Spearheaded by National Union of Students of the Philippines Southern Tagalog (NUSP-ST), several organizations held a press conference entitled “UNMUTE: An Online Press Conference” to forward the #LigtasNaBalikEskwela campaign and 10K student aid among other demands, October 7.
The virtual press conference, attended by leaders and representatives from Student Aid Network (SAN)-ST, Kabataan Partylist ST, and All UP Academic Employees Union-Los Baños (AUPAEU-LB), also saw NUSP-ST presenting their report on the current education situation in Southern Tagalog. Their findings were based on survey results and consultations with different organizations, councils, and schools across the region.
Issues discussed in the press conference include the financial difficulty of students, threats to academic freedom, challenges experienced by students and teachers alike in the current learning set-ups, and the safe reopening of face-to-face (F2F) classes.
“Ang edukasyon ay hindi pribilehiyo kung hindi ito ay karapatan ng bawat kabataang Pilipino [Education is not a privilege but a right of every young Filipino]”, SAN-ST representative Jonathan Parbo emphasized as he introduced the organization.
SAN-ST is a community of people that push for the #LigtasNaBalikEskwela campaign under the premise that the youth has the right to equitable access towards quality education.
Their main goal is to demand P10,000 aid per student every semester which would be used to purchase materials and pay off other online learning expenses such as prepaid load, electricity, and internet bills.
The call for 10K student aid is also among the proposals contained in the proposed Emergency Student Aid and Relief Law filed by Makabayan Bloc in the House of Representatives.
Findings showed that the most common issues faced by students include tuition fee hikes in private schools, unnecessary school fees in public state universities and colleges, slow rollout of financial aid support, and personal expenses.
With the lack of financial support along with the ongoing socio-economic crisis, students are forced to drop out to work instead of studying or engage in part-time and freelance jobs to be able to keep up with the costs of remote learning.
NUSP-ST reports an alarming number of 2.73 million students who opted not to enroll this year, which according to them is forecasted to only worsen with the budget cuts for both education and health in the proposed 2022 budget.
Adding to these, NUSP-ST Spokesperson Rich Adriel de Guzman said that the current situation exposed the hassle brought by the imposed output-based education (OBE).
“Mas lalong napakita ng online setup kung gaano siya [OBE] ka-hassle, kung gaano siya hindi ka-productive and helpful for students [The online setup revealed how much of a hassle it [OBE] is, how unproductive and unhelpful it is for students],” he attested.
NUSP-ST’s report also noted that not only those in technical-vocational courses are struggling with OBE but also those in the natural sciences, social sciences, arts, and humanities, with the inaccessibility of needed facilities like libraries, laboratories, art spaces, and study areas. Similar findings were also raised among UPLB students who take up technical courses such as forestry, engineering, and veterinary medicine among others.
Other specific issues raised include low quality of education, technical issues, stringent class policies, and the safe reopening of F2F classes.
Furthermore, the continuously heavy workload, burnouts, and COVID-19 anxiety resulted in students and university employees facing worse mental health issues.
According to de Guzman, “Even though some schools continue to have health consultations katulad ng guidance and counseling services ng Mindoro State University, kulang na kulang pa rin ang mga services na ino-offer lalo na napakalaki ng demand for health services.”
[Even though some schools continue to have health consultations like the guidance and counseling services of Mindoro State University, the services offered are still not enough especially that there is a growing demand for health services.]
Keeping academic freedom free
Threats to freedom of expression, repressive school policies, and state attacks on academic freedom are some of the specific issues in NUSP-ST’s report.
“Tuloy-tuloy pa rin ang issues on red-tagging, vilification, and military interventions sa mga school activities kaya kailangan nating ipagtibay na kahit nasa online [setup] tayo, we still have to enjoy constitutional rights as students,” de Guzman asserted.
[Issues on red-tagging, vilification, and military interventions in school activities still continue so we need to assert that even in the online setup, we still have to enjoy constitutional rights as students.]
In the past weeks, military and police forces have attempted to infiltrate academic libraries in provinces, such as Kalinga State University and Isabela State University, to remove books and other information resources mostly related to the peace talks between the government and Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP).
Meanwhile, UP Visayas Chancellor Clement Camponsano in a Facebook post asserted that the university will not remove books and other reading materials from its libraries.
“Sorry, not a single Marxist book, or any similar or so-called ‘subversive’ material, will be removed from UPV’s library collection. Baka dagdagan ko pa ’yan eh [We might even add more],” the chancellor said.
The UP School of Library and Information Studies Student Council (SLIS SC) also released a statement condemning the attacks on censorship being targeted at libraries and continuing military interventions.
According to them, “[…] as the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) trample[s] on the academic freedom of our libraries, they have shown that this is all but a fragment of a coordinated, state-sponsored movement that seeks to discourage any opposition that calls out their incompetence and corruption as a government.”
SLIS SC agreed in their separate statements that libraries are an extension of academic freedom and that these recent attacks have severe implications, considering how resource materials provide avenues for consultative policy-making and multi-sectoral discussions in exploring peace negotiations and armed conflict.
“A book by itself cannot create activists. However, a state that commits various injustices most certainly can,” SLIS SC added.
Related to this, UP Visayas Chancellor Clement Camposano shared on Facebook that “not a single Marxist book, or any similar or so-called ‘subversive’ material, will be removed from UPV’s library collection. Baka dagdagan ko pa yan [Might add some more books to the collection].”
Initial findings of the NUSP-ST report showed that about 68.8% or 237 of the 345 respondents were very unsatisfied with the national government’s response to the pandemic while 39.1% or 134 respondents were neither satisfied nor dissatisfied with their school’s administration response to the shift to online or modular learning.
“It is good na marinig that schools and universities in the region are consultative and ready sila makinig sa calls and demands ng students and faculty. Although, ang pinakalaging sasabihin na problem on why school administrations have delayed responses, policy making decisions, is the bureaucracy that current government agencies have on schools,” de Guzman explained.
[It is good to hear that schools and universities in the region are consultative and ready to heed the calls and demands of the students and faculty. Although, the common and major problem why school administrations have delayed responses, policy-making decisions, is the bureaucracy that current government agencies have on schools.]
Teachings and tribulations
UPLB Department of Humanities (DHum) associate professor and AUPAEU-LB member Jethro Pugal expressed that not only students have been affected severely by the pandemic, but also the faculty and other employees of the university.
He commented that the teaching approach done remotely is vastly different from what the professors were familiar with during face-to-face classes, “Nagkaroon ng iba-ibang mahihirap na experiences, plainly dahil hindi enough ‘yung training para sa ganitong klase ng edukasyon, ibang skill set ang kailangan para dito.”
[There were many difficult experiences, plainly because the training was not enough for this kind of education, a different skill set is needed.]
Aside from the difficulties regarding their teaching approach, students and teachers face a common issue – not everyone has adequate equipment for teaching and studying, and both parties exchanged stories of sharing their resources among members of their household.
“On both [teaching approach and resources] accounts, hindi tayo ganoon ka-prepared. We do recognize na nagkaroon ng iba’t-ibang efforts to prepare, nagkaroon ng mga learning management systems and trainings. Pero sa ngayon ay hindi pa rin natin ‘yon nakikita bilang isang viable, long term option para sa pagpapatuloy ng pag-aaral,“ Pugal stressed.
[On both [teaching approach and resources] accounts, we are not prepared. We do recognize that there were several efforts made to prepare, there are learning management systems and trainings. But for now, we do not see it as a viable, long term option to continue studying.]
He added that other than the overall, longstanding problems in the education sector highlighted by the pandemic, there are also concerns within UPLB.
Every registration period in UPLB, some students become underloaded due to not being able to secure enough slots in classes. The number of prerogative requests — which are requests to be included in already full classes — from those underloaded students become the size of three to five new class sections.
Chief among these challenges is the continued use of the hotly contested Student Academic Information System (SAIS) as a means to register. Since it was launched, SAIS was continuously criticized for its extremely glitchy nature, which prevented students from securing enough units within a specific time period. (READ: #JunkSAIS | UPLB students: ‘The students, united, will never be defeated!’).
Similarly, data from Offices of College Secretaries (OCS) in UPLB showed that between the first and second semesters of A.Y. 2020-2021, the number of courses dropped (DRP) and students who filed for a leave of absence (LOA). In the second semester of that academic year alone, the College of Engineering and Agro-Industrial Technology (CEAT) saw about 471 courses being dropped by students (READ: UPLB colsec numbers show that LOA, dropped cases up between 2 sems of 1st online acad year).
Due to the inadequate training, the faculty requested smaller class sizes that are more manageable under remote teaching. Still, Pugal clarified that the faculty does not want to sacrifice the students’ education and raised the call for more plantilla (or permanent) positions or a larger faculty to handle classes.
“Ang problema ng kakulangan ng slots sa isang subject ay actually problema ng kakulangan ng guro at pasilidad para sa mismong subject na yon [The problem with inadequate slots for a subject is actually a problem with the insufficiency of professors and facilities for that same subject]”, he said.
Like the call for P10,000 student aid for students, the union is also championing a P20,000 emergency assistance fund and an efficient transportation system for all UPLB employees in line with the gradual reopening of face-to-face classes. These calls are under their demands on overall health and wellness package, work-from-home benefits, and eHOPE extension. (READ: UPLB REPS disclose pandemic work woes; demand better pay, health benefits, tenureship)
Pugal spoke in solidarity with the #LigtasNaBalikEskwela campaign and emphasized the part regarding safety saying, “Gusto na nating pumasok but we want to do this in the safest way possible [We want to go work but we want to do this in the safest way possible].”
Earlier in the press conference, Gerard Palma of Kabataan-ST also shared a brief situationer on education, especially within the region.
He added that in the context of the pandemic and the country suffering a deep economic recession, more students face difficulties with their studies and have no choice but to work instead.
“Marami[ng estudyante] ang hindi nakakapagtugon sa kanilang edukasyon, kaya mas mahalaga ang pagpawanagan ng ligtas na balik eskwela at 10k student aid ngayon,” he said.
[There are many [students] who cannot support their education, which is why the demand for safe resumption of face-to-face classes and 10k student aid is even more relevant now.]
According to Palma, it is important that a safe reopening of classes is implemented and P10,000 student aid is granted for students for them to be able to effectively study, have access to facilities, and have the financial support they need to continue their studies. [P]
Photo from Isabel Pangilinan
Layout by Kao Bartolome