Habi Education Lab started out in November 2014 as an experiment in professional development for teachers that asked the question: how might we empower teachers to keep on learning?
I met up with Gerson Abesamis, Co-Founder and Executive Director of Habi Education Lab, at his office. Though we met on a public holiday, I saw him and his team working hard to prepare for an upcoming workshop. According to Gerson, they were preparing for an upcoming workshop for 400 college students.
A social enterprise: by teachers for teachers
“We want to help teachers become better at their craft,” Gerson shared.
Gerson started out as a designer, photographer, and filmmaker. He did freelance web and graphic design work and was even a wedding photographer at one point.
After about 1.5 years of freelancing, his school needed an art teacher and he was asked to go back to help out. However, the previous art teacher came back, so he was deployed to teach IT and media.
Gerson didn’t set out wanting to be a teacher. Instead, he wanted to either pursue photography or graphic design as a career or do his Masters in fine arts.
But after one year of teaching, Gerson felt a sense of fulfilment towards his work and attachment towards his students. As a result, he taught for about 3-4 years. After that, his boss suggested that he go into educational technology. He went on to do his EdM in Technology, Innovation, and Education at Harvard University.
After that, he designed educational apps for Pearson, a global publishing company. During that time, he was exposed to user experience and design thinking. This laid the foundation for his start-up, Habi Education Lab.
Design thinking: the core of Habi Education Lab
Design thinking is a concept popularized by IDEO, where solutions have to be user-centric. This philosophy flows in the blood of Habi Education Lab. When they started in 2014, they conducted design thinking workshops for teachers and students, equipping them with a user-centric design process. Equally important is also inculcating the mindset of prototyping and failure.
Sometimes, in education, failure may be a taboo word. But actually, education should be a process of trial and error, of constantly innovating and learning, and of a continuous process of seeking and discovering new knowledge.
From one school in 2014, Habi Education Lab has touched over 80-90 schools and organisations and reached over 4000 educators.
Over the past three years, Habi Education Lab has its own share of successes and validation. Through the various workshops conducted, they have progressed to collaborating with schools to formulate recommendations and learning programmes that fit their needs. Today, Habi Education Lab is a social enterprise in the Philippines that wants to improve and enhance teacher training. It is part of the growing movement in social entrepreneurship in Philippines.
Measuring success: reflect and improve
One of the key components of design thinking is ensuring that the solutions are designed with the end-users in mind. As such, feedback is important in ensuring that the solutions fit the needs to the end-users. Gerson acknowledged that what they are doing may not be easy to quantify, but they don’t use that as an excuse to not get feedback and improve. In fact, after every workshop, they get the participants to reflect.
“Now I know how to empathise with my students.”
“I feel better about my job (teaching) now. I feel refreshed.”
These are some of the feedback received, which validate what they are doing. Furthermore, teachers who had participated in the workshops would sometimes share how they had incorporated what they had learned. For example, some teachers used the empathy map exercise in their classrooms or incorporated activity based learning in their lessons.
Furthermore, due to the close partnership between Habi Education Lab and the school leadership, the school leaders will provide feedback. It is through feedback that the team at Habi is able to continuously improve their offerings.
A big vision for education
“My vision for education in the Philippines is for it to be more responsive to students’ needs. I want to see learner-centric systems and processes being established.”
That is Gerson’s vision for education in the Philippines.
When asked for his motivation behind starting Habi Education Lab, he shared his own experience. For a start, he feels that the licensure exam, which is a written exam administered to teachers before they are qualified to teach, is not a good indicator of who makes a good teacher. It is merely theoretical and does not demonstrate a teacher’s ability to teach.
Secondly, he felt that teachers who are on practicum do not get useful feedback about their lessons or lesson plans. Instead, they may just end up being an assistant to the main teacher. Sometimes, there is also a mismatch between the actual subject taught and the area of expertise of that teacher.
Thirdly, there is a gap in the area of teacher training. Many times, teachers end up attending courses or workshops that they walk away thinking that it’s a complete waste of time. The training may not be relevant or helpful in their work, hence that feeling.
Weaving a masterpiece
Habi is the Filipino act of weaving indigenous fabrics, valued for their intricate patterns and sturdy craftsmanship. Likewise, I see the lab as weaving together a masterpiece, one stitch at a time. Habi is playing a key role in transforming education in the Philippines. I’m confident that if they continue to build a strong and sturdy foundation, work with local partners, the education system in the Philippines will be a beautiful piece of work in the future.