With few units left, the future of graduating students is still up in the air.
By Gabriel Dolot and Aesha Sarrol
With the ‘Sablay’ rites shifting online, students were saddened by the anti-climactic year-end recognition of graduates, in which traditionally, was supposed to be celebrated with high spirits accompanied by a crowd of graduates, family, and friends. Not only did the pandemic prevent physical commencement exercises, it also barred some students from attending because the pandemic delayed and hindered their eligibility to graduate.
Starting from the imposition of community quarantine in mid-March and up to now, schools and universities operate with limited workforce and have shifted to remote learning services due to the high risk of virus contraction. Students were also forced to halt on-campus academic activities which hampered the completion of their requirements.
The uncertainty of being able to return to the campus for physical classes has induced anxiety for students, especially those with few units left in order to complete their degree programs. As some of these individuals need resources found on the campus or in local communities, their research capacities are little to none. Moreover, not all students have a conducive environment in order to complete tasks, making progress much more difficult at a work from home setting.
Despite the changes in plans and readjustment of academic requirements and in-class activities, many subjects, under specific departments, provided students a “P” grade which signifies a passing remark. (Read: ‘Walang iwanan’: UP faculty push through mass promotion despite BOR decision) While some professors immediately gave passing remarks and some demanded few requirements be submitted, others had to resort to continuous and adjusted online activities to satisfy course requirements needed in obtaining numerical grades. These differences, referring to irregular grading systems, caused others to fall behind, impinging developments in their respective academic standings.
COVID-19 has taken its toll on everyone, professors and students alike. Aggravated by the slow response of the government, five months of quarantine jeopardized the future of these students, creating a domino effect on their possible long term plans. Students are forced to look for jobs to help their families, delaying supposed progress in their academics. What could have been their last remaining requirements for completion, quickly turned into a major setback owing to the government’s ineptitude in providing efficient transitioning to an online set-up.
Aurney Atienza, a BS Development Communication student of the University of the Philippines Los Baños (UPLB), shared that she was supposed to finish her last 8 units last semester but was unable to because her lecture and lab classes, as well as her internship in PhilRice, did not push through. She added that, in her case, she was already lucky enough to gather data so her only concern now is writing the thesis itself. While professors were kind enough to give passing remarks, Atienza pointed out that the biggest problem is her working environment and so she had to postpone her thesis progress.
“During the past few months in quarantine, I noticed how fast my mood changes, affected din ‘yung focus ko on things as well as my lack of energy. Nakadagdag pa ‘yung updates on how the government is handling the pandemic,” she said.
In addition, she mentioned, “When my lola died last June, mas nag deteriorate ‘yung mental health ko because ilang months kami hindi nagkikita dahil sa lockdown tapos quick lang din ‘yung funeral dahil bawal ang mass gathering. Ang hirap ng grieving process kapag limited lang ‘yung pwede mong gawin.”
Despite these hindrances, Atienza mentioned that she is now constantly communicating with her thesis adviser because she needs to accomplish everything by May 31, 2021, pursuant to the UP System Policy on the Second Semester AY 2019-2020 In the Time of COVID-19.
Also studying BS Development Communication, Nico Mercado found difficulty in gathering resources and participants for his thesis.
“Currently doing my thesis and it requires interviews, so obviously the pandemic put a stop to my data gathering work. Still trying to iron out details with participants regarding online interviews, but of course they’re busy, too,” he said.
Amidst the pandemic, Nico also got a temporary job to provide him extra income. He also has to accomplish course requirements for his Human and Family Development Studies (HFDS) elective but shared that he is currently prioritizing his thesis and added that, hopefully, the online access to College of Development Communication (CDC) reading resources will be able to help. Services offered by the different college libraries as well as the University of the Philippines Los Baños University Library are already accessible online.
Ho Flores, from the College of Human Ecology (CHE), was doing revisions on his thesis when the lockdown started. He is one of many students who are currently stranded in Los Baños because of the lockdown, and spent his pre-quarantine days in the main library to do edits, since classes were not suspended yet.
“I can still remember me typing in the library’s basement as there were no calls for class suspension yet. Having no personal laptop, I depend largely on campus facilities to do academic requirements. I can’t help but feel anxious about everything— of what will happen to myself, my family, and the country at large,” he said.
Referring to the imposed policies by the Board of Regents (BOR) for the 2nd semester AY 2019-2020, Flores said, “It’s hard for me to compose myself again and gain back momentum to do my academic deficiencies. The BOR has decided months ago re: computation of grades and I personally think it’s out of touch. We’re in a state of emergency yet we’re expected to function like the usual.”
Flores also shared that since UPLB has restrained thesis and practicum activities, it is a challenge to research on community concerns which form a large portion of his degree program. While remote data gathering is doable, he thinks that it will greatly affect the results of his study.
According to the UP administration, 5,600 students may need assistance for remote learning.
On a survey done by the UPLB’s University Student Council (USC) and other local college councils, it said that 4 out of 5 students’ homes are not conducive to learning, 2 out of 5 have intermittent or no internet connection at all, and 1 out 5 do not have access to equipment such as laptops or smartphones. (Read: ‘Not aligned with student concerns’: UPLB admin to push remote learning in September)
These factors clearly affect, if not interfere, the academic performance of students which may lead to further repercussions such as the mishandled Maximum Residency Rule (MRR) and readmission issues by the current UPLB administration. Because of the lack of preparation and clear guidelines for the upcoming academic year, the future of thousands of students is unclear and their estimated time of completion may be extended.
Although the UPLB virtual graduation will push through on August 15, 2020, student regent Isaac Punzalan encourages the Constituent Universities to heed the call for on-ground graduation rites in the future if the situation permits it. (Read: UPLB USC calls for on-ground grad rites) The reason for doing so, aside from it being a tradition that every student should experience, is that not all graduating students will be able to participate since there are those who have limited access to the internet.
According to Nur Lemuel Castillo, a BS Development Communication graduate, it is both “unfair” and “discriminating.” However, Chancellor Sanchez answered that they are “in no position to commit due to the uncertainties of the pandemic.” The graduation is supposed to be a celebration of years of hard work, by people from different backgrounds in a university that upholds inclusivity but somehow, the virtual graduation undermines that.
It is during these times and the presence of these cases that the UPLB administration must uphold and heed the needs of the students. Guidelines that cater student concerns should be in place, coupled with appropriate health measures to counter the threat of the ongoing health crisis. As much as possible, academic policies must consider the plight of students and professors given the physical restrictions and other effects of the pandemic such as mental health.
In the midst of the UPLB chancellor selection, choosing a pro-student chancellor who takes his constituents into account and considers them in decision making is especially needed. How the admin addresses situations like these play an integral part in assessing and deeming them worthy of their positions. However, students are also responsible for addressing their academic needs; it is just through these administrative policies where students will be able to determine the next steps to take.
Let the situation of these students be a wake up call for the national government to act immediately and to properly respond to the concerns of the citizens because, in every second they waste, countless lives and futures are at stake. [P]