Ten Questions: Furthering the global, local evangelization of education with Br. Armin Luistro FSC

Br. Armin Luistro FSC maintains communion in mission by ensuring that Lasallians work together to provide better education to others.

Br. Armin Luistro FSC, former president of De La Salle Philippines (DLSP) and the education secretary under the administration of late former President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III, was elected as the 28th Superior General of the Brothers of Christian Schools last May 18 during the Assembly of 70 Chapter Brothers of the 46th General Chapter.

As the new Superior General, The LaSallian interviewed Luistro on his insights and plans for the future of Lasallian schools.

What are your plans for the upcoming years as the Superior General of the Institute of the Brothers of Christian Schools?

We have been mandated by the 46th General Chapter to create new pathways so that Lasallian education can be more effective and more [attuned] to the needs of today and that includes the overall issues, which are global.

In essence, the overall plan is really the mandate from the Brothers at large to ensure that our educational system worldwide, not just on a per district or per country basis, should be responsive, and that we should be looking at new ways whereby we could ensure that education responds, especially to those the Pope calls them to resolve.

As a former DLSP president and  Department of Education (DepEd) Secretary, what differences in the education system do you see between the past and now?

During our time…the major shift was toward K-12. I would say, very objectively, [K-12 was] the first major radical shift in the educational system. By and large, prior to K-12, our system continued to be an American system of education, but we missed out on two extra years and that’s the whole rationale behind the K-12 reform. The [Duterte] administration…continued the K-12 system, and I would imagine the [Marcos Jr.] administration will also pursue that.

I understand that in the administration of [former DepEd] Secretary Leonor Briones, she focused on the alternative learning system and if she was speaking about this very recently, [it was] one of her major legacies. But the alternative learning system is really a segment of the bigger educational system in the Philippines that truly [helped] those who did not have the chance to access the educational portal in years past.

In the [Marcos Jr.] administration, we’ll have to actually deal with whether they like it or not, with the issues of the post-pandemic education [and its] realities. I suppose the new administration will really need to focus on software and hardware, because that will be a major part of the current educational system, whether we like it or not.

Last May 21, you visited the Vatican and met Pope Francis. What are your thoughts on the Pope encouraging De La Salle Brothers to continue “evangelizing by educating and educating by evangelizing”?

We heard the message of the Pope very clearly. It was saying that the act of making education a critical component of formation and development in the world has really failed peoples and governments and he called everyone. He essentially reiterated that when he met with the Brothers, recognizing that we really are evangelizers, we also proclaim the good news of Christ’s message but also educators.

What that means is you proclaim to everyone, especially young people, the good news of Christ by actually giving them access to education. So when we open schools after the pandemic, despite great risks, when we connect and reach out to young people—students who are besieged by mental health issues—when we adjust our curriculum, our strategies, and even the schedule of payments so that families and students can continue to be educated in return to school, when we offer scholarships, when we support teachers—who are having difficulties adjusting—those are all messages of good news.

As the first Filipino leader of the Lasallian Brothers, how do you think our Filipino values and learnings will influence your way of leading?

Looking at the world from a Philippine perspective, I bring the richness but also the weaknesses of our Filipino culture. I bring that with pride, but also with a sense of humility, that I could learn much from the other cultures where the Lasallian institutions are. I have to learn a lot of those new ways, some of which are really old ways, traditions that have allowed the Lasallian educational system to be immersed in multiple cultures in the world—but at the same time responding to local needs.

The big challenge that the 46th General Chapter left with our new administration is to actually leverage on our diversity. The chapter challenged us to do a bigger project and ask ourselves, “How can we, with around a thousand institutions in the world, Lasallian institutions in these 80 countries, work together? How can we work in synergy and actually respond and become more effective with greater impact to many of the global problems? Let’s not just think local. Let’s also respond to global problems.”

What are the challenges or obstacles that you expect to encounter as the Superior General?

A big obstacle is opening new doors, whereby Lasallians can now think…globally and act locally. Is it possible for us to look at various ways, whereby our institutions can contribute not only to local issues, but also in discussing and planning how we can leverage on our international character, our global reach? If we put our best human resources together, I think we could make a very real impact in global education. That’s the challenge. We know that in every district, our country, there are many issues that our educational leaders are facing, but we are challenging them and that, hopefully, would not be an obstacle.

With disinformation becoming one of the biggest issues of the education system today, how do you plan to confront and address it?

The first thing is changing the narrative. We are not Lasallian institutions in 80 countries, we are one La Salle. The more we leverage our one network as part of our communication plan, the more we can change people’s understanding of what our role can be. Secondly, I already proposed during the General Chapter that we should not look at Rome as the center of the institute. So we need to bring the center to the peripheries, and when we return to the physical center which is Rome, we have to bring the concerns, the ideas, and the best practices to the physical center. I call this a strategy of “cross-pollination”, where different institutions and Lasallian communities actually move about with the particular role of sharing information. We need to push ahead and look for new ways through which Lasallian education can be promoted.

Are there any initiatives of the former Superior General, Br. Robert “Bob” Schieler FSC, that you intend to continue?

Br. Bob opened the door for this chapter. The outgoing governance team of the institute actually pushed for a different kind of chapter that was supposed to be held outside of Rome. It would’ve been the first time. We scheduled everything to be held in Thailand, a non-Christian atmosphere. Except the pandemic changed our plan so we are back [in] Rome. So the outgoing team had been very creative in allowing the new pathways to emerge. That is what Br. Bob’s team helped in allowing our new team to respond to it a little better…one of the biggest legacies of Br. Bob is opening new pathways for Lasallian partners to participate in [institutional] governments and as well as the policy-making of the institute.

What was DLSP’s reaction to the results of the 2022 National and Local Elections? Moving forward, what are your expectations for the Marcos Jr. administration, especially its possible effects on the education sector?

I know that these elections have been one of the most divisive, but also is different from the previous ones, as far as I can remember. Lasallians, individually—but also as [part of their] institutions—have become very actively engaged in promoting,  discussing, in debating issues, [and] also [in] personalities: whom they should vote [and] why they should vote for what. The [Lasallian] Brothers have also come up with our own discernment prior to this. I think that is a very good thing whether their candidates won or lost is not the issue. The issue is active engagement and bringing to the [forefront] who we are as educators, who we are as a Lasallian community…Whichever candidate or party Lasallians promoted, we should not forget that behind that, there was this very deliberate push for this recognition that we have at stake in our country.

From the education sector, one of the biggest worries that will have an impact on how we view the education system—DepEd, TESDA (Technical Education and Skills Development Authority, CHED (Commission on Higher Education)—is really with respect to disinformation and historical revisionism. Because our institutions and education [stand] on truth. When truth is weak, when truth becomes fake news, then we have a problem, which is at the very heart of our institutions and what we stand for. Those fateful and difficult parts of our histories, including Martial Law, are lessons to be learned.

As of now, there are various issues of unrest globally—from issues on the climate to the conflict happening in Ukraine and Afghanistan. How can you ensure that the role of De La Salle brothers is still relevant during these times?

First, our schools, regardless of the geographic distance from the areas of conflict, must take to heart the struggles of people that we know, [and] even the strangers that we do not know because at the end of the day, we are brothers and sisters. The Pope actually emphasized this. Two things, he said, “You are Brothers, and you run Christian Schools.” You have to authentically live that brotherhood, which is really inclusivity. It is a brotherhood and sisterhood within the Lasallian family and also with people outside, even with non-Lasallians. We cannot be exclusive and say “Elitista ang Lasalista.” Hindi pwedeng gano’n. (“Lasallians are elitist.” That cannot be.)

To be Christian is to also be accepting of the differences of each other. It’s to be non-judgemental with young people. What they’re thinking, what they’re saying. We cannot judge them just like that. The first task is to embrace them and to accept them as they are.

As the 28th successor of St. John the Baptist de La Salle, what guiding principles of his will you continue to put to heart and work as you carry out the responsibilities of the Superior General?

I hope to do that using the background strengths and weaknesses that I have. My own style is not to rely just on myself. I’m very limited, I only know English. The Institute’s official languages are three, English, Spanish and French, so I have a handicap there. I will live a major part of my life in Rome, so I have to learn Italian at least to go by and listen to conversations at the table. I will do my best to try to learn not just languages but the different cultures. But most importantly, I’d like to connect with the Lasallians out there on the field. Because the real center is where the work happens.

We need to identify what would be the priority—global response. Our response so far has been communities responding to local needs and local concerns. To rally the troops, so to speak, by presenting opportunities for everyone…rich and poor…First World and Third World countries…we can all do our little share…when we do our little share, but we do it together, there’s so much good that could be done. You just need to open the doorway and people respond, because they see I can do a little, but this little conjoined with many others, has a very big impact. Keep the light shining will be the crying call for Lasallians everywhere.

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