Friday, February 27, 2015

Academe, Industry, and Inferiority Complex

This week Davao is playing host to the 15th National Conference of the Philippine Society of IT Educators (PSITE). As part of the local chapter, I'm privileged to take part in the events. The occasion has been a good opportunity to meet new people. While the discussions may sometimes be infuriatingly circuitous and oftentimes loud, I like observing the dynamics of different groups.

The last session of today, the second day of the conference, was a panel that tackled the perennial question of industry-academe linkage. It got me thinking yet again of how we approach this particular dynamic. This relationship actually goes by many names. Some groups call it "industry immersion" and some call it "on-the-job training", depending on the nuance intended.

The discussants talked about the challenges of integrating industry with academe. For students, the exposure is a matter of course (hence, "on-the-job training") and already built into the program of studies they are part of. For teachers, it's a bit trickier. Teachers are paid to teach, but there is also the expectation that they also be exposed to "industry best practices." How then do you immerse them in the latter without sacrificing time for the former?

Whatever the angle, the end question that it seems everyone wants to address is, "How can academe meet the needs of industry?" The intention behind it is, I will grant, noble, because as teachers, we want to make sure that our students find work. At the same time, there is something fundamentally wrong with how it is framed.

The question itself -- "How can academe meet the needs of industry?" -- already presupposes that academe is subordinate to industry, that the aim of education is merely so that the students are ready to work when they graduate. And not only the students, but even the teachers themselves need to be retooled and retrained so that they are teaching the right things.

Why is this the state of affairs? Why can't it be the other way around, with academe leading the way for industry?

In the years that I have been teaching, I've come across some truly innovative student projects that industry is only starting to pick up on now. I had students work on Android encrypted communications and automated classroom management *four years ago*, and these things are only starting to show up in products now (including some being demonstrated by vendors in this week's conference.) So why do we always have to follow industry's narrow notion of what is relevant?

Three things come to mind.

First, it may really be the case that what we in academe teach our students is not up to par with current best practices in industry. We in academe can fall into a pattern of complacency, because it is more comfortable to teach what we already know than to seek out new topics that sometimes requires we throw out our lesson plans. Be that as it may, there shoule be no need to wait for cues from industry to effect these changes. This is the age of the Internet and many of those techniques and resources are already available online and may in fact be subject of research that is the forte of academe.

Second, we continue to suffer from a poor intellectual capital and commercialization infrastructure. Research from academe is not funnelling out to industry because the mechanisms are not in place. In the end, we have to wait for the developments to come by way of some vendor from outside the country for the ideas to gain any traction. This is a problem that afflicts not just academe but local industry.

Finally, there is the prevailing inferiority complex of academe to industry. On the surface, the reason is financial. In today's society, we equate worth with earning capacity and it's a truism that teachers earn a pittance compared to if they work in industry. However, I think the underlying problem has to do with the stultifying hierarchy that pervades academe which, when compared to the loose and nimble structure of industry, stifles creative approaches.

What do I mean by the last? It's only in Philippine academia that I've seen people addressed "Sir So-and-so" and "Ma'am So-and-so." In industry, people are on a first-name basis, even between the lowest employee and the general manager of the company. These are merely symptomatic indicators of the underlying cultural differences between academe and industry? How does each culture play in developing the sentiment of self-worth of its members?

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Go Placidly

At the start of the year I promised myself I would write an essay every week ostensibly for my column for Metro Post, a small newspaper in Dumaguete. Nothing too heavy, not even social commentary, just something light because I didn't want to work too hard and besides there's I did well enough for January and I thought I'd gotten back into my groove. And then the tragedy at Mamasapano happened.

Like so many others, I had strong feelings about Mamasapano. The whole incident put me in an emotional fug, one that I'm still not fully recovered from. Like so many others, I wanted to put those feelings into writing, to put in my own two cents into the ongoing conversation. In my mind, I already had a whole essay outlined and written out. I told my wife that I had this long impassioned tirade all primed and ready to go.

Do you really want to do that? she asked. Emotions were running high. I might write something I would regret later on.

So I thought about it and I let the deadline pass. Then another one. Then another one.

It seemed disrespectful to write about anything else and I didn't feel I was ready, after all, to write about Mamasapano. Instead I lurked in the sidelines, following the news as they came out, and mulling over the comments and opinions.

In the end, I was glad I didn't write or comment about Mamasapano. Emotions were running high, as my wife said, and the whole affair is very complicated. The story came out in bits and pieces, indeed, it's still coming out, so it's hard to come out with any right judgment. We want justice for the fallen and we want those responsible on both sides to pay for their incompetence and treachery, but considering our track record, would such a thing actually be possible? We want peace, but would we be willing to pay the price for such a peace? We want war, but would be willing to pay the price for such a war?

Much digital ink has been spilled over Mamasapano. Opinions throughout the spectrum have already been written. Could I have added anything useful to the discussion? Could I have said something that wasn't already said?

Just this, then. In all the weeks since Mamasapano happened, I haven't really read or heard much by way of calls for prayer. All the solutions proferred have been social, political, and judicial, in other words, merely human. Not that we should abandon those avenues in pursuit of what is right, but in the face of this great evil and the confusion and the fear that follow, perhaps we need prayer and fasting to exorcise these demons.

Oremus.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Swimming

It's been said so often that it's become a truism: diet and exercise. The real trick is in actually sticking with the program. When I started my weight loss journey, I took the route of vegetables and salads to replace my rice and other carbohydrates. But I knew I needed to couple it with a physical regimen.

The thing, though, was that I was suffering from cervical spondylosis. A disk between the bones of my neck had worn down or collapsed, an unfortunate effect of age. The disk impinged on the nerves, causing all sorts of pain and other strange sensations down the length of my arm (I've written about this in the past.) Physical therapy managed to mitigate its effects, but I have to be careful with strenuous activity.

I consulted my orthopedist to ask what I could do. As I expected, exercises which involved any form of physical shock were out of the question. That included aerobics, jogging, running, boxing, jumping, etc. So what options were available to me? As it turned out, my condition turned out to be a blessing in disguise, otherwise I might not have learned what I did.

"There are two kinds of exercise," the doctor said. "Cardio and resistance. With cardio, you're only burning the calories while you're exercising. With resistance, you continue to burn the calories hours after you finish."

Resistance, or strength training, usually meant weights. With the condition my neck was in, though, lifting heavy objects was also discouraged. What were my alternatives?

"Even a thirty minute walk helps," the doctor said.

I thought of the small swimming pool in the clubhouse of our subdivision. We had been living in our new place for a year and I had largely ignored that feature. "How about swimming?" I asked.

"Yes, swimming does the trick. The water reduces the impact to your neck. Or even just walking around in the pool. That also provides a lot of resistance."

That was a good thing. I didn't know how to swim.

The following week, I brought out my trunks and headed for the pool. I recalled my old swimming lessons and splashed around embarrassingly in the water. Fortunately, no one was looking. I couldn't even go the length of the pool without losing breath. Nevertheless, I persisted, even if it meant pausing in the middle. I would do three "laps" and when I couldn't even swim anymore, I walked around the perimeter of the pool. It all started in late January last year.

Here's the thing, though. I kept at it every day. The three "laps" became five. Not long after, I found I could traverse the length of the pool and then halfway back. Then I'd do ten rounds of walking in the water before going back to swimming. Sometime in April, my wife noticed that my shoulders had taken a different shape.

I still wasn't doing the proper laps, though, and I knew the problem was with my breathing technique. Like any other digital native, I went right to the source: YouTube. I looked up swimming videos and found what I ought to have been doing. I should have been expelling air while I was in the water; then when my mouth is above the water, the impulse to inhale will come naturally. I foundered the first few times, but then soon I got the hang of it. I was finally swimming right!

At the moment, my regular circuit is twenty laps. I've given up walking around the pool because swimming is just so much better. Granted, it's a small pool, just ten meters in length, but the twenty laps still translates to 400 meters. That's four laps on an Olympic-sized pool, without stopping. I like to think that I keep it at the twenty laps because I keep my exercise sessions to a little less than thirty minutes. One of these days, I'm going to try for just a bit more.

So really, this has become more than about weight loss for me. When I was younger, my classmates would make fun of me because I couldn't swim. Now, more than thirty years on, I've crossed that milestone in my life.