Interviews

"I hope that in a not too distant future we can have a university like the UOC in Ecuador or an Ecuadorian UOC"
Foto: UOC
05/09/2017
ngeles Doate
Miguel Herrera, former deputy minister for Education in Ecuador and holder of the UOC's doctoral degree in the Information and Knowledge Society

 

Miguel Herrera is the first UOC doctoral degree holder to register his qualification in Ecuador. A schoolteacher by profession, when he started his teaching career in a primary school classroom, he would never have imagined that he would become his country's deputy minister for Education, that he would work in Honduras, Peru or Spain for the United Nations and the European Union. Acknowledging that he has found his vocation in teacher training, Miguel conveys optimism, enthusiasm for his work, and he is a firm advocate of the willingness to serve that must underlie an educator or politician.

 

You are the first person to have their doctoral degree in the Information and Knowledge Society registered in Ecuador!

Thank you. I completed my thesis in 2014 but I wasn't able to register the degree so that it would be recognized officially until July 2017.

The country's relationship with distance education hasn't been an easy one.

It used to be highly scorned: for many years, there had been the typical method using radio broadcasts and a manual, where you only had to pay to get the certificate. We had distance education at all levels and the quality was very poor. An educational reform was undertaken which put an end to it, including online education, even though the latter was barely developed in our country. By implementing this reform, the Government created a major vacuum. There were complaints from people living in villages, from professionals... We lobbied through many channels to make people understand that instead of eradicating distance education, what needed to be done was to guarantee its quality.

What happened in the end?

A new, strict regulation was approved for distance, online or blended education. Because of this lobbying and because more and more universities were bringing out blended learning programmes, especially for professionals who cannot possibly be required to attend regular classes. This new regulation was not enacted until 2016 and this was one of the difficulties that the UOC faced when applying for recognition in my country.

Recognition of the UOC is very recent.

Ecuador is very strict about which universities can operate in the country: they have to be officially incorporated, have an approved charter; its programmes must be vetted by the Council of Higher Education… The procedure for official recognition of degrees is very strict. The SENESIT has a list of the universities that are approved. Once the university attains recognition, its qualifications are recognized too.

But you had already studied at the UOC long before that...

I got my teaching degree when I was 28, at the University of Seville. I returned to Ecuador, where I taught in a primary school classroom for two years in an area where there was considerable migration to the United States. That society was very complex. I discovered that teachers were lacking in many aspects. I started to take in an interest in my colleagues' ongoing training: how to provide on-the-job training, how to help them cope with teaching situations with more tools. It is then that I realised that I too had shortcomings... And I contacted the UOC, to study Educational Psychology.

Why did you choose the UOC?

My career had had very modest beginnings, in a place where I thought I would spend the rest of my life, but interests and opportunities ended up taking me to other places. Seven years, four different countries... if that was going to be my career, then I couldn't study at a conventional university. I was also curious about constructivism and to study that, you had to go to a Spanish university.

Why did you decide to enrol for a doctoral degree having such a busy work schedule?

During these years, I had researched on my own. I know I have qualitative leanings, so I thought that perhaps it would be good to have serious tools. I chose this doctoral degree because I wanted it to be multidisciplinary, although doing it this way ended up becoming very challenging.

What has the UOC brought you and what do you think we have brought to Ecuador through you?

In my case, it allowed me to study in specific circumstances, without changing my professional development model. It also provided me with tools, particularly tools related with the Internet of people, and things that have been very helpful for me in my professional and personal life. In addition, it was the first time that I had been in a university that applies a truly student-focused model. As regards what the UOC has contributed to my country... There's one particular event I remember. We held an Education Congress at the Armed Forces University and Marta Aymerich came. Distance education no longer existed in the country and it was thanks to her that we had the opportunity to learn about your model. That model and the vice president's enthusiasm planted a seed of doubt in many people's minds about whether the new legislation that was being drafted, and which did not make any provision for online education, was the right path. A more open outlook was called for. Learning about other countries' experiences, in this case, that of Catalonia through the UOC, allowed dissidence to emerge, we listened to other ways of thinking and it was possible to develop a body of regulations that allowed online education.

Today, both classic and online distance education is available in Ecuador.

Yes. But for the moment, it is being given by foreign universities, with programmes that are recognized in the country. It would be more interesting if they could be developed inside the country or even if consulting niches could be found so that national universities can develop proprietary, quality online and distance education models. The universities need counselling in this, there is a demand for professionals who can help generate these course offerings.

What other opportunities are emerging for the UOC there?

Let's hope that in a not too distant future we can have a university like the UOC in Ecuador or an Ecuadorian UOC. It would solve a lot of the problems we have due to scattered population distribution in some areas.

The Intercultural Education Law (LOEI), which governs basic education, says that by 2020 all educators in the national system must have their degree or they will be excluded from teaching. We have about 19,000 teachers with the upper secondary school diplomas as their only qualification. They work in rural communities as government-employed teachers. The reform I mentioned earlier closed many universities and they have no access to higher education. An online solution would be fantastic.

How and why did you go into government?

I entered because I found Rafael Correa's project very appealing. I liked his constant communication with the people and his vocation for public service. Public policy was built with input from all stakeholders. It was exhausting but interesting. They appointed me as Standards Director, then as Syllabus Director. Later on, I was made Undersecretary for Educational Foundations, and then I was Deputy Minister. It has been an enriching but complex experience. Now I'm going back to university, to work in teacher training, because I believe that political office should only be temporary, but you never know...

From your unique vantage point, what problems does education in Ecuador currently face? Do you think that they can be extrapolated to other countries, such as ours?

I am sure that at some point in history they were or are... A problem we share? The classroom, discipline, controlling the classroom. Teachers must be given tools for interacting in the classroom and they never have enough, it is a very complex profession. And that is true in any classroom anywhere. There's also the issue of assessments, PISA... We are starting to have problems with teachers: What are they working for? What's the purpose of the students taking the tests? In Ecuador, the big challenge is lifelong learning. Our career development system is recent. We are now holding the sixth series of official examinations to award places as government-employed teachers. Before you inherited it from your father or you were picked because you knew someone... Meritocracy as a selection system is very recent and it's not yet in our culture. Also, people are not aware that continuous training, on-the-job training, is compulsory... Even though it's written in the law.