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A WOODEN installation by Jerusalino Araos at the foyer is inscribed with Andres Bonifacios poem Pag-ibig sa Tinubuang Lupa.


University without borders

By Linda Bolido
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 20:04:00 05/17/2009

Filed Under: Education, Internet, Computing & Information Technology

IT PROBABLY has the smallest campus among member institutions of the University of the Philippines system ? about 20 hectares of land within the area leased by UP Los Baos in Laguna to the International Rice Research Institute.

But the UP Open University (UPOU) may have the farthest reach. It has practically the whole world to serve.

Welcome to New Age education ? a service that spans cyber space and is delivered through the limitless information highway.

The old distance learning, traditionally meant to give basic education to people who could not get into the formal education system, and the correspondence school of yore, which instructed those who could not go back to regular schooling for various reasons, have been consolidated into the open university scheme.

Real university

The result is more than the sum of these parts. The UPOU is a real school delivering degree and non-degree programs, as well as postgraduate qualifications, even as it fulfills the mandate of a state university to undertake community outreach activities, particularly in underserved areas. And it does this unfettered by classroom walls and fixed daily schedules.

Dr. Grace Javier-Alfonso, the current and third chancellor of the university, said UPOU was ?the university that could serve those who could not physically come to universities and colleges because of work or for some other reasons.?

Education dean Ma. Theresa de Villa, professor Dr. Ricardo Bagarinao, and information and communication studies professor Diego Maranan said UPOU instruction was fully online.

Most students are dropouts and many live outside the Philippines. The professors communicate with students through chat rooms, instant messaging and e-mail, meeting with them at least three hours a week. While cyber education may have no fixed schedules or physical boundaries, it is not completely without ground rules.

Freshmen have to pass the UP College Admissions Test and the calendar is the two-semester school year of the state university. Course requirements also follow standards set by the UP system.

Though almost completely paperless, students still have to write papers, pass tests and participate in discussions ? primarily through chat rooms or exchange of e-mail.

Students or professors, however, cannot rouse someone from across the globe in the middle of the night or the day to conduct a session.

Bagarinao said meetings were fixed in advance, through e-mail or instant messaging, with both parties agreeing to sit in front of their computers at a fixed time on a particular date that was convenient for both of them. If a student is in New York, for instance, a session may be held at 7 a.m. Manila time when it?s 7 p.m. in the United States East Coast.

Scheduling is even more important for UPOU students in many parts of the Philippines who can only use computers in Internet cafs, schools or offices.

Alfonso said they had to adopt a ?blended approach? to course delivery to ensure that those with little or no access to the Internet would not be marginalized.

But with mobile phones now able to reach almost every part of the country, UPOU professors or their students call or send text messages to arrange sessions or even give out assignments and class work.

Emboldened students

Bagarinao said the ?openness? of the school seemed to embolden students. People, who would normally be reticent in classroom discussions, seemed to feel less constrained in online discussions, eager to have their say on any issue, expressing their thoughts and opinion with little inhibition.

While instruction is completely online, some physical facilities are also needed for housekeeping requirements.

The Los Baos campus has the library that feeds the digital materials to online learners. A room with computers is made available to students who come for a visit, check on their status or transact business. The campus has audio-visual facilities and the usual accoutrements of educational institutions, though on a mini-scale.

UPOU has set up learning centers throughout the country where people can register, collect course guides and take tests.

Alfonso told guests during the recent celebration of UPOU?s 14th anniversary that they had set up 25 learning centers in the country and one in Hong Kong, which had one of the biggest concentrations of overseas Filipinos.

The UPOU prospectus, though including a couple of undergraduate programs, is geared more toward those seeking advanced, postgraduate or skills training, including the millions of overseas Filipinos, whether migrants or workers.

The UPOU also partnered with some local government units (LGUs) that wanted to help their employees, including locally hired teachers, further their education and/or training.

It drew up the Certificate in Barangay Administration and Professional Teaching Certification. The barangay management course, however, has been suspended for some time as revisions were being made to make it more effective and responsive to real needs.

Among the initial participants in the course were barangay officials in the district of Representative Joaquin Chipeco in Laguna.

Scholarships were provided by Bani, Pangasinan and Mauban, Quezon, (in cooperation with the Quezon Power Philippines) for public school teachers and government employees.

Some of the non-formal programs seem designed not just to prepare Filipinos for overseas employment ? caring for the older person, caring for the special child and information technology for health research, for instance ? but also for life back at home, if they would decide to return ? new enterprise planning and personal entrepreneurial development, among others.

Established in 1995 as the fifth constituent university of the UP system, UPOU had 2,500 students in 2008-2009. It has students in 44 countries, aside from the Philippines, majority of them overseas Filipinos. Between 2000 and 2006, UPOU graduated 2,419.

The university has been recognized as the Center of Excellence in Open Learning and Distance Education by the Commission on Higher Education and designated as the National eLearning Competency Center by the Information Technology and eCommerce Council.

Visit www.upou.edu.ph, or call 6349-5366001 to 6006 loc. 701.

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