A lack of concrete contingency plans among other concerns, however, leave UPLB in an uncertain place.
As the opening of classes draws near, the UPLB University Student Council (USC) called on the UP administration to postpone the start of classes in A.Y. 2021-2022 until their constituents’ demands for a better learning set-up are met.
“With the worsening health and economic crises, it is evident that the national government has already failed to address the COVID-19 pandemic. With only 54 days left before the opening of classes on September 13, the UP administration is yet to face the reality that we are not ready for another year under remote learning,” USC said in their statement, released July 21.
In line with their campaign, USC proposed that the UP administration work on a vaccination program for students and faculty for limited face to face classes to become feasible, especially for students whose curricula include laboratory and field classes.
Although UPLB recently will be rolling-out COVID-19 vaccines for campus personnel, the whole UP system is yet to have any vaccination plans for its constituents.
The matter of face-to-face classes became a primary talking point among Doctors of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) students among others when both Commission on Higher Education (CHED) and Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) restricted UPLB from conducting such last March (READ: UPLB go for F2F; CHED, IATF hold campus back).
Furthermore, USC pointed out in their statement that the lack of assessments made by the UP administration is the root cause of the faculties-in-charge’s difficulty in recalibrating the requirements.
In their statement, USC emphasized that the university’s constituents are still facing the same problems since the beginning of the remote learning setup that “remain unresolved,” citing students and teachers’ continuing struggle with lack of learning and teaching resources (READ: Overworked UPLB faculty criticize rushed school year open).
“For a year of online learning, there had been no assessments made by the UP administration. This is the root cause of why it is hard for the faculties-in-charge to recalibrate the requirements and for the students to keep up with the academic load,” USC said, lamenting the lack of concrete guidelines nor the assurance of an inclusive education come the next semester.
According to the USC, 322 students who applied for the Student Learning Assistance System (SLAS) have still not been given gadget and/or internet assistance.
USC cited data from UPLB Committee on Scholarships and Financial Assistance, saying that “out of 829 students who applied for the Student Learning Assistance System, 359 students already received gadget and internet assistance while 148 students received internet assistance alone. Furthermore, 96 out of 145 undergraduate students were given gadget grants.”
“We are going to venture into a new academic year without the assurance of having an inclusive education, not to mention the lack of consistent guidelines as long as we are in this set-up,” USC said.
Do you get déjà vu?
USC’s call for postponement of classes echoed the sentiments raised in university-wide and system-wide calls for postponement of classes during the first semester of online learning.
The UPLB Chapter’s Rise For Education Alliance (R4E-UPLB) advocated for “Ligtas na Balik Eskwela,” or safe reopening of classes last August 2020, proposing that the UPLB administration focus on proactive measures such as implementing mass testing and providing online resources to make sure that education is accessible and inclusive amid the then new online learning setup (READ: No state service, no classes. Postpone now – R4E UPLB)
R4E-UPLB, however, emphasized that it would take time for these proactive solutions to take effect, hence their request to postpone classes in the meantime.
“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 sa lahat,” R4E-UPLB alliance member and now USC chairperson Siegfred Severino said in an interview with Perspective last year.
The UP Office of the Student Regent (OSR) also launched a system-wide petition to postpone classes also in August 2020. This petition is backed by the results of a system-wide survey which showed that at least 5,600 students would not be able to keep up with remote learning, and that the average number of respondents are not yet ready for remote learning across the entire UP system does not fall below 50 percent.
The UP Board of Regents (BOR), however, rejected this system-wide appeal, which led to faculty members rushing to create course packs and making adjustments to course syllabi for the upcoming semester. Apart from this, faculty members who relied on borrowed gadgets and internet connection provided by the university had to secure their online teaching resources on their own since they were not provided subsidy (READ: UPLB profs share struggles of shifting to online learning).
The USC also cited reports of students dropping their courses and filing for leave of absence (LOA) as they found themselves unable to cope with a learning setup they were not familiar with.
A month into online learning, the USC, together with R4E-UPLB, Samahan ng Kabataan Para sa Bayan (SAKBAYAN) UPLB, and Kulturang Ugnayan ng Kabataan Alay sa Bayan (KULAYAN) UPLB launched an online petition amplifying the call for academic ease.
The petition called for lessening the burden of campus constituents who are still “struggling with disorientation, academic backlogs and connectivity issues.”
The OSR also called for an 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.
To this, the UP Office of the Vice President for Academic Affairs (OVPAA), through a memorandum released on October 12, 2020 declared a “System-wide Mid-Semester Reading Break” on the week of November 2 to 6, 2020.
This time was intended for students to “manage the stress of adjusting to the new experience of remote learning” and “to allow students to catch up, focus and understand the course learning materials given them,” as stated in the OVPAA’s memorandum. [P]
Photo by Pola Rubio