ILUMINADA Coronel is 82 but for this Franciscan sister, age indeed is just a number.

Since 1977, she has been heading the prestigious Mathematics Teachers Association of the Philippines (MTAP), believing that her teaching is her "scholarly mission."

”I am guided by the principle that the development of people is part of evangelization," she told the Varsitarian.

Coronel earned her degree in Mathematics magna cum laude at UST in 1952. She later took her master’s degree at Ateneo de Manila University where she taught until her retirement in 1991.

“The University has always had high standards, even in my time. The best teachers and students were formed through the University’s quality of education. That time, we were the ones being looked up to,” said Coronel, who is from the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary.

In 2006, Coronel received a lifetime award—the "Illuminada Award"—from the Manila Association of Secondary School Math Head Teachers.

Scholarly and spiritual vision

As a young girl, Coronel always knew she had a calling.

“I have always dreamed of becoming a nun. I would grab our bed sheet and place it on my head to make it look like a veil,” she said.

Her passion for education was also evident at a young age.

“I wanted to build a school where I could impart my knowledge to many students. Sadly, things didn’t turn out the way I planned them.”

But things slowly took a turn in her favor, and now, Coronel imparts her mathematical knowledge to a larger audience.

“My dream was just [to have] a small school where I could teach a small number of people, but now I have over half a million students participating in my math challenges.”

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Coronel travelled a rough road after teaching for two years, but finally took the path to answer her calling.

“My mother didn’t want me to become a nun. But when I saw a line from a book that said, ‘If your family can go along without you, you can leave.' I ran away,” she said. “It so happened that my uncle was a priest and he helped me out.”

With her devotion to God and profession as an educator, Coronel seems to have found her true mission in life.

“It is my service to the Lord that got me here. If there is something that I can’t do, I think of it as a challenge the Lord puts before me. It is my mission, my missionary work,” she said.

Solving the ‘math anxiety’

Though mathematics has always been perceived as a difficult challenge for Filipino students, Coronel opposed the idea.

“Filipinos are very good in math, in my opinion. Students are really eager to answer problems given to them. They enjoy a challenge.”

These challenges were her way of encouraging students to love the subject.

“In MTAP, we use competitions and the Saturday program – this offers a review of the students’ previous math lessons to help them do better in the current year level they are in,” she said. “We encourage them to do lots of math challenges. We also hold annual conventions for the students to attend.”

Aside from developing students, Coronel recounted that one of MTAP’s goals is also to help math teachers improve their performance.

“It is the teachers that we really encourage so they could make their teaching methods more effective and enjoyable for the students,” Coronel said.

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“Very often, teachers are the cause of students finding math difficult because they themselves don’t know the subject. They just dictate what is written in the textbook.”

Citing this problem with math teachers, Coronel gave a few remihnders on teaching the subject.

“They (math teachers) must master the subject matter. If they know their topic thoroughly, the students’ interest in the subject would grow,” she said, “[And] if the teachers have mastered what they are teaching, they can explain it clearly.”

‘Strive for excellence’

Though Mathematics was always her subject of choice, she said she would still help in the development of Philippine education if she given a chance.

“My love for math is not really the love for the subject matter itself. My love is for the development of the people and country,” she said. “If I have mastered English, then I will do what am I doing for English, it’s only because I happen to know math,” she added.

Known as a dedicated teacher and a devoted nun, Coronel said she lifts up all of her hard work to the Almighty God.

“I’m doing all of this to help improve the quality of education here in the country. My mission is to help in the development of the people of God. The Lord gave me this task and it is my duty to fulfill it.”

Though many challenges arise in the field of Philippine education, Coronel shared this piece of advice to all aspiring educators.

“Continue striving for excellence. Work hard and do not let anybody down so you can be seen as a [role] model,” she said. “Study your subject matter so you will be able to impart it well. Develop good moral values and always remember to love your country.”

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