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Unilab Foundation co-organizes collaborative learning platform for STEM leaders and members

Government officials and policymakers, industry leaders, non-profit organization changemakers, educators, and learners gathered and collaborated for the momentous 3rd Integrated STEM Leadership Summit and MIT Global Opportunity Initiative Launch in Southeast Asia, which happened in Bayanihan Center, Mandaluyong City, last November 3-5, 2022.


The Unilab Foundation, Southeast Asian Ministers of Education Organization (SEAMEO), the Massachusetts Institute of Technology - Open Learning and Global Opportunity Initiative (MIT-GOI), and the United States STEM Leadership Alliance spearheaded the learning space with the theme, ‘Building a High-Income Nation through a Skilled STEM Talent Pipeline and Robust Ecosystem.’


The summit converged the education, health, economy, environment, arts, and cultural sectors to identify sustainable solutions to the obstacles faced by the STEM community. Main takeaways from distinguished speakers, media partners, and participants during the 3-day event centered on: (1) the importance of collaboration; (2) STEM as a tool for lifelong learning; (3) ecosystems and human skills; and (4) global and local connection.



Importance of Collaboration


In his welcoming remarks, Mr. Mariano John L. Tan, Jr., Unilab Vice President, addressed the education crisis at the height of the pandemic and called for continuous collective efforts to enable a nurturing environment for learners and workers. He believes that teaching them the fundamental building blocks of learning, such as reading and comprehension, writing, and arithmetic, will help hone skills, explore potential, and secure livelihood.


Collaborating in a whole ecosystem between the academe, government, businesses, and the church helps build STEM because solving problems is not an individual task. To move the word 'STEM' from its acronym to 'integrated STEM' across all disciplines and careers, stakeholders and practitioners need to make necessary changes and spark a movement.


Ms. Lilibeth Aristorenas, Executive Director of Unilab Foundation, underscored that collaboration is the cornerstone of everything the foundation does. Hence, during the panel discussion entitled ‘Strategic Healthcare Workforce Education,’ speakers gathered to advocate education heavily, believing it is the leading pillar and intersection for collaboration.


In line with this vision, Ms. Corazón S. Alvina, Museo ng Kaalamáng Katutubò (MUSKKAT) Director, discussed integrating culture into governance and using arts as social inclusion for nation-building. Not only that, but the country's heartbeat could also be seen in the faces of the farmers. Dr. Glenn B. Gregorio, Director of the Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (SEARCA), spoke about joint efforts in promoting interest in agriculture to sustain the growing economy, which shall be done by connecting them to a modern network and innovative markets.



STEM as a Tool for Lifelong Learning

The pandemic's challenge is creating lifelong learners and building a new educational landscape that is agile, continuous, and different – challenging the status quo. Accordingly, there is a need to focus on the increasing number of displaced workers and skill gaps in the workforce.


Students in geographically disadvantaged locations need to be trained. HR experts, Ms. Milalin Javellana and Ms. Nanette Legaspi-Aguas, highlighted mentorship and career counseling, scholarships, and shared facilities as answers to the lack of opportunities and exposure faced by the workforce and learners. In addressing these challenges, it is also crucial to invest in research and development, train teachers, and give attention to the impact of specific careers to inspire students to indulge in STEM careers and for institutions to produce quality graduates. Reevaluating the curriculum will allow them to stay engaged and motivated to pursue studying. Industry leaders advocate STEM-based education, including introductory chemistry and math, to enable learners to think critically in complex environments.


In conjunction with the summit, the Global Opportunity Initiatives Movement was launched by its founder, Dr. George Westerman. In an ecosystem of passionate and innovative organizations, the GOI brings people together with the common goal of creating opportunity through workforce learning.



Ecosystems and Human Skills


Inclusivity is at the core of the vital ecosystems that the summit is building. STEM works better when human skills are integrated because it shapes an individual's ability to learn and grow. Aside from technical skills, interpersonal skills need to be revisited and strengthened to build a caring community for the common good.


STEM is fundamental in productivity because it develops a growth mindset in high-school graduates, providing a competitive edge and essential to many industries. With the cooperation of stakeholders and a proper policy framework, the nation can offer training to develop homegrown talents. Executing activities and peer learning improves critical and creative thinking because students can communicate and visualize from simulation, creating committees centered on inclusion and increasing participation.



Global and Local Connections

Connections stand as a reminder of purpose and partners. From different parts of the world to regions of a country, like-minded individuals proactively discuss and articulate ways to solve problems and address losses. Each person has a role in society, whether teaching strategies or advocating ideas to foster innovation. Making big things happen around the world is possible.


The first step is identifying existing and potential problems, followed by developing systematic solutions and creating a prototype. In the Philippines, Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) manages and supervises technical education. With this, Filipinos can advance STEM and train the existing and incoming workforce. Opportunities will bring change if we create dynamic and accessible ecosystems for learning. The building blocks that will close the gaps in education are the implementation of K-12 education, distribution of material kits, mentoring and training, and research.


Developing a creative partnership with public and private sectors and global leaders is necessary for creating networked learners. Keynote speakers Dr. Vijay Kumar and Dr. Claudia Urrea mentioned that preparation and career exposure should exist, allowing educators and students to see their world and engage. Connecting schools, communities, companies, and global organizations will help develop STEM competencies, brought up by Dr. Ethel Agnes P. Valenzuela, Director of SEAMEO Secretariat.


Alongside panel discussions and fireside chats held in the plenary hall, several parallel sessions took place to encourage in-depth interactions and group discussions and to allow virtual participation from STEM members across the globe.


Overall, the summit acted as a catalyst geared toward transforming workforce education to create a STEM-Pro Philippines. Despite underperforming international assessments, low female representation in STEM, and increasing skills mismatch, community members expressed hope and navigated how to find answers to uncertainties.


"Write one or two sentences about what you're going to do on Monday to do something differently now that we've been through this experience. You can send it to goi-help@mit.edu, and we'll put that together," said Dr. Westerman, leaving homework for all.


To view general information about the event, visit stemsummitasia.org. For further inquiries, contact Melvin Magsayo, Deputy Director, Center for Integrated STEM Education, email mtmagsayo@cistem.ph.

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