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UPLB students, faculty confront persisting challenges 2 years into remote learning

In exclusive interviews with the Perspective, students and professors share their academic struggles while dealing with the pandemic and the onslaught of a typhoon.

Words by Yani Redoblado and FJ Masangkay

Even with a new semester to face, most UPLB students and professors still continue to confront the same challenges that piled up over the past two years of remote learning. This was even recently worsened by the onslaught of Typhoon Odette and high COVID-19 cases.

In exclusive interviews with the Perspective, students and faculty recount their struggles amid the online setup.

“Joy” [not her real name], a first-year industrial engineering student from Mindoro, shared her struggle over the instability of Internet connection in rural areas.

“Since we have a weak signal here in our province, it was really hard for me to catch up with our lessons,” she explained.

She added that she would need to deal with poor Internet connectivity again for the upcoming semester, considering that the approved plan for limited opening of face-to-face classes is yet to happen for non-graduating students.

In fact, part of the consideration for approval of UPLB students for face-to-face activities was that they must be graduating, and are in need of campus facilities to conduct thesis activities and experiments (READ: 81 UPLB students approved for limited face-to-face activities).

Meanwhile, veterinary medicine students said that they resort to watching synchronous lecture videos and submitting laboratory reports. 

Third-year veterinary medicine student “Lin” [not her real name] stressed that although these materials are helpful, they are only used to comply with academic requirements, and not for learning itself.

“Helpful naman ‘yong video recordings and lecture slides, kaso parang nag-aaral ka na lang para sa exams, para pumasa,” she expressed.

[“The video recordings and lecture slides are helpful but it feels like you are just studying for the exam, to pass the course.”]

This same concern was already mentioned in a report released before the start of the first semester of A.Y. 2021-2022 (READ: UPLB students face 2nd online acad year with ‘unresolved’ set-up challenges).

Life goes on for the typhoon- and COVID-stricken

According to University Student Council (USC) Chairperson Siegfred Severino, 16% of the UPLB population was affected by Typhoon Odette, which struck Region IV-B, Visayas, and Mindanao areas. This number includes Lin, who narrated her experience of taking exams without electricity for about two weeks before the finals period.

Despite informing several professors, she was told that examination forms are available until December 31, three days after their electricity returned on December 28. Others have advised her to take the examinations – which were due around December 25 to 26 – in January instead.

Pero ang hindi ko naman alam ay kung magte-take pala ako sa January, na akala ko ‘yong exam lang na na-miss ko, ay isusunod ko na pala siya sa finals. Ang unfair lang, kaya napabili kami ng solar panel para lang makapag-charge ako at makapag-exam,” she shared.

[“What I did not know was that if I take the exams in January that I thought were only the exams that I missed, I would actually also be taking them with the final exams. It is unfair, that’s why we opted to purchase a solar panel so I can charge my devices and take the exams.”]

Meanwhile, third-year veterinary medicine student “Aica” [not her real name] expressed the challenge of understanding fellow students affected by calamities who have limited to no access to forms of communication. 

Syempre, ang makataong gagawin namin, sasaluhin namin ‘yong mga gawain nila [groupmates] kapag sasabihin nilang hindi talaga kaya kahit na napakaraming lab reports,” she said.

[“Of course, the humane thing for us to do is to carry out their tasks if they really cannot do them even though there are a lot of lab reports.”]

Last December 17, the UPLB USC reported that the Presidential Advisory Council (PAC) denied the request to allow students to comply with course requirements until the end of the first semester.

While the request was denied at the system-level, Chancellor Jose V. Camacho Jr. requested faculty members to reschedule assessments for students affected by Typhoon Odette.

Still, Lin shared her frustrations as someone who is directly affected by the typhoon.

May isang course na hindi nag-extend; wala siyang communication sa students tapos sinabihan kami na, ‘Kapag hindi niyo magagawa before December 31, sinayang niyo lang ang oras niyo,’” she shared.

[“We had one course that did not extend; the professor had no communication with students and we were told that if we cannot comply before December 31, then we only wasted our time.”]

Meanwhile, with the rising COVID-19 cases, the Office of the Vice-Chancellor for Student Affairs (OVCSA) keeps watch of UPLB students’ health through the student registry form. VCSA Janette Silva said that college secretaries’ offices have access to the registry because they are in charge of informing the units and professors of the students’ condition and academic needs.

Third-year veterinary medicine student “Chloe” [not her real name], who contracted COVID-19 at the end of midyear in 2021, shared her experience, “Na-realize ko na hindi nage-gets ng lahat ‘yong hirap [ng pandemya], literal na nag-e-exam ako habang nagbubuhat ako ng oxygen tank.”

[“I realized that not everyone understands how difficult the pandemic situation is; I was literally carrying an oxygen tank while taking the exams.”]

Students and professors alike mentioned the difficulty of setting boundaries under the remote setup, especially when they are directly affected by the disease.

Noong beginning ng sem, nagka-COVID parents ko. Every time na may free time, instead na ilalaan ko sa sarili ko magno-notes o maghahabol sa ibang course –  nagbabantay ako ng kapatid ko,” said Lin.

[“At the beginning of the sem, my parents contracted COVID. Every time I have free time, instead of using that to take down notes or catch up on other courses, I look after my siblings.”]

In an earlier interview with the Perspective, All UP Academic Employees Union – Los Baños (AUPAEU – LB) member Bernabeth Tendero stated that adjusting to the work-from-home setting took a toll on staff’s mental health because of the blurred lines between doing chores at home and their work (READ: UPLB REPS disclose pandemic work woes; demand better pay, health benefits, tenureship).

Pressing issues in technical courses

Since learning shifted to online, students in technical courses such as Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) have called for an immediate return to physical classes due to requirements of laboratory set-ups and equipment.

(RELATED STORY: VetMed students intensify #LigtasNaBalikEskwela calls as A.Y. 2021-2022 begins; CHED recognition leads to ‘new campaign heights’)

According to Aica, higher veterinary medicine courses mean that more clinical applications should have been done already. 

“Third year na ako pero wala pa rin akong alam sa mga basics na pag-handle ng animal, pagkuha ng dugo, o kahit pag-restrain ng animal, hindi ko pa rin alam paano gawin in a clinical setup,” she said.

[“I am already in my third year but I still do not know the basics in handling animals, how to draw blood, or even how to restrain them in a clinical setup.”]

By the second semester of their second year in the six-year DVM program, major courses like Anatomy, Microbiology, and Physiology are already introduced. Aica also described “feeling lost” in their Anatomy classes, which is crucial to taking higher courses.

Paano kung wala akong natutunan sa Anatomy? Magke-carry over ‘yong kawalan ng kaalaman sa subject na ‘yon hanggang sa Pathology, which is considered na hardest subject even for Batch 2018 dahil never sila nakapagbukas ng corpse ng hayop,” she said.

[What if I did not learn anything from Anatomy? My lack of knowledge in that subject will carry over to Pathology, which is considered the hardest subject even for Batch 2018 because they have never experienced handling animal corpses.]

Lin added that in one of their Anatomy classes, an application is used as a guide for animal muscles and nerves. However, in some instances, the application provides wrong information. Professors would then still have to correct such details.

Paano namin malalaman kung mali ‘yon, kung ‘yong application lang naman ginagamit namin? Hindi naman namin maaalala lagi na ito pala ‘yong mali,” Lin expressed.

[How would we know what is correct and what is not if we only use the app? We cannot always remember what information is incorrect.]

Lin disclosed that under the remote setup, their course curriculum is often not followed by all students, as several of them initially choose other courses while delaying taking courses that involve practical applications. However, one implication of this is the possibility of being delayed in graduation since students do not take the prerequisite courses needed.

“It’s taking a toll sa akin na iniisip ko, hindi rin naman madali ‘yong degree tapos six years na nga ako mag-aaral, made-delay pa ako? T’saka tingin ko, wala namang magbabago kahit hindi ko siya [courses] i-take ngayon, ipo-prolong ko lang ‘yong agony so bakit hindi ko pa i-take ngayon? Wala talagang choice; lahat ng desisyon namin ngayon, bunga ng kawalan ng choice,” Aica expressed.

[“It’s taking a toll on me when I think about it, because the degree is not easy; I have to study for six years already, but then I will still be delayed. I also think that nothing will change even if I do not take the courses now; I will only be prolonging the agony, so why don’t I take it now? We’re left with no choice; all our decisions are a result of having no choice.”]

“Rachel” [not her real name], a third-year chemical engineering student, is not a stranger to these difficulties. She added that with her last year level in chemical engineering nearing, the pressure is even heavier, leaving her with no option but to avoid dropping any class.

Dahil sa pressure na dapat ga-graduate na, may subject na hindi ko na-drop kahit wala akong maintindihan at nag-INC [incomplete] na lang, kasi ang dami na namang ia-adjust na prerequisites if ever.”

[“Because of the pressure that we are already supposed to graduate, I chose not to drop a certain class and instead left it as incomplete even though I cannot fully understand everything, since I would be adjusting prerequisites again, if ever.”]

It was reported that in A.Y. 2020-2021, CEAT yielded the highest number of “dropped” cases among colleges in the university (READ: UPLB colsec numbers show that LOA, dropped cases up between 2 sems of 1st online acad year).

Being on a skill-based degree program, Rachel also disclosed difficulties with laboratory activities. She said that since they are only being provided with written data, they have a hard time visualizing the process itself during experiments.

She expressed worries about post-graduation, saying, “Sobrang fundamental ng klase [CHEM 32.1] na ‘yon tapos may mga batchmates ako na tapos na sila sa IC [Institute of Chemistry] nang wala sila natutunan. Pupunta kang planta, magta-titrate ka, tapos hindi ka marunong? May tatanggap ba sa amin [sa trabaho]?”

[“That class is very fundamental, yet I have batchmates who are already done with IC without retaining anything. You will go to a plant, you will be asked to titrate, but you don’t know how. Will we ever be accepted at work?”]

Call for compassion and consideration

Another prevailing issue raised is the heavy load of academic requirements, which worsened the anxiety and stress of students like freshman Dyan Chomawat. 

“The heavy load of academic requirements gave me a lot of stress and worsened my anxiety. It’s been two years since the online learning setup began but nothing much has changed, the academic workloads are still unrealistic, not to mention online learning is very much anti-poor,” he said. 

Institute of Crop Science (iCropS) Prof. LE Endonela noted that the learning outcomes of the professors’ respective courses, especially in laboratory classes, were barely met because they require actual laboratory or field experiments. 

Lin said that the workload became heavier as a probable result of trying to meet the learning outcomes.

Talagang walang hustisya, kasi ano’ng gagawin namin kung may iba pang subjects? Okay sana yung requirements kasi ‘yon na lang ‘yong way para matuto kami pero sana hindi ganon ka-heavy,” she said.

[“There’s really no justice because what are we supposed to do with the other subjects? The requirements are fine since that’s the only way to learn but I hope that the workload is lessened.”]

Despite students’ grievance of little to no change in the amount of academic workload, faculty members were urged to be considerate to students, as written in Office of the Vice President for Academic Affairs (OVPAA) Memorandum No. 2022-09, which was released last January 11.

“Because of the continuing extraordinary stress we are all under at this time, grant consideration on a case-to-case basis to students who cannot meet deadlines due to their particular context,” the memorandum reads.

Meanwhile, Department of Social Sciences (DSS) Prof. Rosette Anne Rogelio also shared the struggles that professors had to go through during the remote learning setup. She described her first semester of remote teaching as overwhelming because of the adjustments and preparations of course materials she had undergone.

“We had to make huge adjustments with so little time to do it before the first sem of full remote learning. I rarely use online LMS [learning management system] in my classes during the F2F [face-to-face] format so I really had to learn how to use these,” Prof. Rogelio said, who also raised issues regarding Internet connectivity.

Prof. Rogelio added that she also struggled in building rapport with her students because of the limitations of online interaction.

In a press conference held in October last year, Department of Humanities (DHum) associate professor and AUPAEU – LB member Jethro Pugal disclosed that the struggles experienced by the faculty were due to lack of adequate training for a remote learning setup where a different skill set is needed.

Because of the compressed semester, Prof. Rogelio added that course contents have to be streamlined to fit the semester, while making sure that the requirements will be manageable for students in an online learning setup.

Recognizing the constituents’ struggles amid the pandemic and recent calamities, the UPLB administration released a memorandum detailing the campus’ “easing into the second sem”. Following the memo, “no synchronous and asynchronous sessions and submission of requirements in all courses” were imposed from February 8 to February 18 (READ: UPLB to ‘ease’ into second sem as constituents call for recovery break).

UPLB USC recognized that this is the fruit of the continuous calls of campus constituents for a “recovery and wellness break”, amid the struggles in the current setup.

“This campaign won’t be possible without the clamor of the UPLB students and faculty for a just recovery break. Once again, the UPLB community has proven that victories can be achieved through collective action and consistent militancy […] We stand with our fellow scholars in demanding a genuine recovery break for all UP students, teachers, and staff,” UPLB USC wrote. [P]

Photos by Marc Garcia and Isabel Pangilinan

Layout by Dayn Loren

3 comments on “UPLB students, faculty confront persisting challenges 2 years into remote learning

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