(NOTE: For personal reasons, some of the interviewees asked to have their names changed for the article.)
Although UPLB says they’re ready for a safe return to physical classes, CHED and IATF continue to place roadblocks for the university
In a town hall meeting, the week before A.Y. 2020-2021’s second semester began, Vice President for Academic Affairs (VPAA) Cynthia Bautista clarified that limited face-to-face (F2F) classes would not happen until the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) gives the go signal.
In the session, organized by UP System’s Office of Student Financial Assistance (OSFA) under the Office of the Vice President for Academic Affairs (OVPAA), Bautista said that medical classes would be getting a free pass on this, and Assistant VPAA Evangeline Amor revealed that the university is reaching out to the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) to hold in-person classes for thesis and similar courses.
Students of applied science courses, however, were less than pleased with the turnout so far.
“Taking up lab classes [is] difficult [in] this online set-up especially subject[s] like surveying because they don’t want to compromise the skill that they can learn in a face-to-face set-up, that can help them further develop their skills in the field,” said Macy from BS Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering.
Macy recalled that she took three laboratory subjects last semester, and is expected to take three more again. She added that it was excruciating to rely on individual resources to conduct experiments.
While she explained that she was planning to work on surveying, which Macy described as being essential for engineering, to secure units in the, her father eventually talked her out of it.
“ … my father talked to me about how surveying is very, very essential sa engineering as in basic siya na dapat alam ng isang engg [engineer] ‘tas mas maganda daw siya [F2F] kaya ‘di ko nalang tinake,” Macy told the Perspective.
Meanwhile, Lee from BS Forestry, whose course she explained delved into fieldwork, was dismayed by the delays in education.
“Totoo namang malaking usapin at factor ang pandemya, pati na rin ang mga emerging cases ng bird flu, ngunit dahil sa tahasang pagsawalang bahala noong una palang ng pamahalaang ito sa panawagan ng mga HCWs [healthcare workers], ng mga doktor, ng mga eksperto, at ng mga mamamayan, hanggang ngayon nananatiling walang kongkretong plano para sa pagkakaroon ng F2F classes sa mga larangan ng edukasyon na nakadepende sa fieldworks,” she lamented.
Lee also voiced her dislike for the perceived favoritism for medical courses over others, saying that all courses are essential in their own right.
“Isa pa sigurong nakakalungkot dito ay ang pagiging mas matimbang ng mga klaseng nasa larangan ng medicine kumpara sa ibang larangan. Para bang sinasabing may mas importante when in fact ang kalidad na edukasyon naman talaga ng mamamayan ay batayang karapatan na dapat mabigyang katuparan,” she said.
In light of these issues, Vice-Chancellor for Student Affairs (VCSA) Janette Malata-Silva said in a [P] Live interview that the UPLB administration is ready to gradually welcome students back to the university to hold limited face-to-face meetings following the IATF guidelines.
“Kaya namin maging responsable para saming mag-aaral,” VCSA Silva assured, questioning IATF’s decision to allow children to go to cinemas and arcades but holding UPLB from holding physical classes.
Silva elaborated that the Office of Student Housing (OSH) refurbished campus dormitories in line with health protocols to accommodate as many as 327 students. This was meant to show that something similar can be done in other universities.
For the vets
CHED’s and IATF’s restrictions courted the ire of several students from the College of Veterinary Medicine (CVM), especially with the perceived lack of recognition towards VetMed as a medical course. Taking their frustrations to social media, many took shots at how the university prided over UPLB being the “lone top performer” in the February 2021 Veterinarian Licensure Exam.
“Maybe the ‘med’ in VETMED stands for Medal [sic],” one user remarked.
In a unity statement, UP College of Veterinary Medicine Student Council (CVMSC) and concerned fraternities and sororities condemned CHED’s “blatant disregard” for the course.
“Veterinary professionals play a crucial role in contributing to public health such as surveillance and control of zoonotic diseases, management of health aspects of laboratory animal facilities and diagnostic laboratories, biomedical research, health education, and extension,” the signatories asserted.
UP Manila was one of the universities, alongside Ateneo de Manila University (ADMU), and Our Lady of Fatima University (OLFU) in Valenzuela, given clearance by CHED to conduct limited face-to-face classes. Other schools, meanwhile, have to apply for physical classes to resume in theirs. All of this as medical students called for a safe return to clerkship and internship duties while calling for frontliner perks (READ: Ligtas ng balik duty: Medical students call for safe return to F2F duties in pandemic).
“Now, more than ever, Veterinary professionals are vital to the pandemic response and more importantly in resolving the current and forthcoming epidemics and its succeeding repercussions,” the statement went further.
In an interview with the Perspective, VetMed student Sonny explained that not having physical classes would be more of a burden for them. Sonny said that one of the repercussions of this ill-conceived strategy by the government in battling the pandemic aside from healthcare and economics is education, where a new breed of professionals will be molded and inoculated.
“Depriving students in[to] acquiring the prescribed training and skills improvement could breed [a] cyclical problem and ‘basta basta na lang’ mediocre mode of learning,” Sonny said.
He continued that the emerging or reemerging diseases are due to biodiversity and environmental disturbances. Some examples he listed were bats being linked to the COVID-19 strain, birds for the H1N1 virus, pigs with African Swine Fever (ASF), and salmonellosis in Boracay due to poor sewage management.
In his words, it was in these cases that showed the importance of courses like veterinary medicine, agriculture, forestry, and other health and science programs in battling the pandemic.
On ASF, the 2019 outbreak of the disease, which left about 30% across 37 provinces of swine “decimated,” was mentioned in the unity statement as an example of how Vetmed practitioners can help.
“The consequences have been felt by Filipinos as pork prices have increased as supplies dwindled and now continuously threatens the food security of this country which is still staggering due to the COVID-19 pandemic economic impacts,” the statement continued, highlighting the perceived national government’s lax handling of disease-related matters.
Though ASF was not deadly for humans, it was for pigs, with the misconception leading to problems for hog raisers when the outbreak came about (READ: African Swine Fever persists, UPLB closes pig farm for sanitation).
Ligtas na balik sa eskwela when?
Despite the perceived readiness of the UPLB admin to hold limited face-to-face meetings, students are still weighing the risks that come with their eagerness to have physical classes. Mostly due to there being no concrete solution for COVID-19 yet, prompting students to reignite #LigtasNaBalikEskwela, a call for a safe return to classes, in the days leading up to the second semester.
Even with her contentions, Macy did note the lingering dangers of COVID-19 in the country.
“As someone din na galing sa malayo at hindi pa nakakatapak sa [L]aguna ever, [I] also think it’s going to be a real challenge for us na galing sa malayo if ever mag-li[m]ited face to face [classes],” Macy pondered, explaining that she would have to travel for about 14 hours for a single laboratory class if so.
This was also a concern raised by Jean, another BS Forestry student.
“Pero may risk din kas[i] yung pagconduct ng [F2F] classes dahil sa pandemic, kaya leaning pa rin ako sa ligtas na balik eskwela,” Jean said, noting the benefits of learning in physical classes.
In line with the call, the aforementioned unity statement reiterated the value of veterinary medicine practitioners “in resolving the current and forthcoming epidemics and their succeeding repercussions” and health issues linked to the environment.
“Future veterinarians deserve a safe and quality education. Veterinary health professionals need to demand for their value to prevent future practitioners from turning their back on this profession,” the statement went further, concluding with a call to have VetMed students be recognized as a medical field and to have physical classes. [P]
Photo by Dianne Sanchez