Studying in the first fully online academic year for UPLB, students were burdened with issues brought upon by the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as disasters such as Typhoons Rolly and Ulysses.
These developments led to the Office of the Vice President for Academic Affairs (OVPAA) adjusting guidelines for filing for LOA or dropping courses. In addition to not counting the first semester of A.Y. 2020-2021, on the grounds that this was the first time students were to work in the online set-up, students were given the option to drop subjects and be marked as “due to COVID-19” if grades were unsatisfactory or if they were unable to submit too many requirements.
Below is are graphs showing all recorded cases of LOA or DRP for both semesters of A.Y. 2020-2021 in seven out of nine UPLB colleges.
Data from CEM shows that for the first semester, 13 courses were officially dropped, while five were unofficially dropped. The second semester’s count shows that 46 and 146 courses were officially and not officially dropped, respectively.
According to CEM Office of the College Secretary (OCS), “officially dropping” means that the students themselves dropped from the course, while “unofficially dropping” happens either when a student stopped attending classes for that specific course or if they received an unsatisfactory grade. The latter scenario is in line with the implemented No Fail Policy of A.Y. 2020-2021.
Meanwhile, the data shows that 2.16% and 3.43% of the College of Human Ecology’s (CHE) student population dropped courses in the first and second semester, respectively. 0.81% and 1.59% of the student population also filed for LOA in the respective semesters. As per Graduate School (GS) College Secretary Dr. Pamela Custodio in an email to the publication, “for the second semester A.Y. 2020-2021, about 10% of the expected number of students to enroll for this semester filed for LOA.”
The Perspective was unable to secure the numerical data for the two aforementioned colleges, with the CHE OCS citing the Data Privacy Act.
In a report released by the College of Arts and Sciences Student Council (CASSC), out of 129 respondents, 15.5% have considered applying for LOA in the current semester answering “maybe” while one respondent answered “yes.”
Their report concluded that students who have incurred INC and DRP were found to be more likely to consider applying for LOA in their upcoming semester due to “some professors” and also the workload in their course.
Meanwhile, a report by the Graduate School Student Council (GSSC) showed that 31% out of their 49 respondents were also considering filing for LOA while 18% were hesitant to register for the next academic year and 12% have chosen not to register for the first semester of A.Y. 2021-2022.
About 59% of respondent graduate students have concerns regarding scholarships, the main concern being the conduct of their respective lab or fieldwork and the completion of their thesis which require face-to-face setup.
Meanwhile, the UPLB University Student Council (USC) recommends in their synthesis that the administration “provide a detailed roadmap of the University’s discussion and standing plans for inspection and approval of applying this proposal” as students repeat their calls for limited face-to-face classes.
The filling processes for LOA and excuse slips brought by mental health problems were recommended to be made accessible and prioritized in processing.
They said that these compromises can be achieved through the close coordination and proactive responses among students and UP administration to ensure no student gets left behind.
“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,” USC concluded in their report.
No student left behind
Although the minimum required academic load has been adjusted for the students, there are still students who chose to file for LOA due to immense academic workloads among other reasons (READ: UPLB students face 2nd online acad year with ‘unresolved’ set-up challenges).
According to third-year BS Food Science and Technology student Nadine Estampado, who remained in their LOA since the second semester of A.Y. 2020-2021, the setup continued to compromise their learnings and became demanding and tiring for them.
“Grabe yung fatigue pag buong araw nakaharap sa gadget yung class and works and meeting lahat nandoon […] so as FST maraming lab subjects tapos nastress ako kasi may prelab [at] postlab pero walang lab parang nakakapanghinayang [The fatigue that you get from spending whole days being in front of gadgets for classes, works, and meetings was overwhelming […] so as FST, there are a lot of lab subjects then I got stressed because I have pre-lab and post-lab activities but no lab classes. It was disappointing],” they said
Estampador commented that the reading break became a time to catch up on one’s workload instead of being an actual break. This was said to be due to it continuing to be overwhelming, adding that it was still up to professors if they were to lessen or consider the requirements in response to the call of academic ease.
“Yung reading break hindi siya nakakahelp kasi parang pinaikli niya lang lalo yung time ng sem so parang nagiging time siya maghabol, so wala rin pahinga. Last time nagpatawag ng acad ease pero naging depende siya sa prof if magle-lessen sila or magko-consider, so unfair siya. Tapos nagpatawag din ng acad postponement pero di naman nakinig admin so [nakakalungkot]” they said.
A petition initiated by Rise for Education (R4E) – UPLB last July called for the UP administration to conduct an assessment of the whole academic year of 2020-2021 and alot more time to plan for the ongoing academic year as the UP Board of Regent convened.
In a position paper prepared by the USC with UPLB Kilos Na and R4E-UPLB, 812 out of 985 students have agreed that the second semester of A.Y. 2020 – 2021 became more difficult than the previous semester.
Even with measures such as a No-Fail Policy and no longer requiring students to attend synchronous classes, R4E-UPLB explained that these measures failed to address students’ concerns, labeling such policies as “band-aid solutions.”
“The forced resumption of classes last A.Y. 2020-2021 has shown that a lot of students struggle with the lack of learning resources and internet access. In just one month under the online setup, students expressed that the academic load per course has been exhausting and excessive. For most parts of the academic year, students were forced to face these problems without concrete support from the UP administration,” R4E-UPLB said.
Meanwhile, BS Forestry Tiffany Lopez, who also filed for LOA this semester, said that her environment was not conducive and that she frequently encountered difficulties in studying. She added that professors differ in their implementation of these guidelines.
“Although may released guidelines, it was still up to the professors kung gaano karami ang ibinibigay nilang activities to test what the students learned […] Maiging naisama sa guidelines ang pagbibigay ng feedback kasi it will help students learn and improve their performance tasks [Although there are released guidelines, it was still up to the professors to assign academic requirements to test what the students learned […] It was important that the giving of feedback was included in the guidelines because it will help students learn and improve their performance tasks],” Lopez said.
She said that even with the new set of guidelines, the current learning setup remains challenging because of the different states of living for each student.
“There are parts of the guidelines na beneficial like the no-fail policy and hindi pagrequire ng pag-attend ng synchronous sessions. Despite the adjusted guidelines, it was still difficult to learn in this type of setup dahil na rin sa iba’t ibang estado ng pamumuhay ng mga students.”
The USC has reiterated the #LigtasNaBalikEskwela campaign and released an open letter to all UPLB teaching staff last September 13 to uphold academic integrity with compassion and conduct consultations with their students on the academic load.
A report from the UPLB All Student Councils Assembly detailing the students’ assessment on the previous semester and initial readiness assessment for the new semester shows that students want to reaffirm the demands crafted from the semesters of A.Y. 2020-2021.
Surveys and interviews from different colleges showed that students’ demands include conducting hands-on laboratory classes, use of dormitories, and mental health and psychological assistance.
With the recent news of CHED recognizing the need for face-to-face classes for Veterinary Medicine students of UPLB, many students expressed the same hopes for their course and called for the administration to work with the UPLB community for the safe reopening of the campus (READ: VetMed students intensify #LigtasNaBalikEskwela calls as A.Y. 2021-2022 begins; CHED recognition leads to ‘new campaign heights’)
“Sa tingin ko kailangan na [ng UPLB admin] mag-work with the student body, faculty, and staff para sa ligtas na balik eskwela, pagpapavaccinate sa mga estudyante at staff na hindi pa vaccinated para makabalik na rin sa campus at maging mas accessible ang quality education para sa lahat ng students [As I see it, [the UPLB admin] needs to work with the student body, faculty, and staff for us to have a safe return to physical classes, vaccinating students and staff who have not yet been vaccinated for us to return to campus and for quality education to be accessible for all students],” Estampador said. [P]
Photo by Sophia Pangilinan