#LigtasNaBalikEskwela goes to “new heights” after CHED recognizes the need for face-to-face classes for VetMed students.
Words by EJ Lasanas
In a new milestone for the #LigtasNaBalikEskwela campaign, the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) recognized the need for face-to-face (F2F) classes for Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) students last September 16.
This was in response to the College of Veterinary Medicine Student Council’s (CVMSC) position paper that detailed the demands raised and challenges faced by UPLB DVM students. Submitted to the agency last September 9, the paper was co-signed by veterinary medicine organizations, as well as fraternities and sororities.
Following this, DVM students have asserted that “veterinary medicine is medicine,” to coincide with the #LigtasNaBalikEskwela campaign.
“Patuloy din ang paggiit natin ng ating karapatan para sa de kalidad na edukasyon lalo na at dahil VetMed students tayo na mas nangangailangan ng technical skills. Walang face-to-face laboratory classes ngayong online classes kaya labis na nahihirapan ang mga propesor at tayong mga estudyante. […] Patuloy nating igiit at palakasin ang panawagang VetMed is Med at ang Ligtas na Balik Eskwela para sa ating lahat,” CVMSC Chairperson Elaine Lomeda said in an address to Batch 2021 DVM freshmen.
[We also continue to assert our right to quality education, most especially since we as VetMed students require technical skills. There are no face-to-face laboratory classes during the online setup, which is why professors and our fellow students are facing difficulties […] We continue to assert and amplify the calls that VetMed is Med and a safe return to classes for all of us.]
CVMSC Councilor Angelo Umali slammed the perceived lack of recognition for veterinary medicine as a medical course, despite students in the field being involved in matters such as African Swine Fever (ASF) and Avian Flu.
“Kahit na pinayagan ang ibang medical courses na magkaroon ng limited [F2F], ang VetMed ay hindi man lamang binibigyan ng tsansang makapagconduct din ng [F2F] lab classes. […] Nakasalalay ang buhay ng mga hayop at ang food safety (livestock) sa aming mga beterinaryo,” Umali said in his First Day Rage solidarity message.
[Even though other medical courses were able to have limited F2F classes, VetMed was not even given a chance to conduct F2F lab classes. […] The lives of animals and food safety (livestock) depend on us veterinarians.]
“Hirap na hirap na po ang mga estudyante dito sa online learning kasi walang signal, walang device, walang load. Hirap din ang mga magulang dahil dagdag ang mga gastusin po yan in the sense na kailangan bumili ng device, kailangan din bumili ng paraan para magkaroon ng signal at load. Hirap na rin ang mga guro dahil hindi madaling magturo sa online lalo na’t wala namang mataas na supporta sa gobyerno, kaya dapat lang na hindi kailangan man magdusa ang lahat sa kapalpakan ng gobyerno ni Pres.[Rodrigo] Duterte,” said Atty. Neri Colmenares in his support video for the #LigtasnaBalikEskwela campaign of UPLB CVM.
[Students struggle very hard during online learning because of poor signal, lack of device and load. Parents also struggle because of additional expenses in the sense that they have to buy devices, as well as make ways to acquire stable signal and load. Teachers also struggle because it is not easy to teach online, especially that there is not enough support from the government. It is just right that not all Filipinos suffer from the failure of Duterte’s administration.]
In need of medical attention
In the same week, last September 13, CVMSC and the college’s administration organized a town hall meeting for DVM students to air their concerns amidst the online setup. The meeting’s flow is based on the 10 DVM students’ demands, which include calls to assess the entire previous academic year, the implementation of a genuine academic ease, gadget and Internet services for students and faculty members, and academic ease among others.
“Take into account [the] mental health of students; some are doubting if they want to pursue VetMed. [Mental health] should never be sacrificed. Midyear subjects, professors were pressed for time, even forgetting about the break,” U.P. Society for the Advancement of Veterinary Education and Research (UP SAVER) Representative Julio Miguel Garcia manifested.
CVMSC Councilor Christian Pilarta also highlighted the common problems faced by students: unstable Internet connection; lack of gadgets; power interruptions; unconducive learning environments; and natural calamities.
At the same time, 36 out of 329 students (11.04% of the whole college student body) claimed that power interruptions hindered them from accomplishing their tasks.
In CVMSC’s paper, 82.4% said that they are currently in an environment not conducive for learning (with 83.6% saying that they are unable to learn due to their environment); 50.2% said that they are having family problems; 49.2% are having physical health problems; and 37.1% have financial problems.
The matter of unconducive spaces became a talking point last March 2021, after it was said that Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) is preventing UPLB from holding F2F classes, despite preparation by the university administration (READ: UPLB go for F2F; CHEF, IATF hold campus back).
“Students are having a hard time coping up with the learning set-up. They barely learned anything from taking subjects last midyear. How does this affect us? Burnout. We want the school to understand that we do not just read PDF and [reading materials], we also have problems that we have to deal with. I think that the school is being idealistic,” Garcia manifested.
Garcia then said that so long as students are forced to work in the online set-up, they will continue to experience burnout.
Pilarta also explained that the academic load became a problem for both students and faculty members.
“Umaabot ng five activities per week, and napakabigat ‘yun. Ang mga professors natin ay may kanya-kanya ring ginagawa. Makikita sa graph na 64% of students ay sinasabing unreasonable ang pagbibigay ng workload sa mga student”, Pilarta explained, presenting the results of a survey conducted by the CVMSC.
[Activities per week reach to about five, and that is in and of itself heavy. Our professors have their own burdens to carry. The graph shows that 64% of students are saying that the workload is unreasonable.]
On the need for academic ease, CVMSC Councilor Aron Manlapaz recalled how he struggled to juggle multiple responsibilities in the wake of his father’s death this midyear.
“Hindi ko alam anong uunahin ko, pagiging kapatid o pagiging estudyante. Nawalan ako ng time magluksa. Natambakan na ako ng trabaho, ng mga gawain. Hindi ko naramdaman ang academic ease sa sobrang dami nang ginagawa. Sirang-sira ang sleeping schedule ko. Dagdag narin po na meron akong anxiety. Kahit kausapin professors in the end kailangan parin itake yung tinambak na subjects na mas mahirap kasi pa’no ko aaralin yung coverage ng isang bagsakan?,” Manlapaz mourned.
[I do not know what to prioritize, being a brother or being a student. I did not have time to mourn. I was burdened with work and other requirements. I did not feel any academic ease due to the heavy workload. My sleeping schedule is disorganized. Adding to this is my anxiety. Even if professors talk to me, in the end I still need to take more challenging subjects because how could I learn everything in one-go?]
UP Venerable Lady Veterinarians Sorority’s (UP VLV) Em Indunan also emphasized the difficulty of cramming numerous tasks in a matter of seven weeks during the midyear term. In addition, Pilarta explained that other courses during the midyear resulted in difficulty in learning within a shorter period of time.
Calls for assessments and improvements
Meanwhile, CVM Freshman Council’s (CVMFC) Gerald Cillano emphasized the need for gathering feedback from the previous semesters, highlighting its importance in improving students’ academic performance during the current academic year.
“Kung walang feedback, pano mareretain ang tamang knowledge, topics, and concepts, which is important sa field natin? If hindi makakapagbalik ng timely feedback and responses dahil sa dami ng requirements, baka better na bawasan at mas gawing specific sa course objectives ang mga requirements.”
[If there is no feedback, how can we retain proper knowledge, topics, and concepts, which are important in our field of study? If no timely feedback and responses are returned because of the abundance of requirements, maybe it is better to lessen and course objectives and requirements and make them more specific.]
Following these assessments, CVM College Secretary Benjamin Reuel Marte said, “Kung hanggang saan lang ang kaya ng mga teacher na magbigay ng feedback. Mabigat din kasi ang workload nila kaya kung ano na lang ang kaya nila sa pag-send ng feedback [Until only where teachers can give feedback. Their workload is heavy as well, so only until where they can].”
On the effectiveness of online clinics, only two out of 36 rated them as effective, with only three students claiming to have gained adequate experience from the online classes. Additionally, only three students were able to conduct experimentation for their studies and other students had to change their ongoing thesis to an online case study just to comply with the requirements.
Moreover, 93.9% of the respondents struggle with technical difficulties, while 91.8% are burdened with unstable Internet connection.
Because of these concerns, CVM Representative to the USC Chelcie Edualino asked the college administration to conduct an assessment focusing on the learnings of the students.
“Magkaroon sana ng assessment na naka-focus sa CVM. Dito tinanong kung kamusta yung lab ng students. For example, sa anatomy, we have [a] certain app na ginagamit para ma-identify ang anatomical parts ng animals. Hindi sure kung capable ang ibang students na ma-download ang app na ito,” Edualino said.
[I hope that there will be an assessment that is focused on CVM. Students can be asked regarding situations in their laboratory classes. For example, in anatomy, we have a certain app that is used by students to identify animals’ anatomical parts. I am not sure whether other students are capable of downloading this app.]
The payment of fees was also discussed, with DVM student She Castillo asking the college administration to waive them due to the online set-up.
“Sobrang sama ng loob naming paying students, I don’t think na deserve natin lahat na magbayad pa kung makikita natin sa internet for free. May ibang klase na nagrerequire ng attendance. We understand that the admin really cannot do something about things out of their control, but we are asking for your help by hearing our demands,” Castillo explained.
[We, paying students, are really resentful. I don’t think we deserve to pay if we can see [the resources] on the Internet for free. There are also classes that require attendance. We understand that the admin really cannot do something about things out of their control, but we are asking for your help by hearing our demands.]
Likewise, fellow DVM student and UP SAVER member Ian Christopher Lasat wondered where their laboratory fees go to.
“Sobrang interested lang talaga ako kung san napupunta yung mga lab fees. Kahit kasi free tuition, may pera pa rin na nakukuha ang university. Kahit yung mga ginagamit ng mga prof, sila nagpoprovide . Yung prof namin bumili ng mini microscope sa Shopee. May lab fees din sa anatomy lab, pero wala naman kaming nakitang real na laman ng hayop,” Lasat said.
[I am very interested to know as to where the lab fees go to. Even if the tuition is free, the university still obtains money. The materials used by professors are provided by them. Our professor bought a mini-microscope in Shopee. There are also lab fees in the anatomy lab, but we did not see any real animal insides.]
Furthermore, CVM Dean Jezie Acorda apologized to the students in the townhall meeting, saying that the manifestations that were raised are outside the control of the college.
“Hearing from all your demands, there are so many things you want to manifest that are outside the control of the college. Wala kaming control sa other offices tulad ng tuition, OUR, at VPAA,” she said. [“Hearing from all your demands, there are so many things you want to manifest that are outside the control of the college. We do not have the control of other offices like tuition, OUR, and VPAA.]
Additionally, Marte suggests collecting all the concerns and giving it to the office to discuss with the concerned faculty and concerned office.
Acorda later added in a follow-up email to the publication that the demands of the students will be forwarded to the college’s Management and Executive Committee “for discussion.”
The time is now
With the students’ demand for Ligtas na Balik-Eskwela, 98.2% CVM students agreed to have limited F2F classes. Meanwhile, 97.3% of students strongly agree that F2F classes are important to obtain the necessary skills in the field of veterinary medicine, especially in laboratory classes.
To support their campaign in conducting limited F2F classes, 77.2% of the students are confident to have the means of going back while 22.8% may just need assistance for transportation, housing, and financial matters.
According to CVMSC’s survey, 33.4% of the students are already fully vaccinated, 33.1% are on a scheduled vaccination and the rest of the respondents have yet to avail their vaccination schedule because of concerns such as the lack of available vaccines reaching their area.
“We are joining forces in pursuing the same agenda, that veterinary medicine is medicine. We are hoping that this will push through,” said Acorda in response to the students’ demand for a safe return to physical classes.
Acorda said that they are doing their best and put in so much effort to conduct limited F2F classes. He asserts that it is time to convince CHED regarding the reopening of F2F classes, with the assistance of IATF in implementing the protocols. [P]
Photo by Isabel Pangilinan
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