How many deaths will it take for education officials to listen?

Trigger warning: Suicide

As I am writing about this issue, a group of students are holding a protest in front of Saint Louis University (SLU) in Baguio City calling for an academic break. Apparently, the university decided to get on with the school year without including it in their calendar.

This was met with justified criticism from the students, and as they should, the student council requested for an academic break from the SLU administration last October 13. Two weeks after the request, a decision had yet to be made, for the administration was “still working on a compromise” in its October 27 dialogue with the student council.

It’s alarming how SLU admin was indecisive about this issue. While other universities have already integrated an academic break in their calendars, they failed to include one in theirs. This may be reflective of the administration’s attitude towards student welfare, but I’ll leave the SLU students to be the judge of that.

For many of us students, an academic break is a chance to destress from the plethora of requirements we have to submit. And even then, it is arguable that the academic break is not enough for us to destress, with some even using the time to catch up on their missed requirements. The state-neglected pandemic has extended for way too long and it would seem that exhaustion has become the norm.

A break for a few days is the very least the admin can give to its students who are already too stressed from their academics that they try to juggle on top of potential issues at home, in finances, and so on. 

When the bare minimum cannot be provided and responsibilities become too heavy to bear, it is not impossible for students to resort to actions that may harm them.

Our worst fears were confirmed today, when it was reported that at least one SLU student committed suicide, and that there may be several unverified cases of SLU students taking their own lives supposedly due to the stress brought on by their academic workload.

This case is not the first of its kind. Just a few months into online learning last year, the National Union of Students of the Philippines (NUSP) reported that three students committed suicide as well after struggling to keep up with their education under the new setup.

Despite these incidents, the country’s top education officials seem to turn a blind eye on the issues the students’ sector is confronting. Last month, Department of Education (DepEd) secretary Leonor Briones said that the opening of the current school year was “a success worthy of celebration.” Commission on Higher Education (CHED) chair Prospero de Vera III, meanwhile, appears to be complacent to the current situation after saying that “flexible learning will be the new norm.”

It is bizarre how insensitive education officials can be, almost as if they weren’t students once themselves.

Of course, I don’t expect them to fully understand the students’ situation today, them being at the top of their management. There can be a lack of insight lost when it comes to top-down decision making. Not to mention that they did not get to experience a pandemic during their college years.

However, there is clearly a lack of compassion from these administrators. To discern that students need rest should be basic human decency. To claim that the academic year opening was a success is detached. To allow online learning to stay, without financial and emotional support for students and the faculty alike, is criminal abandonment.

Negligence is the defining characteristic of the SLU admin and the national government; their indifference sharpens the blade that takes the lives of many.  

It is sickening how sluggish their actions are when many of us, while desperately trying to balance our studies with other responsibilities and problems, are left to suffer. We should be angered by the inaction of these people in power for their abandonment of student welfare. 

The statement of the SLU Supreme Student Council cannot ring any more true. Students should never have to beg for rest. We demand a humane response to the education crisis and the pandemic.

The clock is ticking SLU admin, CHED, and DepEd. How many more deaths will it take for you to listen? [P]

Photo credits: CEGP Cordillera

The UPLB Perspective is accepting opinion articles that touch on relevant issues concerning news, politics, culture, and personal experiences. Send your articles or queries to opinion.uplbperspective@gmail.com

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