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UPLB students face 2nd online acad year with ‘unresolved’ set-up challenges

Midyear 2021 may be over, but UPLB students will still carry the financial and academic burdens of the past two semesters.

An entire online academic year has passed, yet UPLB students are still haunted by mental, financial, and emotional setbacks.

As UP students brace for a new semester this September 13, Rise for Education (R4E) UPLB emphasized that the UP Board of Regents’ (BOR) decision to push through with the remote setup is with “lack of consultation and assessment of a full year of online learning.”

In interviews with the Perspective, students who took midyear classes said that there were no improvements nor changes from the past two semesters. Although some respondents assured that professors were extending their empathy and consideration, most students still complained of struggling with task submissions.

“[Some faculty members] were considerate. The intervention of the council was needed in one examination due to its lack of compassion regarding the exam [such as printing and handwriting],” Therese Elaine Lomeda, Chairperson of  College of Veterinary Medicine Student Council said.

In light of worsening struggles of both students and faculty members, student alliance Samahan ng Kabataan Para sa Bayan (SAKBAYAN-UPLB) launched their campaign for academic postponement containing 10-point demands. These include a complete assessment of the previous A.Y. 2020-2021, pushes for wellness breaks with no deadlines and academic ease, and the implementation of gadget and financial assistance among others.

According to SAKBAYAN-UPLB, the campaign was rooted from the manifestations of both students and faculty members. The demands focus on the call for a genuine academic ease; for the faculty’s compassion in setting deadlines; and upholding democratic rights and student representation.

“[Ang] patuloy na pagka-iwan ng mga estudyante at ang patuloy na pabigat na pasanin ng mga guro ay hindi masosolusyonan sa pagpapatuloy natin sa ilalim ng ganitong setup. Dalawang semestre na nananawagan tayo sa ilalim ng Academic Ease Campaign ngunit nakita lamang natin ang mabagal at magulong pagtugon ng administrasyon ng UP sa ating mga hinain [The problems of students being continually left out and professors being assigned heavy loads cannot be solved by the continuation of this academic setup. We have been extending our calls for two semesters under the Academic Ease Campaign, but we only saw the slow and confusing responses of the UP administration to our grievances],” SAKBAYAN added.

Difficulties in class interaction

In a memorandum released by the UP Office of the Vice President for Academic Affairs (OVPAA) that will serve as the guidelines for the upcoming semester, they reminded that the faculty must continually provide feedback to their students.

In fact, this issue has been one that was continually faced by students in the past semesters. According to Lomeda, the lack of communication from professors added to her burden. Moreso, she complained that most of her professors refuse to do synchronous meetings despite the difficulty of the subject, nor respond to their messages through email. 

“Most professors refuse to teach [synchronously], especially in hard subjects where we really need guidance from professors. Some professors also refuse to answer questions from students even though they were sent through email,” Lomeda said.

Responding to this issue, the UP OVPAA added further that faculty members are to make arrangements for students’ synchronous classes, or provide recording of synchronous meetings if students missed out to attend. 

Despite this announcement from the administration, both students and faculty remind that not everyone is privileged enough to have complete resources. According to Department of Humanities Instructor Jaime Rafael Ledesma, he struggles from the remote learning setup as it challenges his comfortability in teaching, all while dealing with various technological challenges.

Hindi angkop ang maraming kurso sa ganitong setup. Iba pa din ang face-to-face na klase in terms of classroom interaction at maraming mga estudyante at maging mga guro din na walang stable internet connection sa tahanan. Kapag nasa tahanan ka, marami ding ibang bagay na pumupukaw ng atensyon mo maliban sa trabaho o pag-aaral [Many courses are not suited to be taught in a remote learning setup. Face-to-face classes improve classroom interaction, not to mention that numerous students and teachers do not have stable internet connection. At home, there are other activities that catch your attention, interrupting focus on your work or studies],” Ledesma said (READ: Online learning ‘disadvantageous’ for some students; UPLB faculty says academic resources not enough).

Struggles overshadowing academics

Meanwhile, financial incapabilities add to the struggles faced by Dominique Peña, a student from the College of Human Ecology (CHE). Peña said that she needed to travel back home to Bicol in the middle of the semester, just to borrow a tablet device after her laptop malfunctioned.

Peña also struggles with lack of resources, as in the upcoming semester, she will be sharing a laptop device owned by her cousin. Entering her fourth year in college, managing her requirements just adds to the heavy burden that she carries for the sake of academics.

“I am trying to prepare myself by [resting], however, my mind is still anxious about not doing anything at times, and thus, I am still not ready,” Peña added.

In addition to problems concerning online devices, Lomeda added that she is concerned with more power outages and unstable internet connection. Her hometown in Bicol is not new to powerful typhoons, especially during the latter half of the year.

(RELATED STORIES: Ulysses storms Southern Tagalog, 1,112 undergrads ineligible for free tuition)

Lomeda also added that the effect of the previous semester makes her feel burnt out in doing academic requirements, struggling to find time to prioritize her mental health.

“As much as I want to take care of my mental health and file for LOA [leave of absence], I [can’t], because my father will be retiring soon.” Lomeda said.

Brought by the difficulties amidst remote learning, some students fear that they might have not retained any learning at all. For Neliss Austria of the College of Arts and Sciences (CAS), the subject she took last midyear did not actually ensure her retention.

“Nothing [from the lessons] retained; it’s like all those things I studied were just really for the sake of passing those quizzes and exams,” Austria said.

Continuous call for #LigtasNaBalikEskwela

Because of such problems that hinder students from focusing on their academics, UPLB USC continues to reiterate the call for Ligtas Na Balik Eskwela, demanding the UPLB administration to prioritize students’ welfare for the safe return to campus and the resumption of face-to-face classes. This is taking into consideration the appropriate and scientific health and safety measures.

Prior to the BOR meeting, Rise for Education (R4E-UPLB) conducted a petition for academic postponement last July 24 that reached out a total of 4,350 signatories. 

“This online setup is already taking a toll on everyone’s mental and overall health, and the government is obviously not improving with their pandemic response even though almost two years have already passed since it began. They must be indeed held accountable, and I sincerely believe that Ligtas na Balik Eskwela will help [alleviate] these struggles,” Austria stated.

In light of the said campaign, UPLB USC conducted an online petition asking the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Disease (IATF-EID) to allow the use of UPLB campus facilities. The petition is already at a total of more than 1,200 signatories.

“Furthermore, since some students fail to consider their home as a safe space and as a conducive place for studying, it is also a need for IATF and CHED to consider them as an important factor for reopening the campus,” UPLB USC added. 

The pandemic has shown how the remote learning setup is financially, emotionally, and mentally devastating and affects every student’s life status. UPLB USC and local college SCs report various concerns for remote learning, aligning their recommendation for the call #LigtasNaBalikEskwela.

“By heeding the students’ calls for an inclusive, safe, quality, and free education, it is ensured that no one will be left behind. Together, we must ensure that both the welfare of the students and the administration, in general, will benefit the university,” UPLB SCs said in their Campus Report on Conduct of AY 2021-2022 Assessment and Readiness for 1st Semester of A.Y. 2021-2022. [P]

Photo by Marc Garcia

Design by Arianne Mer Paas

4 comments on “UPLB students face 2nd online acad year with ‘unresolved’ set-up challenges

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