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Overworked UPLB faculty criticize rushed school year open

“… Mahirap gawin sa isang module na basta mo ipapadala sa isang estudyante at siya na ang bahala sa buhay niya for the rest of the sem …” 

Dr. Janette H. Malata-Silva; AUPAEU-LB President

Despite the UP Office of the Student Regent’s (OSR) petition to postpone classes after garnering roughly 10 000 signatories from the UP community, the Board of Regent (BOR) decided to still push through their plan on their 1353rd Meeting last September 2.

Effectively, classes opened on September 10.

As UPLB welcomed the newly enrolled freshmen in a virtual convocation, the faculty, however, claimed to have an arguably cold welcome. According to most professors who shared their stories with the public, they have struggled and are continuously experiencing difficulties preparing for the coming semester.

“There is so much discomfort about not being able to see my students face-to-face to assess their needs and to build rapport, which is important especially at the start of the semester,” Department of Humanities (DHum) Assistant Professor Reya Mari Veloso said in an interview with the Perspective.

She described the first two days as being “tedious and cumbersome” when compared to physical sessions.

DHum Instructor III Aaron Paul Lusanta shared that professors experienced difficulty in keeping track of their students progress-wise. He added that regardless if classes were synchronous or asynchronous, there is no certainty for him that they were able to catch-up and connect, or could learn at their own pace.

Nawawala [rin] ang diwa ng pagtuturo ng isang guro kung [mga mag-aaral] na lang mismo ang matututo para sa sarili nila,” Lusanta said.

One-time, big-time

In line with a June 19 memorandum from the Office of the Vice President for Academic Affairs (OVPAA), courses for the semester would be redesigned to suit the needs of students and “course packs” would be made by professors. Lusanta explained that these could be distributed either on the original deadline (September 1), on September 10 (especially for those who were not able to comply on the first deadline, or on mid-semester around October.

In theory, these sets, distributed through online means or a courier service delivering flash drives or hardcopies would help financially-challenged students without Internet access by placing lessons, discussions, and exercises among others in individual packs.

This would reportedly turn-out to be problematic for faculty members due to an apparent lack of clearer guidelines and support on the said contentious module development. This is more evident for those who will be developing these from scratch.

In a September 5 [P] Live episode, All UP Academic Employees Union – Los Banos (AUPAEU-LB) President Dr. Janette Malata-Silva said that the particular struggle of condensing lessons of a course subject is a massive challenge.

Ang course pack kasi kailangan ihanda namin lahat ng materyales na kakailanganin ng estudyante sa loob ng isang buong semestre. Ipapadala siya sa mga estudyante kung ang mga estudyante ay magsasabi sila nawala kaming internet connection,’” Silva explained.

Silva pointed out that the lack of a clear feedback system was difficult for the professors.

Hindi [rin] namin alam kung paano ang mekanismo ng pagbabalik ng kanilang requirement, kasi hindi sila required to go online para makipag-usap sa’min. Teacher ang gagawa ng paraan para sa feedback mechanism. Guro ang gagawa ng paraan para ma-kamusta [ang mga mag-aaral na] ‘ikaw ba ay nakakahabol pa ba?,’” she added.

Lusanta, who noted that it is hard to know how it would be viable to acquire his students’ outputs, said that students might be confused while learning.

Maaaring maligaw o mamali ng paliwanag o pagkaintindi ang estudyante sa aralin, at walang hustisya kung pagkatapos sumagot ng estudyante ay ma-markahan na lang agad ng guro kung ano ang naintindihan nila,” Lusanta said.

Silva said that chancellor incumbent Fernando Sanchez, Jr. already talked with the UPLB Ugnayan ng Pahinungod to head the courier delivery of the course packs.

The university’s “Fair Use Law” also hindered the development of the course packs.

Silva shared that a memorandum stated that there is only a percentage of material to be shared and included in the course packs, but did not include exactly how much can be shared. It also mentioned that professors could pay a fine or be jailed if they violate any of the agreements.

“Burden ka na nga na ang [d]ami mong iniisip, late dumating yung copyright, may hinahabol kang deadline, mapanakot [pa] sa halip na mapag-kalinga ang memo,” Silva added.

Far from ready

Within the first two days of classes, students and faculty members faced major difficulties.

When asked how ready are the academic employees or the UP in general this coming Thursday, Dr. Silva said that “we are far – far from being ready to open on September 10.”

One the most notable issues was when professors were bombarded by hundreds of prerogatory requests on their email accounts.

Institute of Mathematical Sciences and Physics (IMSP) Professor II Jomar Rabajante shared that he was caught off guard by the large number of requests.

Ang raming nagme-message sa akin for prerog. Hundreds na yata. Nabigla ako. Aaminin ko hindi ko ma-replyan lahat ng students [dahil] kapag ginawa ko yun buong araw ay [buong araw] magsesend lang ako ng reply.” Rabajante said, noting that stress and burnout were felt.

He added that while he had experience with online teaching, he still felt stressed.

“Come to think of it, [UP Open University] affiliate faculty ako and program chair ng diploma in Math teaching; may training na ako sa online teaching; pero na-stress ako. What more yung first time mag-online teaching? What more rin yung mga faculty members na magha-handle ng GE and service courses for undergrads?,” Rabajante said.

Veloso explained that, besides spending the first two days of classes entertaining and sending emails and surveys the whole day, the faculty only had two months to finish the course packs and to attend minor workshops for training.

“There was minimal training on course redesign or converting our syllabus for online learning, but everything else we had to play by ear. There weren’t any clear guidelines on what the essence of the course pack is. It seems as if it is a tokenistic move for the UP admin to have us produce course packs in the name of productivity,” Veloso said.

She described this as a “drastic and shortsighted shift to online learning.”

Veloso shared that the maximum advisable units for each faculty to have was nine units with 10 to 15 students in each section for online mode of learning, but despite that, some faculty were forced to be overloaded with 15 units with 30 or more students in each class.

Veloso said that she did not want to “swallow” beyond what she could have, explaining why she declined prerog requests from students.

“It’s enraging because again, it seems like a wedge is being driven between the interests of students and teachers when in fact, our only goal here is to learn and educate each other,” she said.

Thrown into the lion’s den

Veloso then said that the faculty was thrown into a “lion’s den” just to keep the semester going.

“Rest is hard to come by. During a pandemic, everyone is advised to stay well and healthy, but how do we manage that when the source of our income is also the source of our stress and anxiety. No amount of rest or recreation will compensate for the fact that we were thrown into the lion’s den this semester and seemingly left us there to fend for our own,” Veloso explained.

Dr. Silva also expressed frustration at the BOR and the general UP system’s lack of care for its constituents.

Hindi kami titigil sa pagpapanawagan na i-postpone ang klase kahit na nga may desisyon na, at yung kalusugan, both mental health and physycial health of the UPLB constutuents, kailangan siya itaguyod. Yung karapatan [at] kalusugan, kailangang itaguyod ng UP admin,” Silva said.

Veloso asserted UP is not yet ready, keeping in the lapses in promises such as P1,500 per month internet allowance since July and the P6,000 gadget subsidy.

In response, Rabajante called for the UPLB administration to plan their programs carefully.

Sana ang admin, pag-isipan lahat ng mabuti and efficiently ang mga policies. Lahat nahihirapan. Sa lahat ng mangyayari, mangibabaw ang compassion. Sa mga propesor, students, staff, maging compassionate tayo. Lahat may pinagdadaanan,” Rabajante said. [P]

Photo by Wang Xiangyang/China Daily

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