A teacher by heart
A UNICEF worker’s journey from academe to development work and how she wears a teacher’s hat to uphold children’s right to quality education
MANILA, 20 September 2023 – Back in college, I had the privilege of having weekly interactions with street children in Cubao and Lingap Center through our organization called Musmos. It made such a huge impact on my life that I thought of pursuing a teaching career after college. Unfortunately, the school’s hiring officer did not see my course as a good fit for teaching. I was told to apply my college training in the corporate world, and so I did.
However, the tug to teach never left me, so after three years, I resigned from my Makati job and heeded the call. I started as a part-time teacher assigned to two high school classes while pursuing my Master’s degree. I secured a full-time post the year after and stayed on for nine more years, teaching ICT applications and coding. I also took on a variety of roles during my stay at the Ateneo de Manila High School. The experience was a mix of laughter and tears, but it was definitely a journey of learning and growth, both personally and professionally. I cherished interacting with my students and seeing them flourish – some of whom I still connect with from time to time. I would like to think that I was able to inspire them to believe in the goodness of life and to equip them with practical life skills.
The opportunity to explore outside the academe came with my foray into government work. I joined the Commission on Information and Communications (now DICT), where I became part of a team that managed eSkwela, a multi-awarded digital learning solution for the Alternative Learning System (ALS). This allowed me to gain expertise in ICT in Education and expand my horizons by working with DepEd and local education networks. The success of eSkwela paved the way for local and international recognitions, one of which came from the UNESCO Regional Bureau for Education (Bangkok). Fortunately for me, this opened the door for an international consultancy post, as part of UNESCO Bangkok’s ICT in Education team. In 2019, I decided to head back to the Philippines to take the opportunity to work again with the ALS community. As an Adolescent Development Specialist at UNICEF Philippines, I focus on providing technical assistance in non-formal education, adolescent participation, and skills development.
You have probably heard, “You can take the teacher out of the classroom, but you can’t take the classroom out of the teacher.” Being a teacher sticks with you. Since I took to heart the Jesuit value of cura personalis that advocated care and concern for the holistic development of each student, there have been many instances in my line of work that bring out the teacher in me and my passion for caring for children.
Working at UNICEF still allows me to wear a teacher’s hat. My background helps me visualize what proposed education policies and programme designs look like at the classroom level. For instance, I took inspiration from my teaching days when UNICEF was developing a socio-emotional learning (SEL) intervention for children in conflict with the law (CICL). I was able to use the interdisciplinary model practiced in school to advocate for an integrated intervention where different adult roles (i.e., ALS teachers, social workers, psychometricians, and house mothers) reinforce and support one another to benefit the children. I was very much involved in the module design and development. Despite several implementation challenges during the pandemic, the intervention got positive reviews. The children who benefitted from it shared that the programme positively influenced their thinking, attitude, behavior, and relationships with others. Seeing how the modules can benefit more children, the local teams proposed to roll out the modules through their community-level programmes. The success of the intervention led to the inclusion of the SEL modules as one of two learning packages endorsed by the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Council to develop life skills among CICL.
I don’t dream of a perfect world, but I want a world where children can be children. For them to “live” and enjoy their childhood, they should feel safe, secure, and supported. I want them to be excited about life and the opportunities that they can take. My sincere hope is for all duty-bearers to genuinely prioritize effective and efficient ways to facilitate children’s development and well-being.