HomeCommentaryVincentian Education in the Era of Artificial Intelligence

Vincentian Education in the Era of Artificial Intelligence

I have been asking why we celebrate our Foundation Day in February — most often in the second week. I asked around and I got no answer, even from past Presidents. They said it has always been celebrated at this time ever since.

The Adamson School of Industrial Chemistry was founded on June 30, 1932. This year is our 92nd anniversary as an institution. In eight years, we will celebrate our centenary (100 years of existence).

WHY FEBRUARY?

But the question remains: why February? The nearest answer I got in my little research is this: we were approved as a “university” on February 5, 1941. On that day, the Secretary of Public Instruction (the counterpart of CHED at that time), Dr. Jorge Bocobo, upon the recommendation of Dr. Camilo Osias, then the Chairman of the National Council of Education, raised Adamson to the level of “university”. The context was important. We have to remember that exactly 10 months after, Pearl Harbor was attacked and World War II happened. So, there was real fear, anxiety, and gloom in the horizons.



On that day, Carlos P. Romulo, then a journalist who won a Pulitzer Prize for Peace, said something about Adamson University: “The establishment of the new Adamson University at this time is one of the finest commentaries that can be made respecting the condition of our security as well as the nature of the tasks to which we would rather devote ourselves. Here is one more point of light amidst the encircling gloom. In a world threatened with an imminent blackout of civilization, it is pleasant to feel that in this new Philippine institution of learning, we have one citadel more in which we shall hold out against the universal enemy.”

THE SIGNS IN THE GOSPEL

The gospel today talks about “signs”. People are looking for signs. This is our constant temptation. Sometimes, when we want to know the will of God, we look for “signs.” “Siya na nga ba? If I see some signs — like if he gives me a red rose today — siya na nga.” These are the signs the Jesus refused to give. The signs are not given for us to consume passively.

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What Jesus wants is for us to discern the “signs of the times” ourselves. “You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?” (LK. 12: 56).

In the gospel that we have chosen for today, Jesus says: “No sign shall be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah” (Mt. 12: 48-52). Jonah was a sign of hope. He was eaten by a whale, but Jonah lived even after three days inside the belly of that whale. He was a metaphor for the death and resurrection of Jesus. Jesus also went to the place of the dead for three days and was resurrected by God.

This is the only sign: hope in the midst of dying. Regardless of our present sufferings, despite the corruption and political acrobatics around us to the detriment of our people, we, Vincentians, should be signs of hope like Jonah.

ADAMSON, IN ITS BEGINNINGS

That was precisely what our predecessors at Adamson University did in the 1930s and 1940s: To turn gloom and fear into hope.

When the whole world was afraid, they looked the other way toward hope. When people were seemingly hopeless, they started a university that used science to help people. George Lucas Adamson thought that the great Philippine resources — both material and human — should be used to help people. He said: “Industry should exist for man, not man for the industry.” Science should exist for people, not people for science. Our theories should meet practice, and our arts and sciences should “enrich the minds with practical ideas and methods” so that we can use them to achieve the common good and bring hope to our struggling people.

When Adamson University moved from Santa Cruz to General Solano in the San Miguel district, they made an “Experimental Factory.” Its purpose was to make scientific discoveries in chemistry and other sciences available to people and useful for their daily lives — their first product was how to produce soy sauce in the least expensive manner. We must remember this was the 1930s when the whole country was still beginning the industrialization program.

HOPE IN THE AGE OF ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE

But we now live in a different time, almost a century later. Going forward to the internet age, we should ask, “What does Vincentian education mean in the era of artificial intelligence?”

Many people are afraid of artificial intelligence, and they have good reasons to do so. Teachers have always felt threatened by AI. Questions like these are heard from all sectors: How do we detect plagiarism or train students to think for themselves? What about data privacy when all your digital footprints are under surveillance? How do we think of transparency and accountability in these new contexts? How do we form our students in morality or spirituality when all they have are technologies? For sure, these are questions that all educational institutions need to address.

We should also look beyond and conquer our fears. There was a time when people were afraid of electric power. I was a small boy in a small rural town called Oslob when I heard my parish priest preach against the coming of electricity. He was afraid that vices from the city would come with electric power, but life is unthinkable without electricity today. There was also a time when people were fearful of calculators. They said it would replace human minds, but today, life is inconceivable without calculators.

There was a time when I also refused to use Facebook. I thought it was a waste of time. That was around 2004 when Mark Zuckerberg just created it. But one day, I was discussing a lesson in class when my students creatively responded with things and events I did not know. I asked them where they got that knowledge, and they said, “Facebook.” Life is unthinkable without FB today, especially in the Philippines, which is the Facebook capital of the world.

It is the same with AI. For all you know, our students are already there. We are already late. How to turn fears into opportunities, how to transform our anxieties into hope is the spirit of our Founders.

If we remain paralyzed by our fears, we will miss many hopes and opportunities that AI brings: personalized learning and teacher support, early intervention and resource allocation, professional development and parent engagement, disaster response and preparedness, etc. These are signs of hope beyond our fears.

Hope is the spirit of the gospels. Jonah had to go through darkness, and after three days, he was alive to preach the good news to Nineveh. Jesus went through crucifixion, and after three days, he was resurrected.

This is the sign we are looking for that as a university — as Vincentians — we should be signs of hope to our struggling people, our students who are suffering from whatever pains, and our colleagues who are going through difficult times.

CONCLUSION

I was watching the Baby Falcons play in the previous days at the UAAP finals — both the basketball boys and volleyball girls. I could sense from their faces that they went through difficult times — from their strenuous physical training to their academic challenges and maybe their own personal struggles. Still, I can also sense their persistence, determination, and hope. These attitudes are the only ingredients that make us win in life and help make others also win with us.

Father Daniel Franklin Pilario, C.M., is the President of Adamson University in Manila. He is a theologian, professor, and pastor of an urban poor community on the outskirts of the Philippine capital. He is also Vincentian Chair for Social Justice at St. John’s University in New York.

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