Wednesday, April 23, 2014

An Outstanding Filipino Teacher: Dr. Erdulfo B. Fernando

Awesome April 23,2014

Tonight, I want to repost a written assignment I submitted to my professor in the University of the Philippines Open University way back 2010.  I had to interview a teacher I had known with some ready made questions for him/her as part of our requirements for our Educ 101 course.

I called him long distance from Manila to Zamboanga City. Thanks to his daughters, the interview was made possible. It is with much regret and apologies that I dedicate my blog today to this great individual, who, I wanted to send a copy of this piece and also visit…unfortunately time and energy were not so much available.

I hope my unfulfilled promise would have been forgiven.

It took me a while for me to ransack my old  back up disks to retrieve this data. I have been wanting to blog this and finally, tonight, it is now possible:

An Outstanding Filipino Teacher: Dr. Erdulfo B. Fernando
December 11.2010
EDUC 101 TMA#1
University of the Philippines Open University

This week, I should have been in Zamboanga city to celebrate our 25th Alumni Homecoming from the Western Mindanao State University. I am somewhat an honorary alumna since I was there from Kindergarten to 2nd Year High School. Unfortunately, my very high risk 13 week pregnancy would not allow me to travel nor be exposed to very exciting or emotional activities.
But   still  ,I  got a very nice trip down memory lane when I had to interview our then  Elementary School Principal for this assignment.
Now, why did I consider him my Outstanding Filipino Teacher, hands down?
You see, I was somehow, a maladjusted kid in school. It took almost half of the school year in kindergarten for me to break out of my shy shell and  go   into  our  building and be part of school. I obstinately   relented to being left at school by staying by the door only. No more beyond that. My siblings would not stop teasing me until now that I was the very first lady guard ever.
It took my 4th grade teacher, Mr. Cuartocruz,   the whole last morning period, just trying to make me recite in class. I    stubornly  sat  deeper and deeper into my chair hoping that it would swallow me up so I could be spared the embarrassment of attention, scrutiny and exasperation of my peers.
I suffered from impaired Myopic vision that required correction glasses to which I refused. Just imagine all  the  zeros I got in especially in  Math exams since I could not see the computation and instructions on the black board from my seat.
How I survived from Kinder to grade six is something short of a miracle.
Picture the pain I endured to have my test papers with all the red Mongo seeds marking on the corridor wall outside our classroom.
It was enough for me to wish I died so I would be spared the agony of going back to 6th grade class after a long holiday break.  Then  only to be told that I was required at   the Principal’s office one day.
As I trudged the long  stretch from our room in  one end of the building to the office, my legs felt so heavy and I did not know what to expect.  Am I  now going to  be kicked out finally from school? Will it end my misery or will it mean the beginning of another?
I will never forget getting into the sunlit office of Mr. Erdulfo B. Fernando. It felt like it was a piece of heaven. So bright and so cheery, as if I could hear the chirping of birds somewhere assuring me that the end may not necessarily mean sad and depressing.
He asked me to read a book. I think,  a pile of books where ready for me to choose from on his massive wooden desk.
Everything from the floors to the walls to the windows seemed to glisten in the mid morning sun.
It really felt good to be able to given a   choice.
Something, I was not familiar with.
Then, I started reading the book beside him while he sat behind his desk.
At first, the print was blurry.
My voice could not escape from my very parched throat.
Somehow, I did not detect any note of impatience from Mr. Fernando.
It was enough encouragement for me to go on until somehow my voice and reading tempo was getting more relaxed until I reached  a  point where I surprisingly was enjoying it.
I cannot clearly recall anymore if I finished the whole book or even the title of the book.
What I know now, was that, for the first time in my elementary school years, I no longer was afraid.
Mr. Fernando gently ended our time together with a simple compliment: That will do, you did good.
It was enough affirmation for me to be bursting with joy.
Going back to my classroom, I was somehow almost leaping and brimming with relief and a new found voice and hope.
For the first time in my life, I saw light at the end of a long tunnel with my newfound voice and strength.
It was a  somewhat insignificant moment, but it  spelled : LIFE & FREEDOM  for me.
I did not have much exposure to Mr. Erdulfo B. Fernando because he was sent to Manila immediately after  that  for further studies until a few days ago, when I placed the long distance call to Zamboanga.
The following interview will further affirm why I thought He was the best.
Question #1. What led you to the teaching profession?
Dr. Fernando explains that  He chose to take Education from the then  Zamboanga Normal School (now Western Mindanao State University )  for the following practical reasons:
1.       It was most affordable.
2.       He lived a mere walking distance from the school.
Question #2.  What do you consider is your most challenging experience?
Dr. Fernando recalls the time He, and 14 other candidates had to vie for the Presidency of the Western Mindanao  State University. He was already the OIC of the university from 1988 to 1990 and yet it was maybe perhaps like passing through the eye of the needle again so to speak. The list was  further trimmed down to 3. Then, after a period of deliberation, the late President Corazon C. Aquino handpicked   him to lead the university for another 7 years.
Question #3. What do you consider are your significant contributions to Education and to the community?
Under his leadership, the university was conferred the distinction of being a Center of Excellence for Teaching Education. Closely after that, the College of Nursing and College of Architecture were  given the same recognition as well.
He was able to quell   some pockets of trouble and rebellion from the student ranks now and then.
Today, at 78 years old, Dr. Fernando is  still  a very  energetic  member of the community. He goes to mass everyday and serves as a Lay Minister of the Eucharist and makes home visits to the sick regularly.
He is also the Vice President of the local Red Cross chapter in Zamboanga City.

Question #4. What are the major issues facing the Philippine Education system? In what ways can they be resolved?
Dr. Fernando believes that the move to lengthen  the number of  academic school year by 2-5 years more is not necessary. He   does not believe that length spells quality.
He suggests  that the Teacher Education curriculum be revised to make it more relevant to a particular/given community. Teachers  are  encouraged  to have the missionary zeal as they practice their profession within the community by  being very sensitive to the local culture as He/She  attempts to make the pursuit of Education as relevant and  necessary as possible.
Question #5. What is your vision of  Philippine Education in the near future?
He envisions Education to be brought much closer to the “footsteps” of the local  Philippine communities where the statistics show a huge dropout at grade 4 level.
He hopes that children do not need to walk miles and miles to be able to reach school.
He hopes that Philippine Education be strengthened with ALS or the Alternative Learning System where the focus will be developing learning skills at the Grade 1 and 2 levels that even if  a student drops out, He/ she is equipped with skills making him/her open to more learning outside of school. Thus making the individual self sufficient and a not a burden to society.

In closing, the 45 minutes we had chatting animatedly with each other was like a full circle experience for me.  It left me so amazed and in awe that yes, instinctively, I knew,   way back at 6th grade, Dr. Fernando was such an exceptional person. He lived  and  breathed  excellence in a very simple and unassuming manner. He never had the airs about him. He always had a cheerful disposition. I would encounter him making his rounds around the school premises beyond 5 in the afternoon making sure everything was in order.   Something  which  he  serendipitously  mentioned in the interview.  I am sure, Senor Will, our school janitor would have also attested the fact, that this special person, had a gift of bringing out the best in a another in a momentary and simple encounter. He has such a big heart  that gives encouragement and good regard  no matter the stature and circumstance of the  person in front of him. It is not surprising to hear him  admit  that Dr. Fernando  finds his strength and the secret  of his success in his Lord and maker.

*** photo credits:
1st picture,
2nd picture, Agnes Fernando, when Dr. Fernando and I had our chat back in 2010.

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