raging for many weeks. Millions of animals have died, and one of our favorite animals, the koala, has nowhere to go as forests the size of West Virginia are gone. And then there is the fast growth of spittle worms that are spreading the bacteria killing olive trees in southern Italy destroying hundreds of olive orchards that
sustained families for many generations. This phenomenon was brought about by the warming of the climate. We need not talk about stronger and more frequent typhoons and the rising waters brought about by the melting of glaciers in the north and the south poles. If bacteria and viruses, and pests will not be contained, as the temperature of the world continues to rise, what will the Alpha Generation’s physical world look like?
The other two challenges are what we call “disruptions”, caused primarily by the digital revolution of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. The lives of the Alpha Generation will be more complex than what science movies have depicted. When my children were going through their basic education, the mouse was born—not the rodent or the rat kind, but the one we hold everyday as we work with our computers. After 2007, the word twitter now
means more than the sound of a bird, and cloud does not just refer to the white fluffy object floating above the sky, the word Linked In does not mean a fence, and finally, Filipinos learned to read a book daily—not from kindle, Fully Booked or the National Bookstore but the Facebook. And our young ones are on Instagram constantly not aware that during our time we had the telegram that was sent rarely, and only in times of emergencies or birth
And we are now facing other kinds of disruption—sometimes serious interruptions-- like the volcanic eruption that our brothers and sisters in Southern Luzon have experienced. And epidemics or pandemics occur now with more frequency as the scare over the fast spreading of the corona virus attests. Fishing and farming, schooling and selling and other economic activities stop during such disruptions. Some interrupted activities are hard to resume. Our campus in Nuvali went through a 3-week shutdown, so our administrators and teachers went on a complementary learning methodology through educational technology, one benefit from the Fourth Industrial Revolution. We are improving our interruption or disruption-readiness in our campuses, which will soon include Alviera near Clark.
Disruptions due to climate change cause big movements of people which can lead to disruptive political changes In one instance, it caused a massive one. I wish to refer to the War in Syria. It started as a climate change issue – a drought which was not properly addressed by the Assad regime almost 10 years ago. The drought gave rise to poverty among Syrian farmers, then to political discontent and ultimately to civil unrest with one group wanting to remove President Assad and another protecting him. Failed farmers became freedom fighters or revolutionaries.
Hundreds of thousands eventually started to move out of that part of the world migrating towards Europe, causing some Europeans to express alarm over open borders and to elect nationalist and anti-immigration leaders to “protect their countries from migration.” In 2011, the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the US Department of Defense started discussions on climate wars. More climate migration is expected in the future.
And there are epidemics and pandemics. We are really super-connected. A disease began in a small market that mixed various types of animals—both domesticated and wild to be slaughtered for food -- has spread throughout the world. Though we were taught that knowledge is power, we see that ignorance and old beliefs can be more powerful and dangerous.
The other disruption is creeping towards us. Artificial Intelligence or AI threatens every possible job in the name of production efficiency. AI is good as shown in banking, manufacturing, and even in education. It will soon make a dramatic show through autonomous or self-driving transportation. It can be used to produce autonomous weapons. This is good if one looks at the safety issue. But if AI is used in predictive analytics and persuasive algorithms that use big data to interpret our minds, the way Cambridge Analytica was reported to have helped in the Brexit referendum and in the 2016 US elections, then the world is in danger of being controlled by corporations and governments developing AI.
AI in the form of face recognition can be used for mass surveillance that can threaten man’s freedoms and suppress political dissent. AI manipulating choices and promoting one side of truth can affect man’s free agency and his freedom to choose on whom to vote, what news to believe, or what products to buy. If man loses his ability to think independently of algorithms and programs being pushed by AI- operated corporations through social media, what will happen to man’s free agency? Where will personal accountability come in? Strong governments and totalitarian states will be more efficient as they use AI, and any country with a leadership who uses AI to promote a personal agenda will be weaker democratically The historian Dr. Yuval Harari warns us about the biggest and richest big data and artificial intelligence companies becoming the future colonial masters as they build colonies of less technological countries in the same way that the first countries to industrialize built colonies in Asia and Africa for their national manufacturing and industrial agenda. The First Industrial Revolution when machines and steam power were invented increased industrial and agricultural production in Europe and in the US and they went overseas for raw materials. But back home in the Philippines, we still have farmers and ethnic groups who have not even entered the First Industrial Revolution as they still use unmechanized agricultural tools.
Dr Harari also warned of the emergence of an irrelevant class or a “useless class” in terms of meaningful contribution to society in the face of machines that can compute and analyze just as an “exploited class” emerged at the time of the First and Second Industrial Revolutions.
There are other disruptions and glitches peculiar to our national experience. The Philippines was ranked as the second most stressed country in a survey of 145 countries as we ranked second to the last in terms of the essential skills of science and math.
Twelve million Filipinos, or 11% of our population, are not yet in the Second Industrial Revolution because they are not yet connected to an energy grid. And with some members of the agricultural sector who have not even joined the age of machines, or the First Industrial Revolution, it seems that, in the Philippines, as each revolution unfolds, different income and social divisions and various sub classes emerge. As expected, there is the erosion of social cohesion due to gaps in income, politics, and knowledge skills. The divide in our economy is slowly leading to tribal thinking and an economically divided nation, first manifested during the EDSA III People Power.
Another challenge, related to disruption, is the fact that more students are being raised by single parents. According to the Philippine Statistics Authority, more than half of the Alpha Generation are being born in single parent households, affected by the absence of a source of emotional stability-- a good father provider model. Worse, almost 10% of children aged from 13 to 16 are getting pregnant, which can add to an increasing number of babies born without full brain development, because they are conceived by young females who do not understand the function of good nutrition in the brain development of a fetus inside the womb. It is a little late to intervene after birth.
What will happen to our more than 1M BPO agents as they will be slowly replaced by AI assistants like Siri of iPhone and Alexa of Amazon? Or by a Watson computer? Or what will happen to the global supply chain, if automation and 3-D manufacturing of machine parts and products will expand? The uncertainty and complexity of the future controlled by technology and AI can exacerbate the state of our mental and emotional health. As insecurity
in jobs rises, the insecurity of personal relationships also goes up, and more persons become more dependent on a few working ones. As more young ones become more immersed in virtual realities and relationships, we should anticipate that confusion and depression will rise. among the Generation Z and the Alpha Generation. The well-being of these two generations will affect the future economic and social well-being of the country, and their
We know that our main duties as teachers and educators is to lead those under our care to a process of transformation -- spiritually, academically and intellectually, emotionally, socially as we train them to develop a set of skills, a value system, and a world view. We should note that the recent acts of terrorism were more about culture and religion than a fight over economic resources, what Samuel Huntington call “Clashes of Civilizations.”
We at Miriam College hope that we will prepare individuals who will be ready to live meaningfully and to survive in a productive way in the future, to shift from one job to another as jobs disappear and as new jobs are created, and to form a generation of critical thinkers and collaborative workers in working out solutions to local and national problems. We hope to help parents raise a generation of self-learners who can contribute to their community and to national development, and in an expanded way, to global efforts in realizing the UN Sustainable Development Goals.
The Maryknoll Sisters—with their farsighted vision inculcated in us a love for knowledge and excellence. I remember Sister Mary Miller telling our class: “Even if you are just a ditch digger, be the best ditch digger you know” They also taught us that knowledge and skills gained are not just meant to give us employment but are meant for to be shared. They thus made us aware of the concept and principle of “inclusion” before this term became an
economic and political term. Though we were inspired to work towards excellence we were not reminded to look up at the sky to see how high we could fly. But instead we were taught to look around us and see where our talents and skills could be applied. This is the reason why our Amazing Alumnae Awardees are all women involved in improving the lives of others.
The challenges in my youth as a student at the then Maryknoll College still remain, and now there are the additional ones I just described. These are the reasons why my predecessors, Dr. Loreta Navarro-Castro and Dr. Patricia Licuanan, promoted advocacies on the rights of women, environmental integrity, peace and development.
As educators inspired by the Maryknoll Sisters’ promotion of excellence and service to others, we will work harder for our students to discover their talent and their passion at an early age so that they will know where to do their best. We know that work becomes play when we do what we love most.
We will deepen creativity and curiosity - as one MIT professor said, “it is not what topics a teacher covers in class that matters, but rather what his students discover in his class.” And from what a student discovers, she can create something new. We will create a learning environment so that students can self-learn. This skill will be needed as they transition from one job to another in a future of uncertainty and vulnerability.
We will continue to teach our students to connect the dots through inter-disciplinary curricula and to be intellectually nimble and agile through transdisciplinary courses in college.
We will widen faculty involvement for those who also want to be generators of knowledge as much as sharers of knowledge.
And more importantly, we will impart spirituality not just through the usual religious rituals, but by exposing them to the visions of poets, philosophers, theologians, writers, composers, performance artists, humanists, historians, as well as of mathematicians and scientists. This way they will learn how the sublime is expressed through arts, how our physical world is configured. We want them to learn about and respect intellectual tradition as they “learn and learn from those who know.”
We want them to learn to be human or the ability to reflect on oneself. We want them to learn what makes life truly meaningful. We shall encourage them to be more involved in what is happening in their community and country because they should not just let life happen to them. They should learn to resist efforts of institutions or big corporations to have the power over their decisions and freedom, using their free agency and aware of their
We will continue to educate students to shed light where there is darkness, who will be strong in the ethical principles of truth, justice, and charity. Our school motto is VERITAS or truth. We will always encourage our students to search for truth, to challenge conventional wisdom, “to learn to listen so that they will see some truth in the mistakes of others and mistakes in their own truth” as one thought leader has said. US Senator Patrick Moynihan
said. “You are entitled to your own opinion. But you are not entitled to your own facts.” Veritas. Truth.
These days we often talk about empowerment. To many it means taking control of our potential and our own life. To be empowered thus means to have power. But as Ben told Peter in the first Spiderman movie with Toby McGuire, “To have power means to be responsible. With power comes responsibility.” This ultimate truth is always overlooked by those who are empowered or have power. And I hope that as we empower the young females under our care, they will learn that they will be responsible for those who are powerless. As they pursue or build their dreams, we hope that they will fold in their dreams the dreams of those below them. In our commitment to excellence, we should always be sympathetic towards those left
And as they learn to reflect on what it means to be human, we wish them to understand the meaning and the reality of pain and suffering. Hopefully through their understanding, we can impart to our students the meaning of being a member of humanity living with the divine. Teilhard de Chardin said, “We are either human beings undergoing a spiritual experience on earth, or spiritual beings undergoing a human experience.” Through such understanding one becomes emotionally and spiritually resilient and prepared for spiritual transformation.
I want to end by sharing another story about children with you. It should be the story that students educated at Miriam College should be reminded of as they act out their values throughout their entire lives. The story is about children aged 8 to 10 years old who had different physical disabilities. They joined the Paralympics or the Olympics for children with physical disabilities. To encourage them to run their best, the organizers explained that there
would be gold, silver, and bronze medals awaiting the first three who would complete the race. The criterion was not on speed but on the completion of the race.
Excitedly the children started to run, others better than others, others with difficulty, but each one wanted to complete the race. Fifteen minutes later, a boy participant was seen to have lagged far behind the next group of runners. A little girl happened to look back and exclaimed: “Oh no! He is alone!”
So she ran back and lent her shoulder to the lone struggler, and they ran together, slowly. One by one, small group by small group, the children looked back to see how the others were doing. And as they would see a struggling boy or girl, they would run back to help. Many groups of 5 to 7 children started to form, with both arms around the shoulder of another, each one helping the neighbor move in rhythm with the rest. Soon a long horizontal line of many small groups was formed by all the participants running side by side, arms linked to support one another. As the long horizontal line of groups of children marching as one reached the finish line together, the crowd stood up, they roared and applauded the children. Nobody came out first, second, or third. But they all completed the race --together as one body This is what Maryknoll or Miriam education has been about and will continue to be about: the importance of doing one’s best all the time and the equal importance to be one with others, in collaboration with others, as we work for solutions to our national, and our personal challenges.
Through collaboration with and for others, we concretize, through the way we live, the meaning of the Chi Rho—the two Greek letters of our logo which means Bringing Christ to the World, or in these times it means, Bringing the World Back to the Creator. And in the midst of uncertainties, complexities, and the big shifts that will confront our young students as they go through living “the human experience”, as they help in their small way to transform what lies beyond this campus, as they build a better nation of truth, justice, and love, I strongly believe that they will experience and know the kind of peace that Jesus promised: “Peace I leave with you, and peace I give unto you, not as the world gives it. Do not let your heart be troubled neither let it be afraid.” Peace be with us. Pax. Shanti. Thank you very much.♦