Saturday, May 28, 2016

Old tricks

SOME old tricks are worth teaching to new dogs.

I took part in undergraduates’ defense of their research six times last week. Just before the panelists quizzed the researchers about their studies, the students were asked to record the comments and suggestions for incorporating in the final manuscript.

When instructed to record the discussion, the students whipped out their smartphones. However, when asked to also write notes as a back-up documentation, the Millennials scrambled for paper and pen.

This sequence happened six times with 16 different young people. After the last defense, I concluded that a mobile phone is to a Millennial what pen and paper were to my generation.

Not surprisingly, during all sessions, I was the only one writing notes with a pen (at 50, I was the oldest in the classroom).

I didn’t even take out my basic mobile phone because I kept an eye on the time with a kiddie’s wristwatch whose dial design of Mickey Mouse and Pluto keeps me buoyed up, specially during the college finals appropriately named Hell Week.

Our state-funded classrooms are far from hi-tech; the students are. Many students prefer that their teachers post their presentations, assignments, and class updates on social media, preferably Facebook, according to a qualitative study conducted early this year by UP Cebu Mass Communication seniors Julienne Hazel E. Penserga and Stephanie S. Adalin.

While most of the UP Cebu teachers interviewed by the tandem preferred face-to-face engagement and avoided Facebook as too personal for academic use, the students did not perceive the social media portal as intrusive. For these Millennials, academic pursuits should also be online since technology already connects seamlessly the many spheres of their young lives.

There’s much to recommend the real-time speed by which information is transmitted through new media. However, some shortcuts bear watching and correcting.

For instance, young people now rarely make notes. During student-faculty consultations, my fellow teachers and I observed how we have to tell students to write down the points of discussion. Anything that is not visual or viral usually passes like liquid through the colander of Millennial attention.

Whether it’s passively listening and then snapping with one’s smartphone a professor’s whiteboard scribbling or PowerPoint Presentation, many youths rarely sieve, examine and reflect—which writing accomplishes reflexively.

I didn’t think I would but I worry that this generation doesn’t doodle enough or vandalize arm rests, the classic gauge for student inattention. Is it because the chairs are now plastic or they are too caught up with Facebook status updates?

Arni Aclao’s photo of early shoppers checking piles of notebooks and papers was rousing. Last May 25, Sun.Star Cebu’s Jeandie O. Galolo reported that savvy parents are buying downtown, where school supplies are sold cheaper than the suggested retail price.

According to the trade and industry advisory, a writing notebook is priced cheapest at P9; a pencil at P3 per piece; and a ballpen, P4. For less than P50, a student can be equipped with the fundamental tools for active listening, recording, comprehending and learning.

With change from the P50, a young person can still buy one national broadsheet and a local daily. Read and reread: some things never go out of style.

( 09173226131)

* First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s May 29, 2016 issue of the Sunday editorial-page column, “Matamata”

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Campus sex

WHEN I call it a day in the college where I teach, I find that darkness has already fallen. Set off in the pitch-black campus grounds are the gazebos, where light and wifi connection attract study groups.

Where do students go after the library closes and the evening classes are dismissed? I assumed that they would be like me, hungry and looking forward to falling asleep before the evening soap.

Different students on different occasions gave one answer: gazebos offer faster connection than the nearby Internet caf├ęs. And it’s free.

I remembered these interactions when I read a May 21 Sun.Star Cebu report that young women in Central Visayas are “14 times more likely” to “engage in early sex,” compared to their male counterparts, who are only “five times more likely” to be sexually active before the legal age of 18.

Lorraine Mitzi Ambrad, an intern of the University of San Jose-Recoletos, quoted the 2013 Young Adult Fertility and Sexuality Study (Yafs) 4. This is a national series that presents cross-sectional surveys of Filipinos aged 15 to 24 years.

Ambrad reported that the early “sex debuts” and frequency of sex among young adults alarmed health authorities because many of these encounters are unprotected. Having sex without a condom increases one’s risk of exposure to sexually transmitted infection, specially HIV/Aids.

For Cebu, the Yafs 4 findings raise another alarming trend: students who board are more vulnerable to early sex. An education hub, Cebu attracts enrollees from the central and southern regions of the country.

College teachers know from experience what parents whose children live in a dorm or boarding house fear by instinct: lack of parental supervision, coupled with landlord apathy or laxity and big-city temptations, may overwhelm young persons and distract them from finishing on time.

However, I’m not convinced that the proposal of presumptive president Rodrigo Duterte to impose a curfew and liquor ban will douse sexual hyperactivity among the young.

Republic Act (RA) 1224, passed by Congress in 1955, bans establishments located within a radial distance of 50 meters from schools, churches and hospitals to sell liquor to students and minors.

Section 12 of Cebu City Ordinance 1413, also known as the Liquor Licensing Ordinance, prohibits the issuance of a liquor license to a business located within an urban residential zone or within 100 meters from the perimeter of a school or hospital.

If RA 1224 and City Ordinance 1413 are strange, you are not alone. As a college freshman in the 1980s, I learned not to sit in the back row of the classroom, where the seriously drunk often slipped in or those with a serious hangover hid behind dark glasses. Most of my classes then were in the morning.

Resting the fate of young people on a curfew is as archaic. A 10 p.m. to 4 a.m. ban may prevent youths from roaming the streets; it will hardly clip their social media wings. Many transactions leading to sex are initiated online. Google is not a favorite search engine for nothing.

How can we help young adults? Educate them. Enable them to walk away from being coerced into sex for love or money. Make them mature enough to resist posting their sex trophies on Facebook. Give them tough requirements that keep them researching from dusk till dawn because they know, education is not about “cuarto o cuatro (motel room or conditional grade)”.

( 0917 3226131)

*First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s May 22, 2016 issue of the Sunday editorial-page column, “Matamata”

Saturday, May 14, 2016


LAST May 9, I spent more than an hour waiting in a public classroom. This served as a “holding room” for two voting precincts.

Ordinarily, I would have begrudged the time spent in a room crammed with about 59 strangers. There were two wall fans; one wasn’t working and the other stirred up air that was halfway to fulfilling a threat that the morning was going to be warmer than its predecessors.

But if I’ve learned something from nearly three decades of teaching, it’s that I am the perpetual student. I’m at home in classrooms and libraries.

I prefer nothing more than to be seated behind a desk, first to arrive. If I had a tail, it would be wagging, in anticipation of the teacher striding through the door. Lacking a tail, I would have instead my assignment on the desktop, ready to be handed in.

The procedure last Monday did not encourage such fantasies. Inside the wilting heat of the holding room, we moved slowly down narrow rows, one chair at a time, until we stepped out to the corridor leading to the voting precinct.

Many of my companions looked stoic, perhaps thinking of the 30 contenders we each had to elect. The slip of paper where I had jotted down my candidates was in my pocket; it released me to look around the room.

Public classrooms have not changed much, based on my experiences during elections. Difficulties to fit my backside in the small seats or slip behind low desks reinforce the observation that the public school system lags while the world marches on. There is the eternal ceiling fan that refuses to stir; the reading corner bereft of anything that would tempt a young person.

Past the bleakness, is there something?

Last Monday, I had an hour to read and reread the faded handmade signs a teacher had made after class, most certainly after dipping into her own pocket. There were quotations from the bible, thinkers and scientists. There were excerpts to explain what one can aspire for through education. And my favorite: detailed sets of instructions on how to properly read a book silently or aloud in class.

Although we were all impatient to leave that sweltering holding room, not one of us, without any exception, could have done so without passing through classrooms in our time.

Schools are the “holding rooms” of our adult life: casting our ballot is a link in the process that began with classes shaping us and continues throughout our lifetime as citizens.
Though diminished by lack of funds and attention, classrooms, specially the public ones that are open to all, are powerful for incubation because these are the proxy laps where we listened to stories spun by our teachers.

A favorite strategy in lesson plans, stories make the student imagine and visualize a world beyond the present and the finite. Imagination demands a means of communicating, connecting, and relating with others. Knowing the past means benefitting not just from the wisdom of predecessors but being conscious of one’s legacy to succeeding generations.

At its best, a classroom stands for class or excellence. We would do well to remember our stake in this until we enter another holding room six years from now.

( 0917 3226131)

*First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s May 15, 2016 issue of “Matamata,” the Sunday editorial-page column

Saturday, May 07, 2016


ON this day honoring mothers, two are on my mind: the country and Mary, Mother of Christ.

Last Friday evening at the faculty room, while packing papers to check over the long weekend, I wondered if I would still have the school routine to resume “the day after”.

The jokes swapped by colleagues and friends over the past weeks have only been said half in jest. We have had to endure three sources of unrelenting heat: summer, final exams, and elections.

Tomorrow will come soon enough. The prospects unsettle many of us. What will happen on May 9? Or after?

The change augured in the presidential race, as indicated by the pattern of results in the most credible polls, have made us pause.

Weeks ago, some of us already withdrew from social media after we noted how the right of expression has degenerated into an ugly, hollow travesty of the freedom to demean and destroy.
The ugly can come in the most entertaining forms. Researchers can monitor changes of the pulse, galvanic skin response, and other bodily indicators to measure how stress levels go through the roof when one is watching political ads that reflect the heights of creativity and the bankruptcy of truth and responsibility.

I have talked to two newspaper editors-in-chief who, on separate occasions, confirmed how this campaign season has been the ugliest in the country’s history. Benchmarking their observations with martial law’s unrivalled record for electoral fraud and mayhem, my heart breaks.

On the other hand, I have listened for hours to young people, many of whom have yet to vote, scrutinizing the promises of those who swear to uplift the lives of Filipinos. The nuggets of insight yielded in essay after essay attest that intelligence, sensitivity, and patriotism are qualities not unusual among these college students. We do Millennials a disservice when we stereotype all of them as vacant-minded pawns of historical revisionism.

One such Millennial is 18-year-old Patricia Candaza, whose reflection as a first-time voter was posted by Rappler on May 7: “We are all Filipino citizens, our loyalty doesn’t belong to our candidate, it belongs to our country—the Philippines.”

A talk with another veteran journalist first yielded the term of “counter-sumpa”. She recounted how a religious leader described the country as being under a spell (“sumpa”), hypnotized by personal charisma and populism.

Skeptical of the elder’s view, the journalist, nevertheless, posed a question, as if to herself: What is more effective to break the hold of evil? Prayer.

Social media has risen steadily as an influencer in past electoral exercises. This election demonstrates that, for all its strengths, social media has drawbacks. Right now, the vacuum is filled by prayer.

It’s not just praying nuns. Nor fellow journalists. Citizens heed the call of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) to pray the rosary until May 9.

“It is by the power of the rosary that we can stop the evil of election violence and cheating,” said CBCP president and Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas.

“Our best contribution is to pray that the Lord of history guide every voter and guide every candidate.” On this day honoring mothers, may Our Mother deliver our Motherland from evil.

( 0917 3226131)

*First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s May 9, 2016 issue of “Matamata,” the Sunday editorial-page column