The University of the Philippines Open University (UPOU) opened the celebration of Women’s Month with a timely and informative webinar entitled “ODeL for the Future and ALL: UPOU Women’s Month Forum.” The webinar highlighted the vital role of Open and Distance e-Learning (ODeL) in ensuring access to education and promoting gender equality.
An opening program for the month-long celebration was held last March 16, 2023, at UP Open University’s Audio Visual Room from 10:00 AM to 12:00 PM. The event started with the emcee, Gelyzza Diaz, who welcomed the speaker and opening remarks of Dr. Finaflor F. Taylan, the Director of OGC. Dr. Taylan mentioned that the National Women’s Month and International Women’s Day themes fit UPOU’s nature, framework, and initiatives leading to the UPOU’s theme for the Women’s Month Celebration: UPOU Advancing Gender Equality, Sustainability, and Inclusive Society through and in the context of Open and Distance e-Learning (ODeL).
She also mentioned the critical activities for the women’s month spearheaded by the various units of the university such as spoken word poetry contest for UPOU students, featuring gender resources from UPOU Library and Multimedia Center, BukasLab exhibit on Wearable Futures, an online exhibit on women social workers who are into social action, a forum on permaculture and forest development, talk on IP women on permaculture and health, RTD on women in STEM, RTD on women in Tech Startups, and the just completed free MOOC on Gender Sensitivity Training with almost 18,000 enrolled users.
Dr. Melinda dP. Bandalaria, the UPOU Chancellor, served as the speaker of the forum. Drawing from the ODel worldview framework of previous UPOU Chancellor Alfonso, Dr. Bandalaria emphasized the importance of the convergence of open learning, distance education, and eLearning to achieve access and equity, resource sharing, learner-centeredness, flexibility, active learning, interactivity, ubiquity, and connectivity. Along with the values of UPOU including excellence, academic freedom, humanism, intellectual pluralism, cultural diversity, democracy, and service to society, this convergence enables UPOU to achieve social transformation.
Furthermore, UPOU has committed to draw upon the strengths of Open Distance e-Learning (ODeL) as an intervention to the challenges faced by women in completing education especially at the tertiary level. ODel, with its networked information and communication technologies, is intended to remove the barriers to education in the Philippines. This addresses the gap on education and capitalizes on the significant number of women having access to the internet as compared with men. Along with the provision of these technologies, Chancellor Bandalaria also reiterated the importance of the development of skills that would enable the students to use these technologies.
One of the highlights of the webinar was the discussion on the various challenges women face in accessing education, particularly those who live in rural areas or have family responsibilities. The speaker, UPOU Chancellor Melinda dP. Bandalaria said that “Women who are facing leadership position….are facing many obstacles…The perception is.. the moment that you start your family, mahihirapan ka na [you will face difficulties] because of these factors (mobility, safety, and family obligations) because it’s cultural.”
She emphasized how ODeL can help address these challenges by providing flexible learning options that can be accessed from anywhere, anytime. “We are looking at ODEL (Open Distance and eLearning) as an intervention to improve somehow the data that I have shown earlier (regarding the low completion rate for women who enrolled in tertiary education).”
To deliver UPOU’s mandates and address the challenges women face, UPOU recommended a 6-point agenda which are as follows: 1) ensure access/ digital inclusion of ALL; 2) ensure integration of universal access in the course site/ learning resources; 3) offer ODeL courses that are relevant to industry providing flexible work arrangements; 4) offer ODeL courses that are STEM-related; 5) disseminate the information about the opportunity; and 6) make everyday an ODeL4ALLDay.
She also spoke about the digital divide and how it is not limited to access to gadgets and the internet but to the skills on how to use gadgets. She also shared stories about Universal design for learning, MOOCs, and how ODel offers flexibility in work arrangements. She emphasized the need to “walk the talk” and to “talk the walk” to influence the discourse in the region, Southeast Asia, Asia, and the world to promote ODeL for all.
Chancellor Melinda dP Bandalaria ended the talk by saying, “Make everyday an ODeL4ALL Day. Hindi lang pagka Women’s month natin gagawin. Hindi lang pagka ICT month natin gagawin [not just during women’s month, or ICT month]. It is an everyday advocacy of UPOU. This is something that we need to do as an open university, as a public service university. As an open university, this is our advocacy. Ito pa rin ang direction natin…[This is still our direction and our advocacy] ….University of the FUTURE and the FUTURE is now.”
The forum was followed by an engaging Question and Comments portion, where participants had the opportunity to share their thoughts and ask the speakers for further insights. The speakers provided informative responses, further emphasizing the critical role of ODeL in promoting gender equality and access to education for all. Dir. Taylan also emphasized the gender policies in the university which ensure safe learning and work environment for all. She also added the importance of addressing the blocks that hinder women from fully participating in important affairs in their lives and society.
In the closing remarks, UPOU Vice Chancellor for Finance and Administration, Jean A. Saludadez, expressed her gratitude to the organizers and participants for their active participation and insightful contributions. She ended by saying, “Happy Women’s Month! Abante Babae!” – a reminder of the importance of empowering women and promoting gender equality in all fields.
The UPOU Women’s Month kick-off forum was an enlightening and empowering event, providing a platform for meaningful conversations and insights on ODeL’s role in promoting gender equality and access to education for all. It is a testament to UPOU’s commitment to creating a better and more inclusive future for women and for all.
Written and edited by: Dr. Finaflor F. Taylan, Glory Dee Romo,
Maria Eleunor B. Lucino, and Maria Teresa Ragasa