Since June, three months into online learning, three separate cases of student suicides have been reported. All have been linked to pressure brought upon by online classes.
The first case involved a 19-year-old Sto. Domingo National High School Balik-Aral student (someone who resumed studying after a period of inactivity) last June 16. The student was found lifeless in a hut near their family’s Brgy. Fidel Surtida home at 5 AM that day. According to the mother, the stress came from the cost of purchasing load or internet fees to participate in online classes.
Following that, a 21-year-old male from the town of Sitio San Antonio, Sto. Domingo, Albay took his life last August 18. This was after his mother told him to temporarily take a break from school and not enroll due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the lack of money to support his online schooling.
Lastly, a 21-year-old, this time a female from Sta. Elena, Iriga City, also died last September 11. Her death came as a shock to her parents, Ruben and Rosa, as they were only aware of their daughter’s struggles with her gadget, signal, and Internet connection. They only found her lifeless in the middle of night, when they were woken by a crash sound in their home.
DepEd Regional Office (RO) V director Gilbert Sadsad was saddened by the 19-year-old’s passing, saying that the agency will work to ensure that the opening of classes then would give care to the students’ emotional and mental health.
“While we have been relentless in informing the public that DepEd, especially Bicol Region will implement blended learning and will be most flexible in providing alternative delivery modes to our learners to avoid creating further stresses to our learners and parents amid the [COVID]-19 pandemic, we cannot discount the fact that we also have to consider the extreme vulnerability of our learners to depression and emotional breakdowns,” Sadsad said.
Sadsad added that online learning is not the only means to study during the pandemic.
“We are also reiterating that the online mode of learning is not the primary consideration of DepEd Bicol as initial mapping of our resources implies that blended learning or modular learning which uses printed learning materials, is more favorable for majority of our learners,” Sadsad said.
National Union of Students of the Philippines (NUSP) condemned the deaths in an alert statement for the second incident, stating that this is a continued sign of the government’s incompetence.
“Data from the Department of Education has shown that 7 million students were unable to enroll in private and public schools for this school year . This is worrisome as it shows the government’s abandonment in its duty to provide quality education to students,” NUSP said on their Facebook post.
Death by education
DepEd and the Commission on Higher Education’s (CHED) continued efforts to shift to online learning has been met with criticism on social media. The most common points mentioned included the lack of resources necessary to attend online classes or access digital modules or mental health concerns.
Although classes were moved from August 24 to October 5 as a means for most constituents to adjust to the changes, progressive youth groups such as Panday Sining Pearl Drive called this a “band-aid solution.”
“To address the difficulties faced by students, teachers, and administrators, DepEd has moved the opening date of classes from August 24 to October 5. However, this is merely a band-aid solution for DepEd’s failure to implement proper solutions to the problems faced by those in the educational sector,” they said.
In a statement, Kabataan Partylist Bicol described the Philippine education system to be “rotten,” due to its commercialist, colonialist, and elitist nature.
“However, the Department of Education (DepEd) and Commision on Higher Education (CHED) continue to push [insist] for the resumption of online classes in response to the demands of capitalist owners of educational institutions. This only shows how rotten our existing education system is as it remains to be commercialized, colonial, and elitist-oriented,” they said.
The partylist also referenced the accidental death of Capiz State University – Dumarao learner Kristelyn Villance last May 16. The 20-year-old criminology student died in a motorbike accident while she and her father were hastily searching for a stable Internet connection, so that Villiance could submit her academic requirements.
Student groups such as Agham Youth UP Diliman condemned the incident, citing that it showcases the lack of care for the students from both education agencies.
“How can students focus on learning and being productive when they are facing problems not just personal or familiar problems, but also anxiety with ongoing calamities, government incompetencies, and adjusting to the new normal caused by COVID-19?,” the group asked while pointing-out the increasing divide between the privileged and underprivileged learners.
Ligtas na Balik Eskwela (and other campaigns)
In response to the push for online classes, hashtag campaigns launched on social media as a protest.
Initially, the primary call was for #AcademicFreeze, where schooling would stop entirely. However, #LigtasNaBalikEskwela is being used now by most groups, as the latter’s demands now focus on obtaining an immediate remedy for the COVID-19 pandemic, so as there would be a safe return to physical classes. [P]
Photo from Andy Madrigalego/Philexaminer.com