Rise For Education – UPLB Chapter’s (R4E-UPLB) latest update on their “Ligtas Na Balik-Eskwela” advocacy urges the UPLB admin to postpone the school year in order to make way for more pro-student and proactive solutions.
EDITOR’S NOTE (August 26, 2020): The headline was revised to fit the story more appropriately. All mentions of “R4E” were clarified to be that of the UPLB chapter.
Consisting of different student councils and youth organizations, the said alliance asserted their stance towards the violation of free and accessible education through numerous “Ligtas Na Balik-Eskwela” online movements.
“The conditions we have right now – in which the people are dealing with the virus, the administration, and the recent storm – serve as a basis to say that the present is not a conductive time to resume classes and submit requirements, as if there isn’t an ongoing health and economic crisis in our country,” R4E-UPLB said.
Such online movements included their open student concerns surveys, their Junk SAIS virtual rallies, and their recent partnership with N3TC. All of which aimed to encourage the youth to involve themselves in R4E-UPLB’s calls to postpone the resumption of classes and provide proper support to teaching and non-teaching staff.
Recently, the Office of the Chancellor denied the University Student Council’s (USC) request to postpone pre-registration, despite the administration’s lack of comprehensive guidelines for the upcoming semester, especially on laboratory, fieldwork, and tuition fees. Signed by incumbent chancellor Fernando Sanchez Jr., the letter stated that the pre-registration would merely serve as a “survey” on the access of students to the internet.
R4E stood firm against the current counter-productive measures of the UPLB administration and the government. They believed that implementing mass testing and providing online resources are imperative in creating a safe and inclusive learning environment.
Postponement of Classes vs. Academic Freeze
These pro-student and proactive solutions, however, required ample time for them to be deemed effective before the academic year, thus R4E’s advocacy of postponing classes.
There remained some confusion with regards to the terms “postponement of classes” and “academic freeze,” known for being an “oversimplified, black-and-white solution,” due to its demands to the government in halting or freezing all forms of educational activity.
Fellow R4E-UPLB alliance members Jainno Bongon (the new USC chair), Rich Adriel de Guzman, and Sieg R. Severino were quick to cite the difference between these two terms, at the same time addressing the concerns related to academic freeze.
De Guzman clarified that R4E-UPLB has shifted from calling for an “academic freeze” to calling for “postponement of classes,” while Bongon said that “this [academic freeze] would delay millions of students for a year and hamper salaries for teachers and staff. [But at the same time] We can’t just wait out the pandemic because of the government’s incompetent and antiscientific measures. We need proactive solutions to this issue.”
“Postponement of classes, on the other hand, calls for indefinite postponement until the government provides state services, financial support to the masses, and [a] medical solution to end this pandemic,” De Guzman added.
“What we’re demanding now is the postponement of class resumption. The difference is that a postponement would mean the academic year will resume as soon as the pandemic subsides. At the same time, we must hold the government accountable by demanding necessary state services to make class resumption safe and inclusive,” De Guzman said.
Emphasizing on holding government accountability towards the current pandemic response, Severino said, “We are pushing for a postponement until our teachers and students are ready for remote learning, and at the same time, sinisingil natin ang gobyerno and educational institutions (DepEd and CHED) to provide concrete solutions and provide state services para sa ligtas na balik-eskwela ng lahat. State Service includes mass testing, intensive contract tracing, proper quarantine facilities, at ayuda para sa mga nangangailangan.”
“We agree that an academic freeze is a black-and-white solution, that’s why we have to postpone classes until our educational institutions are ready for remote classes, and at the same time, demand the administration to have concrete medical solutions para magkaroon ng ligtas na balik-eskwela ang lahat in the soonest possible time,” Severino added.
‘Maximum productivity amidst pandemic’
According to Assistant Vice President for Academic Affairs Richard Gonzalo, blended learning would only be implemented once the situation improves. He mentioned that such adjustments to the curriculum will be made, such as Learning Assistance Grants, Peer Learning Groups and Networks, and Student Helpdesk and Guidance to cater to the students’ “physical and mental well-being” and promote maximum productivity amidst the pandemic.
“Regardless if we bridge the accessibility issues, student concerns about internship, laboratory, and fieldwork are still unclear as to how these will be done in the next academic year,” Bongon asserted. “To add to that, we still don’t have measures for students with problematic households that could affect their learning. In a survey conducted by the USC, four out of five student respondents said their homes aren’t conducive for learning.”
Severino described the current actions of the administration as limiting and band-aid solutions as many constituents are still victim to the admin’s demands of gadgets and a stable internet connection.
“Very limited siya in the sense na ang application ng mga ito, based sa initial plans, ay through online platforms. Dito pa lang, disadvantaged na agad ang mga walang internet connections, which is the main problem nga nitong remote and blended learning,” Severino said.
De Guzman countered Gonzalo, saying how the mentioned solutions such as the Student Helpdesk and Guidance, had issues even before the pandemic started and would most likely worsen now, adding that the university constituents could not afford to become “guinea pigs” again to poorly planned out activities.
“There are still students that will be left behind. Some students have already pointed out criticisms on these proposed plans and have suggested more sound ones that are in line with students concerns raised during the numerous student consultations, yet the admin has failed to listen to these when they initiated their own town hall consultations, making it merely tokenistic and not really consultative,” De Guzman added.
On other student concerns
Bongon, De Guzman, and Severino elaborated on how the current actions of the administration would aggravate the ongoing student issues, such as Consent of Instructor (COI), Maximum Residence Rule (MRR) or readmission, and pre-registration concerns.
“The administration is operating on the assumption that all of us have access to the Internet and gadgets,” Bongon said. “They have to be lenient and provide means to make these transactions accessible to everyone.”
On MRR or Readmission issues, Bongon, De Guzman, and Severino all attest to the administration’s neglect and inaction to the affected students.
Bongon asserted, “We abhor this action. Appealing students were made to undergo bureaucratic processes and wait for months, and some were even left stranded in Los Baños. In the end, they were still disapproved. Stripping people of their education, especially now, is inhumane.”
“Until now, there are still cases of MRR and Readmission that have been pending and disregarded by the admin since the past few semesters leaving students with no option but to lose hope in continuing their studies,” De Guzman said.
“These students are not deliquents, they have genuine reasons kung bakit nagkaproblema sila sa pagpapatuloy ng pag-aaral,” Severino explained. “It is also disappointing na hanggang ngayon ay walang student representatives sa mga committees na nag-dedecide ng mga magiging kapalaran ng mga students…multi-faceted itong problemang ito kaya naman dapat nakikipag-usap nang maayos ang admin at pinapaupo ang student reps sa mga meeting regarding these.”
With regards to COI and registration concerns, the three noted that students had been seeking support from student councils and youth organizations, since no clear guidelines or announcements were made from the administration. The online processing of subjects and enrollment is seen to differ from each college institution, resulting in many students missing the COI deadlines due to the lack of immediate response of the offices.
“A lot of students are currently facing uncertainties on enrolling because of certain student concerns like the SLB, MRR, Readmission, tuition concerns, internet problems, and a lot more which are not yet being answered by the university admin because they are still planning out the semester which poses a serious risk to students, faculty, and staff given that online classes are less than a month away,” De Guzman said.
“The pandemic has really exposed the flaws of our national government and its priorities and we don’t want our fellow students to suffer from it. That’s why we call on everyone to support our UPLB Student Demands wherein it provides a concrete list of demands to assure that the welfare of the students, faculty, and staff is met and that medical solutions are being prioritized in these times,” De Guzman said.
“These problems are manifestations of Chancellor Sanchez years of neglect and inactions sa student concerns, specifically our registration concerns, and also kung gaano hindi kahanda ng UPLB para sa online/remote/blended learning,” Severino added.
“This solidifies our call for postponement kasi hanggang ngayon, with few weeks before start ng classes, sobrang daming problema na ang nag-aarise sa registration pa lang ng courses. The R4E-UPLB is firm on our demand to prioritize making concrete plans and actions in addressing the state services, before we open classes again.” [P]