UPLB University Student Council (USC), together with Rise for Education (R4E) – UPLB, Samahan ng Kabataan para sa Bayan (SAKBAYAN) UPLB, and Kulturang Ugnayan ng Kabataan Alay sa Bayan (KULAYAN) UPLB, launched an online petition last October 19.
The petition shared through Facebook, was conducted to further amplify the call for academic ease, which included lessening the burden of campus constituents following a month into online learning.
“This call pertains to a considerate reduction of academic load primarily to benefit both the UPLB students and faculty. We are one month into the semester, yet the entities concerned still struggle with disorientation, academic backlogs, and connectivity issues,” the survey’s cover letter stated.
This was designed to assert a 15-point agenda, which the student groups hoped that the campus administration would honor. These demands were made with the groups’ consultations, with their findings consolidated and resolved in a session of the Council of Student Leaders (CSL), the USC’s consultative arm.
In addition to a lighter curriculum that had more considerate deadlines for submissions and more accessible forms of learning, other demands included consultations with student councils for resolutions, no further extension beyond the expected end of the semester (December 9), and absences and failing grades waived.
Academic ease now
The USC released a statement last October 10, calling for the administration to allot a period of “academic ease” pertaining to a week wherein students will not be required to submit any requirements, as well as restore the physical, mental and emotional wellbeing of students and faculty.
“Students demand that the administration institutionalizes the lessening of requirements, allotting a week wherein students will not be required to pass any course requirement, and providing financial and emotional support to those in need. This will help lessen the burden and anxiety students and teachers face during this time,” the UPLB USC wrote in their statement.
The UP Office of the Student Regent (OSR) also called for academic ease, suggesting that the brief break also be used by the university as an opportunity “to reassess and recalibrate” the current situation of its constituents under remote learning.
“This can also serve as a big opportunity for the university to reassess and recalibrate the ongoing semester across the UP System, especially those concerning the most direct needs of the UP community,” the OSR wrote in their statement.
The USC also urges the administration to conduct consultations so that they may implement policies with the UPLB constituents’ best interest in mind.
“Given the university’s state, it is only fitting for the administration to support the call for academic ease by conducting consultations and implementing policies beneficial to all sectors during the remote learning setup,” the UPLB USC wrote.
OVPAA implements ‘reading break’
In response to the calls for academic ease, the UP Office of the Vice President for Academic Affairs (OVPAA) released an October 12 memorandum, scheduling a “System-wide Mid-Semester Reading Break” on the week of November 2 to 6. Notably, an “established academic break” was also listed among the 15 demands.
“To manage the stress of adjusting to the new experience of remote learning in the midst of a pandemic and to allow students to catch up, focus and understand the course learning materials given them, we are scheduling a System-wide Mid-Semester Reading Break on the week of 2-6 November 2020,” the OVPAA wrote.
In the memorandum, the OVPAA enjoined faculty members to refrain from conducting synchronous and asynchronous sessions, as well as from setting deadlines during the said week. They are instead encouraged to rest as well as reflect on adjustments in their course delivery and assessment that they can still implement.
“For faculty members, this break may be a time to further reflect on adjustments to be made in course delivery and assessment[s], if any, or to rest from close monitoring of learning among students with differential access to Internet connectivity and telecommunication signals,” the OVPAA memorandum stated.
Students were also encouraged to either read in advance or rest after a prolonged period of academic stress and anxiety from the COVID-19 pandemic.
“For students, this is the time to do advance reading or to simply take a break from grappling with heavy course demands, on the other hand, and a high level of COVID19-induced anxiety, on the other,” the OVPAA memorandum further stated.
If problems persist, consult your constituents
The OSR launched a system-wide petition to postpone classes, citing results that show that at least 5,600 students would not be able to keep up with remote learning, and that the average number of respondents not yet ready for remote learning across the entire UP system does not fall below 50 percent.
Despite this, the UP Board of Regents rejected the system-wide appeal to postpone classes on September 10. As such, the faculty had to rush course packs and syllabi adjustments to accommodate the remote learning setup which they were not yet familiar with.
In a statement, All UP Academic Employees Union-Los Baños (AUPAEU-LB) had expressed their concerns such as the lack of training and workshops on conducting classes under the online set-up.
Moreover, the faculty were also not provided subsidy by the administration. Faculty members who relied on gadgets borrowed from the university as well as internet connection provided by the university struggle to secure their own laptops and internet connection amid the pandemic.
“Walang hakbang ang administrasyon ng UP para siguruhing angkop ang mga kondisyon at sapat ang mga kasangkapan at kagamitan ng mga guro sa panahon ng pandemya at sa paglipat sa remote learning set ngunit gayon na lamang ang kanilang pagmamadali sa mga faculty para makapaglabas ng kumpletong course pack bago magbukas ang semester,” AUPEAU-LB wrote.
The USC also cited reports of students dropping their courses and filing for a leave of absence (LOA) as they are unable to cope with the difficulties in the online setup due to connectivity problems, and the number of academic requirements which they have to, for the most part, learn on their own.
“Some admit that they still cannot follow the current pace since connectivity remains an issue during this remote learning setup. The academic load per course has also been exhausting and excessive, wherein some cannot be done with the currently designated intervals for the course requirements,” the UPLB USC wrote.
Back when the plans to pursue remote learning on September 10 were yet to be finalized, UPLB’s college student councils as well as students had voiced out their concerns in the town hall meeting with the OVPAA on the inclusivity of remote and blended learning, saying that the academic plans were not aligned with the concern of students.
Months before, the USC also conducted surveys that revealed four out of five students being unable to study in the given set-up.
The government’s insistence to pursue online classes in the middle of a pandemic further aggravates the struggles of students nationwide, as many do not have the financial capability to acquire the needed equipment for online classes.
Calls to action
As many families struggle with unemployment, even paying for their food and other essentials is already difficult, more so paying to have gadgets and a stable internet connection, which are prerequisites to participate in online classes.
The Rise for Education Alliance – UPLB Chapter (R4E-UPLB), an alliance consisting of student councils and youth organizations in the university, asserted through their “ligtas na balik-eskwela” movement that classes should be postponed until state services ensure that students are in a safe and inclusive learning environment. This was after the initial call for academic freeze was deemed as unbalanced for its focus on the student body and not on other constituents.
According to USC chairperson Jainno Bongon, the call for academic ease came about following consultations with students and does not automatically mean that the call for ligtas na balik-eskwela is outdated. He added that each school has their own “interpretation” of the call, depending on the needs of the campus.
State services demanded by R4E-UPLB include mass testing, intensive contract tracing and proper quarantine facilities so that parents could go back to work safely and earn enough to send their children back to school.
The movement also urges the UPLB administration to provide pro-student solutions for the challenges encountered in the transition to the online learning set-up to ensure that no student is left behind.
Amid these calls, the UPLB administration had denied the USC’s request to postpone pre-registration despite unclear guidelines regarding laboratory, fieldwork classes and tuition fees, saying that the pre-registration would be merely a “survey” to assess the students’ internet access.
In a dialogue with chancellor-select Dr. Jose Camacho, Jr. on October 16, the USC forwarded the concerns and grievances of the students and other UPLB constituents under one month of online learning.
Camacho emphasized that the current set-up on remote learning must change.
He further stated that he will be pushing for the student demands as well as the concerns of faculty members and will be using the data presented during the dialogue to conduct a data-backed survey.
“We will push for this. Para magkaisa tayo sa mga hinaing, sa tingin ko we could push for the demands. Mas lalong mapapaigting ang demands kung makukuha rin ‘yung pulso ng mga nahihirapan na faculty,” said Camacho. [P]
Photo by Kristine Paula Bautista