Anna Velas-Suarin

DepEd’s Catch up Fridays: Design and Futures Thinking as Part of Transformative Education

[Note: Some portions of this article had been used for or adapted from a speech that I have written for a Philippine legislator.]

A father’s gift to his child: How the love for reading begins at home

I owe my education and love for reading from my father. Whenever I write—a skill that was honed by my love of reading—it somehow feels that it’s a small way to honor him and his legacy. I also draw my inspiration from the life and works of Dr. Jose Rizal, the Philippines’ national hero. I could never measure up to the noble and remarkable deeds that he gave our country. Nevertheless, through my writings, I hope I could continue to inspire young minds and future leaders toward embodying his ideals and teachings—at the heart of which is his deep love for our country.

Last year, I learned about the Department of Education’s program of designating Fridays as Catch-up Fridays, dedicating the last school day of the week as a time for students to enhance their reading proficiency and critical thinking. Through this program, which began its implementation last January 12, students from Kindergarten to Grade 12 spend the day reading books and other reading materials based on their interests. [For a copy of the DepEd memo on this, please go to this link. [1]

DepEd coined a very apt word for one of the strategies of the program, Drop Everything and Read (DEAR), which carries the message of what an effective intervention should be—focus, simplicity, and connection. It can never be over-stated: reading is at the root of a person’s intellectual growth. By learning lessons from the stories of others—be they heroes, histories of our nation and that of others, and cultures—each learner, young and old, grows wiser and more circumspect.

In my personal story, I was encouraged to read at a young age and this is a strong evidence that the skills and discipline that reading inculcated in me led to significant benefits particularly by:

  • enhancing my comprehension skills, improving my test scores in class subjects (I was never pressured by my Dad when it comes to grades but I generally earned good grades)
  • inspiring me to write and helping improve my writing skills over the years
  • strengthening my appreciation of science /nature, literature, history, current events, and socio-cultural perspectives that helped me in deciding which course (field of study) to take in college and in master’s level
  • deepening my skills and competencies in the workplace, where comprehension, communications, and writing skills are essential—be it in simple correspondence or in highly-complex technical papers. The training and discipline in my formative years and in later years certainly became a strong foundation, from which I am now deriving invaluable benefits.
  • finally, and certainly not the least, allowing me to reach places far and wide even without leaving the room. The beauty of this experience inspired me to travel and get to know more of the world later in life. This is something that I also dream of for every child—that of experiencing the world more because every person deserves it. 

The efforts being done now by the Department—through the leadership of Vice President Sara Duterte—is therefore, an important step in shaping the transformative future that we are all aspiring for. 

We must also remember that the love for reading should begin and continuously be nurtured at home. Programs such as Catch-up Fridays are essential, however, homes should also be where children should derive a good part of their life-long education. Their experiences at home are part of what or who they will become later on.

Take it from me, I’m a daughter of a father who took the time to read newspapers end-to-end and manually cut articles that he thought will interest me. Who I am now and how much I strive so hard to contribute to making things better for all—are profoundly shaped by the joys and discipline that I learned from reading and by the love of a hardworking father who used a pair of scissors as one of this tools for educating his child. 

The importance of policymaking 

It is also inherent upon our policymakers and decision-makers to consider opportunities where learners can have more access to high-quality knowledge assets such as books. If we are putting more funding for the construction of classrooms, we need to give the same attention and resources for the development of knowledge assets and the training and re-training of teachers and educators.

We are at a critical crossroad—where we are challenged to pave new paths, cognizant of the current realities and dilemmas. The pandemic, for example, challenged us into thinking of more innovative ways to teach while also reminding us  that resources are still limited (slow internet and lack of computers, among other things). We have learned to deliver education via blended learning but not without challenges. 

However, even with the challenges, we are called upon to look at the situation with an even more inspired minds because, perhaps for the first time in our history, we have the chance to rethink or even overhaul the educational system. We could use this opportunity to think about “design thinking” and “futures thinking”, just two of the innovative tools being used in many fields all over the world. 

I think DepEd is on the right track and it deserves all the support that it needs. I hope our government including legislators—no matter which political parties or perspectives they come from—will remember that learners don’t think and decide using political lens. They must be taught to discern and become wise voters later on but ultimately, we need to instill in them positive values, which will equip them in their lives and careers later on.

At the heart of this goal is our ability to craft and implement laws that will ensure that the education system including pedagogy is governed by inclusion, participation, competitiveness, innovation, integrity, and creativity. All of these could be attained through design and futures thinking.

Design thinking: Education from the perspective of learners

Design thinking is a problem-solving approach that focuses on the user or the person having the problem. The designer (in the classroom setup, it could be the teachers or students), considers and solves the problem by empathizing with the user or trying to get into their shoes. 

Design thinking is applicable in practically all aspects of life and encourages innovative ideas and transformation. [2]

Shared here is an infographic shared by Rebecca Linke via MIT Sloan School of Management [3] but I encourage you to check the resources that are easily searchable through Google. This approach is already being adapted in schools worldwide and showing good results, encouraging creativity and collaboration in both the side of teachers and learners.

Credit: Mimi Phan via Rebecca Linke, MIT Sloan School of Management

In the classrooms, this could lead to the development of solutions to the current challenges that we are currently facing, such as, for example, suitability of pedagogy and learning materials. Because the approach is user-focused, the learners are part of the problem-solving process, rather than leaving them out—which is what typically happens in the traditional setup. 

An example of design thinking approach—which we could all relate with—is the way Thomas Edison developed an improved version of the incandescent bulb (based on earlier inventions) based on about 10,000 prototypes. In this example, the experience of the 10,000 attempts were not seen by Edison as failures but rather, important stages through which he found the idea or design that truly works. And here, we share one of most famous quotes that are attributed to him [4],

I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.

– Thomas edison

This connects perfectly, too, with a quote from the great Aristotle, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence therefore is not an act, but a habit.”

Both Edison and Aristotle point us to the right directions—highlighting that excellence in education is not achieved overnight. This is a good reminder to all of us—that we should think of our current challenges not as obstacles but essential elements and stepping through which we can “design” an education system that meets the needs of not just the Philippines but other countries that are experiencing similar challenges.

Futures thinking: Education amid emerging challenges

Of course, we need to shape the design, process, and quality of education based on how we think the future will look like. This is the goal behind “futures thinking.” In simple terms, futures thinking in education is a cross-disciplinary approach, which considers potential futures through the exploration of trends and drivers for change that may lead to different future scenarios. [5]

A country’s education system must, at the minimum, aim to achieve two things: (1) develop well-rounded, productive, successful, and law-abiding citizens, and (2) ensure an ecosystem where the skills and talents being developed are to the requirements of domestic and global economies. 

The attainment of these objectives is challenging and made even more daunting by emerging environmental and health risks. The Philippine education system needs to respond more meaningfully to what the society requires. This has been amplified by government reports, among them, the Report on Regional Economic Developments in the Philippines (2016), [6] which has highlighted that there is a “need to address the issue on jobs and skills mismatch through human resource development and creating a competitive and industry-responsive labor supply.”

To compound this, the country is producing lesser number of innovators, researchers, and knowledge and solutions producers compared with its neighbors. For instance, we only have 81 researchers per million population compared with 205 in Indonesia and 115 in Vietnam. [7]

Moreover, a significant number of jobs and businesses will involve stronger cognitive abilities—among them, creativity, logical reasoning, and problem-solving skills—so  entrepreneurs and employees need to develop these skills sets in order to succeed and flourish. [8]

Times are indeed changing—and so are the requirements of businesses and economies.

It was estimated that 65% of children entering primary school today will likely work in completely new job types that do not exist yet while almost half of tasks could be automated by 2055. [9] The WEF report also estimated that while only less than 5% of occupations can be automated completely, 30% of tasks associated with 60% of such jobs could already be performed by machines.

Therefore, governments, businesses, the academe and educational institutions, and educators and learners alike should be ready to adapt to the business and employment landscape of the future.

However, the education system of today, admittedly, is still designed from the dictates of the first Industrial Revolution, when societies expected learners to be punctual and obedient because they will eventually become the workforce of factories. 

In a system that recognizes the need of each individual learner and his/her ability to think through any problem, the learning style should not be one-way, restrictive, and dogmatic. [10] Instead, the learning environment and pedagogy need to facilitate and encourage more meaningful student-to-student, teacher-to-student and student-to-teacher interaction. 

This type of learning is being followed by the Finnish and, to some extent, the Japanese education systems, touted as among the best if not the best in the world. The systems are based on these basic premises:

  • Education should be an instrument to balance out social inequality
  • Good health is crucial in learning so students receive free school meals
  • Likewise, they enjoy ease of access to health care
  • Mental health is similarly given attention so there is always psychological counseling available for students
  • Every person is unique so there is individualized guidance and mentoring [11]

With the approach giving more emphasis to the growth of an individual, there is lesser pressure to become “college-educated” because trade school is not looked down upon as “less prestigious.” Both pathways can be equally fulfilling. In the Finnish basic education school, students usually need to attend two classes a day only (Colagrossi, 2018). They have several break times—allowing them ample time to eat, enjoy recreational activities, and relax or decompress. The system does not aim to force information into the learners’ brain but rather create an environment of enjoyable, interactive, intuitive, and holistic learning (partly adapted from Colagrossi, 2018). [12]

However, the Philippine education system and the market economy in general do not yet consider all of these or even if some organizations already do, significant progress can only be realized if there is a strong policy and governance environment.

futures thinking approach considers a transformative style of teaching and learning, where students can immerse themselves more—as compared with a more ‘mandatory’ enabling critical thinking and problem solving. In this learning environment, students not just sit and listen to a stern teacher in front but rather feel free to give voice to their thoughts and learn from different perspectives and disciplines in a classroom that is more circular than “stage-type.” Here, there is a dynamic learning environment—evolving from the rigid traditional infrastructure of the past. [13]

futures thinking and forward-looking education system should be founded on the following principles: [14]

(1) Allowing and inspiring collaboration and cocreation – the system nurtures students and teachers who treat one another as partners and co-creators. There is no “great divide”. 

(2) Customizing pedagogy based on individuals rather than mass production approach – the system appreciates that each person will have his/her abilities, interests, and aspirations. Therefore, the pedagogy will consider adaptive techniques that will customize learning/lesson plans based on an individual’s needs and abilities.

(3) Focusing less on grades and exams but more on real-life preparation – the system should be gearing more toward building the competency and skills of learners rather than pushing them to get high grades or top their exams. There is still a need for assessing the development of a learner but it is more about preparing them for their future plans and aspirations.

A one-minute reel accompanies this post. Please go to my Instagram page or click the link below.

(4) Nurturing educators as both thought leaders, innovators, and analysts – gone are the days where teachers are merely seen as the one on the ‘center stage’. In the new normal, they are no longer the stern-looking teachers holding a stick but are visionaries, innovators, and analysts. 

(5) Optimizing use of technology and breaking down walls – especially during emergency situation or when face-to-face learning is not always feasible, blended learning is the way forward. As long as there is a democratized, reliable, and consistent connectivity, anyone can learn—even under a mango tree. The system should prepare students for a future that is mostly automated—not fearing technologies but rather using them to attain personal and professional fulfillment. [15]

These guiding principles require an enabling policy environment and I hope DepEd and our legislators will look into these soon. I am immensely excited and grateful that DepEd is now opening up to more transformative interventions and I’m hopeful that the future will indeed be bright. I enjoin the private sector and the general public to continue supporting the Department and our learners—knowing fully well that we are shaping the future through our children and the decisions that we make today.

Please click on the link below for a 1-minute reel that accompanies this article. Thank you for viewing and sharing it!


[1] Department of Education, 2024

[2] Adapted from Teaching & Learning Lab (Harvard Graduate School of Education). Available here

[3] Infographic is by Mimi Phan. It is available here

[4] T. Edison as cited in JC Payne (2014). Available here.

[5] Adapted from OECD as cited in Encounter Edu. Available here.

[6] Department of Economic Research Regional Monetary Affairs Sub-Sector, Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (2016)

[7] Philippine National Development Plan as cited in Plaza (2018). Philippine Education System in 2018: Are We Moving Forward? Available here

[8] World Economic Forum (2016). The future of jobs. Available at

[9] WEF, 2016. Partly adapted from Singh, as cited in Puckett. Executive summary. The report’s executive summary is available at

[10] WEF (2016)

[11] Colagrossi, M. (2018, Sep 10). 10 reasons why Finland’s education system is the best in the world. Available at

[12] Ibid.

[13] Partly adapted from Puckett, 2017

[14] Partly adapted from McLaughlin as cited in RMIT University (n.d.). Available here.

[15] Partly adapted from Toffler as cited in K. Puckett (2017). Available here

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