[OPINION] The myth of the ‘pa-seminar’ in the Philippines

Sensei Adorador
'Seminars are great morale boosters but fail to create lasting change. Participants are likely to remember how lackluster the speaker was, how many punchlines he delivered, or how picturesque the venue was, but not the goals of the program.'

  

When I was a young faculty member of an educational institution, I used to look forward to attending seminars to quench my thirst for development. Even way back during my student council days, representing your school in seminar-workshops, especially in Manila, were among the top things we typical “probinsyanos” considered as somewhat an achievement and source of pride.

Seminars and workshops aim to serve as avenues to improve employee productivity, enhance pedagogical development for teachers, and inspire people to do good in their institutions. However, some scholars have criticized this age-old model of delivering information, and some have started to ask the big questions: What happens once everybody goes back to their institutions? Also, more pointedly: How come the same problems exist despite the battery of seminars?

Corporatization of seminars

Notably, almost all government institutions conduct seminars and trainings monthly, from the administrative level to the rank-and-file personnel, for their professional growth. However, despite the promise of seminars to integrate their lessons into practice, they have just become a business.

These lavish and unnecessary trainings have even caught the eye of the Commission on Audit (COA), prompting the commission to revisit activities conducted by government institutions. In 2013, the COA questioned the Cebu City Government’s holding of trainings and seminars in hotels and resorts in 2012, which totaled P11,697,693 in expenses. The COA also questioned the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) on their spending in 2017, amounting to P5,404,543.80, for trainings, seminars, and workshops held in different hotels in and outside Metro Manila. Likewise, the Department of Education (DepEd) spent P316.62 million on trainings and other activities allegedly held in resorts and tourist spots. Despite the call to exercise prudence, economy, and reasonableness, the ostentatious use of public revenues has persisted. (READ: COA raises red flags over P1.3-M OSG training, seminars in ‘expensive’ venues)

This obsession with extravagant but often unnecessary seminars can be linked to consumerism – luxury hotels and resorts are king. For example, why do most leadership seminars take place in Baguio? Moreover, why do most of them fall in November, December, January, and February? The said months are cold months; the more touristy, the more attractive. The more lavish, the better. People often get awestruck by the venue and disconnect from the essence of their seminars.

There are also times when the resource persons turn seminars into business opportunities. Of course, speaking as an “expert” comes at a price, but why can’t these so-called experts solve the problems they discuss, despite their repetitive tackling of these topics? Perhaps because we mistakenly believe that “it will get worse before it gets better,” so we keep coming back to them for more. 

Alienation from the profession

The point system for promotion turns professionals irrational. Under the guise of professional development, local, national, and international seminars have equivalent points. This is also true for the various research conferences that have been sprouting like mushrooms. Lots of conferences do not even screen the participants’ papers and just accept them, since the greater the number of participants, the more profits the organizers enjoy. You even need to pay for your research to be published in their journals.

All of this is a product of this point system. It has led to an avalanche of research papers and seminars full of bad science. People go to the seminar just for points and listen to speakers who babble out-of-topic, or worse, parrot information you can just Google yourself. If you want proof, try to attend a seminar-workshop, get the gist of its topic, and start searching on Google. You will be shocked. 

Still, seminar attendants will deny this truth, because they enjoy the feeling of the institution valuing them. This is what we call a “mechanism of social control,” which instills passivity because of investment. Needless to say, “capacity building” is an overused term, and opportunists have altered its essence for business and compliance.

Centralized concept of decision-making

The majority of the decision-making in a seminar comes from the administrators and is cascaded to their personnel. However, this is a classic mistake. These executives or administrators will not do any of the legwork anyway. One of the main reasons why problems continue to persist despite so many seminars is that executives do not consult the grassroots implementers to begin with.

Take, for example, the K-12 curricula. Before its implementation, the DepEd gave a series of seminar-workshops, but these did not address perennial issues such as the lack of facilities in remote areas and the situations of teachers. Likewise, the DepEd has not corrected the practice of promoting students despite their academic handicaps, as the agency did not listen to teachers. This led to our country ranking lowest in the 2018 Program for International Student Assessment (PISA).

Non multa sed multum

During lectures, an average adult can retain 10% of what they hear; this strategy is an information-centric approach to learning. While this solves the problem of producing learning, it does not solve the problem of learning itself. Why? Because some speakers do not contextualize what they say. They do not customize the content for their participants. They try to do too many things, and they do not have quality goals and objectives. (READ: 6 tips: Asking good questions at meetings, seminars)

Seminars are great morale boosters but fail to create lasting change. Participants are likely to remember how lackluster the speaker was, how many punchlines he delivered, or how picturesque the venue was, but not the goals of the program.

Filipinos have developed a culture wherein simplicity is looked down upon. We look for vanity rather than quality, and are only after compliance. We do not monitor results. Too many seminars mean unnecessary expenses, funds that could have been used to budget other projects.

I think we need to start thinking seriously about the quality of the seminars we attend. This pandemic has actually reshaped the current system of “pa-seminar” in our country, rendering these events in hotels or resorts and other tourist destinations as unnecessary. 

We Filipinos have always believed that seminars are the solution to institutional problems. But because seminars focus on an information-centric approach, administrators forget the fundamental part of metacognition: reflection. Executives do not reflect; they impose, and they think this solves the problem. Then, after the seminar, people slide back into their comfort zones and you do not see the change in behavior you are looking for. Indeed, a seminar is only a change in your routine, but it does not change you. – Rappler.com 

Sensei M. Adorador is in the faculty of the College of Education at Carlos Hilado Memorial State College, Negros Occidental. He is a member of the Congress of Teachers and Educators for Nationalism and Democracy (CONTEND).