Education in the Age of Fake News & Artificial Intelligence

Educational Frontiers Conference 2018

The conference on Educational Frontiers at the Ateneo De Manila University from 3rd– 6th of October 2018 opened with a presentation of scientific research on The Truth about Youth by Gino Borromeo. While this presentation outlined the significant characteristics of the millennial generation who are media-savvy and ecologically concerned, it failed to draw attention to crisis parameters such as the high level of obesity among modern youth while noting clearly their lack of political engagement.  The epidemic of obesity is surely a manifestation of a deeper relational disorder in families than those we have witnessed in previous generations. This conference on the first day was followed by three break-out sessions, or workshops.

Manila Conference 3
Gino Borromeo

A workshop from the Sanata Dharma University in Indonesia showed how both Muslim and Christian students can follow a common course when the topics are sensitively chosen.  In this way, they can learn about the other traditions and appreciate the goal of religious harmony in society. In the afternoon, the Institute of Catholic Leadership from San Francisco University led a reflection on how to serve the marginalised children in disadvantaged parts of the globe by supporting the education of their teachers.  Another workshop showed how drama can be used to encourage positive discipline with students who are troubled.

Intercultural Education 

The second day began with a conference on Intercultural Education by Dr Christine Halse from the University of Hong Kong. It was interesting to notice that research backs up the observations that children who learn in an intercultural setting do better academically and relationaly than children who learn in a single cultural setting. However the question and answer session indicated that this intercultural approach has difficulty integrating former majority groups who feel oppressed or victimised. In particular, real challenges are being experienced in engaging with traditionalist or conservative communities.

Laudato Si’ and Communal Discernment

I attended the workshop “Learning and Teaching Laudato Si in a Cultural Context”.  It outlined how all our other educational challenges have now been subsumed under this primary ecological concern. We will either collaborate to reduce global warming or we will leave a desolate world to the next generation. As the presenter from Timor Leste had become ill before departure at the airport, I was asked to replace him by giving a presentation Communal Discernment and the Xavier Jesuit Education Project in Cambodia.

Reflective Pedagogy and Personal Style 

Two of the workshops that I attended on the third day will stay with me for a long time. The first was on coaching of new teachers on the job in Reflective Pedagogy (Ignatian Pedagogy). The fascinating and innovative aspect of this workshop was that it showed how teachers with limited experience in the school can become helpful mentors to new teachers.  The model is still the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius where the vision, mission and goals of the school become the truth to be known and loved by the new teacher and the coach is the spiritual advisor who helps empower the new teacher to become the teacher that they are meant to be rather than a clone of some other teacher.  This happens not according to some preconceived standard of good teacher but in a spiritual process where the new teacher both appropriates the school culture and at the same time realises his or her own personal style and charism as a unique teacher who will be irreplaceable.

Mindfulness Practice in Schools

This workshop was followed by another interesting one on “Mindfulness”.  The person responsible for student discipline in the large Xavier School outside Manila explained how she had introduced mindfulness programmes into the school.  One reason she did this was her conviction that students with discipline problems were often not present to the situation so they did not realise how disruptive their behaviour actually was.  Another reason was that so many students and teachers complain of stress.  The invitation to all students to disconnect from every outside stimulus for three minutes silent time at several moments each day seems to have helped calm people down significantly.  The program is easy to prepare as it involves few words and peaceful music.  It works best if the teacher leads the programme in class.  Students are free not to participate but they must be quiet for the duration.  It is not religious so the program can be used for all students.

The Ignatian Paradigm in Student Formation 

On the final day of the conference, Fr Michael Garanzini expounded on the Frontiers in Jesuit Education. He underlined the centrality of the study of the Humanities for the development of practical wisdom and moral conscience. He highlighted the extent of the worldwide Jesuit network of schools, colleges and universities.  He lamented the lack of collaboration in responding to the challenges of the modern world.  However it was noted that graduates of these schools do not resemble each other nearly as much as do Jesuit novices from different countries. The graduate from Sogang University in Korea will be quite different from the graduate of the Ateneo De Manila in the Philippines, yet the Vietnamese Jesuit who has never traveled abroad will share a similar world view to the Jesuit from El Salvador even if neither has ever met anyone from their respective countries.

In this sense the formation of lay people following the Ignatian paradigm may not be as deep as the formation of religious people.  This issue was not addressed at the conference.  However it was also clear that despite all this common formation and understanding, and notwithstanding the huge progress made in collaboration with others in recent years, Jesuits who understand each other well still have difficulty in collaborating together on apostolic projects.  Fr Garanzini confirmed that this has always been and still remains a huge stumbling block to the effectiveness of Jesuit educational programs. It is somewhat painful to realise that the principle challenges to our apostolic effectiveness in education are not really external at all.  They are internal.  Our context in Cambodia is perhaps no exception to this general rule.

Spiritual Insights and the Catalyst for Educational Reform

Hence this conference served to confirm the key spiritual insights about emotional sobriety that I gained during my sabbatical last year in France and Ireland. These insights concern our current efforts to help transform the Cambodian education system.  These insights are somewhat controversial so I hesitate before sharing them. My next blog will be entitled “Catalyst for Education Reform in Cambodia”. In this future blog, I will share these concerns for further reflection and dialogue.

Education Reform in Cambodia

When I reflect on the contents of this interview dating from May 2013, in which I highlighted the challenges facing Cambodia’s higher education system and the younger generations, four recent developments jumped into focus. The rest of the original article is still historically accurate!

When I reflect on the contents of this interview dating from May 2013, in which I highlighted the challenges facing Cambodia’s higher education system and the younger generations, four recent developments jumped into focus. The rest of the original article is still historically accurate!

Continue reading “Education Reform in Cambodia”

Cambodia’s Dirty Dozen

Given the serious accusations of involvement in corruption, torture and extra-judicial killings by senior members of the Cambodian security in this Human Rights Watch report, is it not surprising that the Government reaction has been so muted? 

Human Rights Watch recently produced a detailed report on twelve senior generals of the Cambodian Army, Gendarmarie and Police forces.  They added the provocative title “Cambodia’s Dirty Dozen”.

Continue reading “Cambodia’s Dirty Dozen”

Cambodian Dictatorship?

By comparing and contrasting two video documentaries, we might be better able to understand the social and psychological forces currently shaping the evolution of Cambodian society.

In this blog, I would like to compare and contrast two foreign documentaries on the social, economic and political changes in Cambodia.

After the recent election in Cambodia, the ABC news network in Australia prepared a TV documentary on a putative “descent into dictatorship”.

This documentary focused on the family of the Prime Minister and outlined the extent of the family’s network and financial power both in Cambodia and in Australia. It reflected on the media clamp-down, through the suppression of “The Cambodia Daily” and several free radio stations. Responsibility for the assassination of the political analyst, Mr. Kem Lay in July 2016, was attributed to the family of the Prime Minister without any physical evidence being produced or any mention of the missing CCTV footage from the garage where the murder took place. Interviews were recorded with both the eldest son and distinguished nephew of the Prime Minister. These interviews did not offer any confirmation of a “descent into dictatorship”. The documentary failed to shed any light on the extraordinary high voter turnout in a supposedly sham election (82%). This figure cannot simply be dismissed as a result of intimidation and political pressure. It is far too high for that. Even if this figure is inflated by 20%, which is unlikely, it would still demand an explanation.  The documentary did not provide a context by indicating the relative wealth and power of other Khmer politicians and business tycoons.

On the 30th of April last, an award-winning documentary on the social protest movement in Cambodia, produced by Chris Kelly, was premiered in Dublin’s Irish Film Institute in the presence of the Venerable Luon Sovath, an activist Buddhist monk.This documentary was sponsored by the NGO, Frontline Defenders. For some reason this documentary has not yet been made publicly available.

By comparing and contrasting these two video documentaries, we might be better able to understand the social and psychological forces currently shaping the evolution of Cambodian society. The Australian documentary focuses on the Prime Minister while the Irish documentary focuses on three social activists. One attempts to understand the conflict of power in terms of democracy versus dictatorship while the other attempts to understand the conflict in terms of collective struggle versus self-preservation. The Australian documentary focuses on the flaws of the rulers while the Irish documentary manages to capture the flaws of the opposition. A modern Khmer tragedy is being acted out between these two conceptions of the Cambodian social reality.

A long view might help. In the famous Khmer epic poem and opera, Tum Teav, the heroine and hero both die. Traditional interpretation finds fault with Tum for eloping with Teav before asking permission of the Buddhist Abbot in his pagoda. It also finds fault with Teav for eloping with Tum before asking permission of her mother. The forest is the place for wild beasts and robbers while order on the farmed land is preserved by the King. In the final scene, the King sentences to death all those involved in the imperfect transmission of information relating to their affair. They are all buried in the earth to their necks and then decapitated by ploughs. In this way the royal prerogative is preserved and the Khmer three-fold obedience to royal, religious and parental authority is confirmed and communicated to all who study this wonderful epic.

The Prime Minister in Cambodia has been using the royal title “Samdech” for a considerable time already. He seems to be acting like a King whom the people both love and fear. For many there is almost a perverse enjoyment in the recounting of tales of his power as these tales serve to prevent anybody else from stepping out of line or getting ahead. The ABC documentary is just another such tale. It may not help to promote participative democracy. In this sense, it is self-defeating.

The social activists, in the Irish documentary “A Cambodian Spring”, eventually begin to fight among themselves and their movement implodes. The real insight in this documentary is to show the extent to which the urge for self-preservation among Cambodian families can undermine the most committed collective social effort. This is the most tragic result inherited perhaps from the Khmer Rouge regime. The documentary draws a parallel between the conflicts among these activists on the lowest rung of the social ladder, with the conflicts among the opposition leaders on a much higher rung. This documentary attempts to illustrate why the opposition failed rather than why the Government succeeded.

In the recent election, the vast majority of Cambodians voted for the CPP party (Cambodian People’s Party) because they wanted to preserve what they have. Now they enjoy the freedom to earn their own living, to travel wherever they want inside the country, to seek hospital treatment when they are sick and to emigrate to Thailand for work. They chose security and family prosperity first. Democracy and the rule of law can wait until such time as there is a credible opposition that can promise a peaceful transition of power. The fear of a return to violence is paramount. The Prime Minister understands this mentality very well.

So while most of the opposition leaders (from safe places abroad) rant and rave, crying foul in relation to the announcement of the election results, there is one who is silent. This leader is in jail, held in quasi solitary confinement in a remote area of Cambodia near the border with Vietnam. We do not hear his voice anymore. Yet he is the one who has refused to run away. He has not chosen self-preservation over and above a commitment to democracy and the law of order. He may die in prison or he may emerge so weakened physically and psychologically that he will be unable to lead again. The real drama is being acted out by the other opposition leaders who refuse to negotiate with the triumphant government on the grounds that the election was stolen. In this way, they participate indirectly in the elimination of their own leader. Their only credible line of action now is to insist that there can no negotiation until their leader is released from prison. Unfortunately, no voices are being raised in this sense.

Philosophy of Education in Khmer Literature ទស្សនវិជ្ជាអប់រំខ្មែរ ផ្នែកទី៣

នៅក្នុងអក្សសិលខ្មែររឿងដែលសំដែងទស្សនអប់រំផ្នែកសិលធម៌ទាំងនេះឲច្បាស់ជាងគេគឺ រឿងទុំទាវ។ ទុំជាអ្នកបួសមួយអង្គដែលច្រៀងងពិរោះហើយទាវជានារីស្អាតម្នាក់។​ នៅពេលទុំទៅភូមិ ជួបទាវ អក្នទាំងពីរស្រលាញគ្នា។​

នៅក្នុងអក្សរសិល្ប៍ខ្មែររឿងដែលសម្តែងទស្សនៈអប់រំផ្នែកសីលធម៌ទាំងនេះឲ្យច្បាស់ជាងគេគឺ រឿងទុំទាវ។ ទុំជាអ្នកបួសមួយអង្គដែលច្រៀងពិរោះហើយទាវជានារីស្អាតម្នាក់។​ នៅពេលទុំទៅភូមិជួបទាវ អ្នកទាំងពីរស្រលាញ់គ្នា។​ ទុំសឹកហើយទៅជួបទាវដែលស្រលាញ់គាត់ដូចជាប្តីរួចជាស្រេច។

Continue reading “Philosophy of Education in Khmer Literature ទស្សនវិជ្ជាអប់រំខ្មែរ ផ្នែកទី៣”

ទស្សនវិជ្ជាអប់រំខ្មែនាសម័យបុរាណ ផ្នែកទី២ Traditional Khmer Philosophy of Education

ទស្សនវិជ្ជាអប់រំខ្មែរត្រូវបានបង្កប់ក្នុងស្នាដៃអក្សរសិល្ប៍ កំណាព្យ រឿងព្រេង អាយ៉ៃ រឿងនិទាន ប្រលោមលោក និងស្នាដៃអក្សារសាស្ត្រជាច្រើនទៀត។

ទស្សនវិជ្ជាអប់រំខ្មែរនាសម័យបុរាណ

ទស្សនវិជ្ជាអប់រំខ្មែរត្រូវបានបង្កប់ក្នុងស្នាដៃអក្សរសិល្ប៍ កំណាព្យ រឿងព្រេង អាយ៉ៃ រឿងនិទាន ប្រលោមលោក និងស្នាដៃអក្សរសាស្ត្រជាច្រើនទៀត។ ជាបឋម ខ្ញុំសូមតែងសម្មតិកម្មបណ្តោះអាសន្នមួយ ពោលគឺអត្ថន័យនៃទស្សនវិជ្ជាអប់រំនេះ ត្រូវបានមើលឃើញច្បាស់ជាងគេនៅក្នុងរបៀបដោះស្រាយទំនាស់សីលធម៌ដែលផុសឡើងពីដំណើរ ជីវិតយុវជនយុវនារី។

Continue reading “ទស្សនវិជ្ជាអប់រំខ្មែនាសម័យបុរាណ ផ្នែកទី២ Traditional Khmer Philosophy of Education”