Progressive Approach: The Joy of Learning (Interview with Gillian Joyce Virata)
To welcome SY2017–SY2018 and introduce the educational approaches and strategies RCI adopts, we are posting this article which came out in the official publication of FEU—Tambuli, Vol 16, Issue No.1, 2016. This is part of the feature article titled, “Expansive Leadership: FEU more Formidable with Acquisition of Roosevelt College.”
Gillian Virata grew up in a school described as constructivist or progressive. “I grew up in JASMS (Jose Abad Santos Memorial School) which was founded by my grandmother, Doreen Barber Gamboa. She was a deep believer, advocate, and pioneer here in the Philippines for progressive education,” recalls Virata. This is the reason why Virata says she enjoyed school and continues to enjoy learning new things.
As the Vice President for Academic Affairs for RCI, Virata is working on the educational approaches and strategies used by the school’s faculty and introducing different ways of teaching or facilitating learning. At the core of this effort is the creation of a curriculum map that will organize learning under relevant and content-rich units or themes. Developing this map (or maps) is one of the initiatives of FEU President, Dr. Michael Alba.
“Curriculum mapping is a process through which teachers and academic managers review in detail the content and competencies that students are expected to learn at each stage of their schooling. The educators try to figure out the best possible sequence, depth, and duration that may be needed to ensure that all students acquire sufficient understanding of concepts introduced during the school year and learn how to apply this learning in real-world situations,“ she said.
“In parallel to developing the map, teachers also need to be updated on current teaching strategies, references, materials, and technology so that, once the initial map is developed, they can efficiently and effectively facilitate the learning process in a nurturing environment. For example, we will encourage teachers to use more student-led discussions and activities not just for extracurricular activities but also within the more formal classroom setting.” These strategies, that have been proven to work, give teachers more options or alternative approaches for enriching students’ learning experiences.
Joy of learning
“The joy you see in a child’s eyes when she or he figures something out; or is able to do something for himself or herself and make something work; or understands an idea or finishes a book or is able to perform or speak up in class—these are the things that light up our young people and help them in the process of learning. I think that is what all teachers and schools should strive to achieve,” emphasized Virata, who realized she was lucky for experiencing that joy in learning in her early years of schooling.
She admitted that RCI is still working out the details for an operational model proposed by Dr. Alba on how it can make affordable, high-quality education sustainable for large numbers of students. This is another part of the Roosevelt and FEU challenge which she intends to face head on with much optimism. “Dr. Alba said that if we can make it work (and we need to make it work in Roosevelt) then, it’s something that we can share with the whole country.”
Her mission to deliver high-quality education and reach more people is the main driving force that according to her would fuel her leadership in the next five years.
One of the key projects that Virata currently focuses on is the RCI Reading Program. She believes in instilling the love of reading among students—a practice and habit that she knows would sustain lifelong learning. Research studies reveal that good reading habits lead to greater fulfillment, success, and leadership abilities.
Today, learning at RCI is more student-centered already in the sense that in formal instruction, students are asked to use more of their imagination and to express their ideas and feelings about topics. The school has hired a specialist, Adalia Soriano, who has been visiting RCI classrooms, working one-on-one with the teachers, and conducting workshops.
“There is really a need to introduce different types of activities and we’re focusing right now on reading. For example, all the elementary classrooms in Roosevelt have just set-up their in-classroom libraries or reading corners. When a child finishes a book, he or she can put a sticker in a big tarpaulin that’s in the middle of the school to show everyone what he or she has been reading. There’s also a log in the reading corner where they record the number of students who read and each student keeps a journal where they write about their reading experience.”
Virata feels that this is a good time to be in Roosevelt College when asked how she envisions RCI five years from now. “At the pace that we are going, in five years’ time, we will have upgraded the facilities and we would have introduced technology including high-speed Internet access for teachers and students. We will also be implementing a very dynamic and well-thought-out curriculum that we hope would be more relevant or meaningful to students so that they also experience this joy of learning.”
And while she remains confident with the directions that RCI is taking to become a preferred school in its areas of operation, she is realistic about the time frame. It might take a little more than five years to hit our enrollment targets for all levels including tertiary, but it’s very exciting, I feel it’s also pioneering. We have a very worthy goal to keep us going despite all the little things and some of the big issues that we have to deal with.”
This same attitude of positivity is what drives her to continue her passion for school and learning—something that she feels she ought to share with others: “There are ways of teaching and learning that can be joyful and this is something that will help you in many other aspects of life. It is my wish that all children are given the opportunity to preserve their innate joy of learning.”