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Acting with urgency: fast tracking learning as a response to the pandemic

“We can’t afford a two-year gestation period. Many of our students come from families who are much less prepared to deal with the impact of this pandemic, and they are potentially the hardest hit." - Max Rebucan, SEED Sumilao Director

The pandemic has had a profound impact on educational processes in formal and informal learning environments. In the Philippines, as elsewhere, onsite teaching has ground to a halt and transitioned to distance learning For Max Rebucan, campus director for San Miguel Foundation’s School for Experiential and Entrepreneurial Development (SEED) Sumilao, the sudden lock-down in March 2020 required quick adjustments, particularly as his students didn’t have immediate access to electronic devices or proper internet connection.

In the case of students from rural settings and low-income families, the pandemic has presented challenges that might only serve to deepen inequalities.

SEED equips students from low-income families with the skills to be agri-entrepreneurs through a combination of campus-based and community-based learning. In response to the prolonged quarantine, Rebucan, and his team pivoted from a two-year intensive program to a three-month sprint. Though truncated, the new program still allows students to earn their Organic Agriculture Production certificate and focus on community-based learning.

“We can’t afford a two-year gestation period. Many of our students come from families who are much less prepared to deal with the impact of this pandemic, and they are potentially the hardest hit." For the families of the SEED scholars, there’s little or no cushion with which to manage or weather the economic crisis.

As soon as the Enhanced Community Qurantine was lifted, students were invited to return to campus, tending to their garden plots, with some students applying what they learned about organic farming to their own backyard gardens. The produce from these gardens augmented the daily meals of the students and their families.

For Rebucan, SEED isn’t just about teaching entrepreneurship or agriculture, it’s about building character. “Our ultimate goal is to bring out the leaders of the next generations who can end poverty not just for themselves and their families but for their communities and the country as well,” Rebucan says. He says that the main pillar anchoring all of the school’s subjects is character development, “we put emphasis on building our student’s character and their personal skills and capabilities to help them achieve their own visions.”

Rebucan’s own understanding of social action began when he signed up for his high school’s immersion program. Living with a family from Boso-Boso, Antipolo during the weekends opened his eyes to the problems of inequality and poverty. Max made a special connection with his foster family, with whom he is still in touch, and credits them for enriching his life and encouraging him to seek work driven by meaning.  This early experience, coupled with his childhood dream to be a teacher, later led him to leave corporate life and join Gawad Kalinga. Rebucan believes equipping Filipino youth with skills, the right values and character is the best way to tackle poverty. “They are the ones who can make a change in their families and their communities. We can still mold their minds and hearts to reach for a more sustainable difference for our country,” Rebucan says.

During the lockdown, SEED's Max Rebucan and a number of faculty were the campus' only residents.

Whatever is grown and harvested on campus is given to the students and their families.

With no clear end to the pandemic in sight, Rebucan holds close his motivations to keep giving his 21 students, all of whom are scholars of San Miguel Foundation, an education that will serve them in good stead. “Filipinos have so much to offer if given the right kind of opportunities. The Filipino poor are among the most resourceful and hardworking people you will ever meet in your life. So, I do what I do because of my students' hope and dreams. Their willingness to press on and push ever harder keeps us going,” he says

The challenges of the past year and the uncertainty of 2021 hasn’t deterred Rebucan from doing what he can to create more opportunities for the Sumilao community. SEED plans to establish at least 1 community farm in all 10 of the Barangays in the municipality. Expanding the reach of SEED in Sumilao would equip more students with agricultural and entrepreneurial skills. However, more than just practical skills, Rebucan hopes that there is one lesson all his students will learn from him and carry with them through their lives: “No matter what happens, treat everyone with kindness and respect because you never know what others are going through.”

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