The Characteristics of the K-12 Basic Education Sui Generis Formation Program of the Ateneo de Davao University
In the midst of great changes in curriculum brought about by the Enhanced Basic Education Act of 2013 (R.A. 10533), more popularly known as the K-12 educational system, there are still values and principles that remain constant; they constitute the elements in the mission and identity of the school. These invariable elements are necessary in the shaping of a school’s Formation Program and inevitably, make it distinct from the rest.
What then are these characteristics or elements that make the formation in the Ateneo Basic Education constant yet viable in today’s changing world?
The following are what we in the formation team have picked up and agreed upon at the Jesuit Basic Education Commission (JBEC) – significant elements that would characterize and distinguish the formation programs in all JBEC schools. These elements are basic and foundational. They are traced from two chief sources: the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius and the Constitutions of the Society of Jesus, the latter providing contemporary guidelines for the continuation of the mission of the Jesuits in this age.
- Research-based. The design of the formation program is founded on the accumulation of facts and data based on current research. Research data is gathered and analyzed in order to have a picture of the profile of the student based on his grade level. We have to keep in mind that we will never get a fixed and accurately complete picture of our students — they change according to what is current or trending in their environment. Nevertheless, we still have a picture of who and what they are based on up-to-date researches conducted. Our approximate picture of the students for every grade level is our handle.
The school has a mission: to serve our students better, forming them into leaders of the future, branded by their ADDU formation. And therefore, we must constantly revisit that picture to better service their needs and bring them towards our vision of what we want them to be.
The Jesuit term used in the documents is “learned ministry.” It means that prior to any program, we begin with the real needs of those we serve. Sometimes, we base our programs on tradition (“We have been doing this for a long time, and it has been effective so far.”), on impressions (“They are adolescents so they like rock music.”), or on other things that may or may not be true today (“They love disco.”). Fr. Joel Tabora SJ said:
“ADDU leaders have habits of research – habits of searching for the truth and of finding joy in truth – gaudium de veritate.”
And thus we use results of our research. Our impressions, like hypotheses, need testing. Relevant assessment and personality tests may aid the acquisition of real data. In our case, the Wellness and Testing Center (Guidance and Testing Program) have aided us in this first step.
- Collaborative. Formation is not the sole responsibility of one person (Assistant Director/Principal for Formation) or a single office (eg. Campus Ministry). Everything that happens in school is created by a group of individuals working together. Hillary Clinton wrote, “It Takes a Village,” a book based on an African proverb, “It takes a village to raise a child.”
Formation is the work of everyone in school, at home, and the community at large. There is a tendency for a school to compartmentalize certain roles, and rightly so: it is easier to point at a responsible person when something goes wrong. Often, the academics take priority over other programs. Thus, we need a re-orientation of this way of thinking: discernment is needed in this push and pull for time between the academics and the other formative programs. We are all responsible because we are all stakeholders in the formation of our students.
Collaboration is a key element in formative work. It is used interchangeably with words like “integration,” “participation,” “partnership,” and “networking.” It means that we have to work hand in hand. Roles are distinct, but we do things together in complementarity like parts of one body. Each individual is empowered: everyone has something to contribute. And each individual can serve actively and passionately.
In Ateneo de Davao University, collaboration takes the form of aligning programs vertically and horizontally. Meetings are held regularly so that we will know how we can operate in tandem with others in the university. This also includes working with people from different faith traditions, such as Muslims. Muslims in the Senior High School comprises 4-5% of the student population. Why do we do this? Because we are a Filipino, Jesuit and a Catholic school in Mindanao. Interreligious dialogue marks many of the Jesuit schools in this part of the Philippines.
Moreover, collaboration can be within persons in school, or in partnership with another school, or in tandem with all schools, like all Jesuit Basic Education schools in the Philippines. Sometimes, it is also enriching to work in the global arena. Collaboration with international schools enriches students in exchange programs.
We have discovered that the returns in the work of collaboration are immensely greater than in non-collaboration, or worse, non-cooperation.
For example, when I was the Associate Principal for Formation of Ateneo de Manila High School, the reflections of my students from our visits to the Ateneos of Cebu, Naga, Davao and Xavier University since 2013 highlighted the benefits of collaboration. The same thing happened to students of Xavier School, Ateneo de Cebu and Iloilo, who have annual encounters with other schools in the Philippines and in China.
In the first Ignatian Youth Camp in 2015, the participants said that they have acquired important insights about Ignatian Spirituality resulting from their interaction with each other – they discovered that coming from different Jesuit schools in the Philippines, they shared a common bond and language – similarities that could have come only from a way of doing things across schools who are Ignatian in culture.
- Ignatian Spirituality. This to me is the core element that makes a school, Jesuit. The heart of the Jesuit ethos is the spirituality developed by St. Ignatius of Loyola. Ignatian Spirituality is one of many ways to God, but it is this spirituality that a Jesuit school chooses to follow. What makes it different from the Franciscan, Dominican, Augustinian ways is this: it is according to the personal experience and journey of St. Ignatius, the founder of the Jesuits. By writing the Spiritual Exercises, he made his experience accessible to all. Indeed, the core characteristic spirit of every Jesuit school and community is Ignatian Spirituality; and the living out of it, our “manner of proceeding” is manifested in every attitude and aspiration of all in school.
Since the mission of the Jesuits is to offer Ignatian Spirituality to all people from different backgrounds, the school becomes a venue to share it with everyone inside and outside of the campus. Thus, prayer opportunities in school like retreats and recollections are Ignatian in form, content and practice. Quite distinctly, they are unlike a charismatic retreat or a parish recollection.
Two aspects of this spirituality are in the practices of silence and the consciousness examen. In the Ateneo de Davao Senior High School, a minute of silence is observed before a class begins; at the end of the week, an examen is practiced on Fridays to look back at the week that was.
- Creatively communicated. We need to relay our vision to the community. It is important that everyone knows the rationale of a school’s existence. And in order to get everyone on board, they must know the direction to which we’re headed.
We believe that our vision can also touch a chord in many people. By effectively and creatively communicating what we consider important, the members of the school community can become an active part in reaching our goals. Informing people of how things are being done, and why we do things, make collaboration easier.
Technology is one area which we can use to our advantage in communicating our message, our vision for the Sui Generis Formation Program. The responsible use of social media tools for education is now becoming popular. Students do not read bulletin board announcements, but they respond well when it is posted on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. The good news is this: posters are expensive, but social media is free. Ateneo de Davao University uses Twitter extensively to communicate and inform the bigger community about what they do and what they stand for.
We can all be part of the student’s ‘village’ by giving careful consideration to these 4 elements. We can continue to rely on these constant characteristics to help shape and give direction to our Ateneo de Davao Sui Generis Formation Program amidst the tides of educational reform and change.