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Students renew call for break as pandemic learning takes its toll
This undated file photo shows a student attending online classes. Schooling in the Philippines amid the pandemic has been carried out remotely, which often came with difficulties.
The STAR/Edd Gumban, file

Students renew call for break as pandemic learning takes its toll

Christian Deiparine (Philstar.com) - April 8, 2021 - 2:15pm

MANILA, Philippines — Students are again calling for an academic break as the country grapples with high daily increases of COVID-19 cases, prompting a return to more restrictions in some areas and heightened anxiety for all. 

"Online classes have been too draining for me," said Abegail, a 19-year-old nursing student at a private university in Valenzuela said in an exchange with Philstar.com. "Attending a medical program is not that easy, especially in this situation since we are more on interaction and skill-based [learning]."

Stricter lockdowns have returned, particularly in Metro Manila, Cavite, Laguna, Rizal and Bulacan — now known as 'NCR Plus' — with the ongoing surge yet to be contained.

Students from state-run and private universities have repeatedly petitioned their school administrators for an academic ease but many have either been rejected or remain unattended.

"The alarming spike in COVID-19 cases should not be taken lightly," the University of the Philippines-Diliman's student council wrote in a letter to Chancellor Fidel Nemenzo. "Behind these numbers are our friends, families, and colleagues who are directly affected by the pandemic, either through disruption in livelihood or acquiring the virus."

Difficulties in the education sector should not be "divorced from what we are experiencing throughout this crisis," student leaders added. With more getting infected each day and a healthcare system nearing collapse, they said schools should not expect students to continue with their usual routines. 

Lance Carandang, a 22-year-old medicine student from a private university in Cavite, said he and other students have learned of their batchmates' relatives contracting COVID-19, with some of them dying because of the coronavirus disease.

"Through a short academic break, there will be time for everyone to catch up and even somewhat recover their losses, may it be physical, mental or emotional," he said.

Much-needed respite

Similar efforts were made in other universities through student councils or faculty unions, but the picture has been mixed so far. 

The Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila has called off its classes until April 11 and the University of Santo Tomas and De La Salle University have followed suit.

In appealing for a break, UST faculty union president Emerito Gonzales, who is also a professor at the university, said it would give the community a "much-needed mental and emotional relief from the stress and anxiety" due to the pandemic.

UP Manila, Far Eastern University, Adamson University and Bulacan State University students have petitioned for breaks too but administrators have yet to decide on them.

The University of the East, Ateneo de Manila, as well as UP Los Baños have rejected the calls.

"The ECQ is not a reason not to have classes considering that these are not face-to-face," UE president Ester Albano-Garcia said, as reported by the student organization RedWire. "We are precisely using online learning so that your education will not be disrupted by declarations such as the ECQ."

UE’s student councils and faculty association have urged Garcia to reconsider. They warned that students will be forced to "compromise their overall wellbeing just to comply with the demands of online classes."

Seth, a 21-year-old Development Communication student at UPLB, said he struggles with access to the internet and and a heavier workload than when classes were face-to-face, “all while assisting my family [in] getting our basic needs.”

"It was always a difficulty to focus on surviving the pandemic and juggling my academics," he said. “But I’m sure that I’m in a privileged position and that so many have it harder. Most do not have the resources to go on with remote learning in the time of pandemic."

CHED leaves matter to school admins

Sought for comment, the Commission on Higher Education said it cannot issue a "one size fits all" policy since circumstances vary across schools. 

"This is best decided by individual colleges and universities," Chairman Prospero de Vera III said in a message. "No additional CHEd action is needed."

Education-related agencies have long shunned groups' plea to suspend classes during the pandemic. In November 2020, there were calls for an academic freeze as millions were affected by three consecutive storms that ravaged Luzon, which De Vera also thumbed down.

CHED's decision to not get involved makes it difficult for students to get their schools to approve a break. Trickling down to families, Seth said CHED's decision would mean a harder time for them to make sure their needs are met.

"Government and academic institutions are under this delusion that remote learning makes education accessible," he added. "Where, in fact, it has only pushed students away from accessing education."

Leaving no student behind 

Calls for an academic freeze are anchored on ensuring that no student, beset with difficulties brought by the pandemic, will regress in education.

Some opposed to the proposal say students are at home anyway and that only a few are struggling. The growing calls for an academic ease suggests that isn't the case.

Rise for Education of UP Diliman said that, as of April 6, more than 11,000 people have already signed their petition for academic ease.  The petition calls for fewer academic requirements and a halt to too-tight deadlines and on penalties for late submission, as well as a "No Fail Policy."

Seth said many students like him "try to assimilate and fool ourselves by [taking classes remotely] when so many have died under this pandemic and so many will struggle further."

Many have also taken to social media to amplify the calls through hashtags #AcademicBreakNow and #NoStudentLeftBehind which had trended on Twitter in the past days.

The pandemic has yet to show signs of waning and, after a year of dealing with the health crisis, the capital and its nearby provinces are in a worse situation.

Vaccinations are underway, but critics say that without concrete changes to government's militaristic handling, not much will be different. 

RELATED: 'Bubble' lockdown won't curb COVID-19 spread sans reforms, group warns

For Filipino students, this means a longer wait for a return to schools and that difficulties under the current setup will prevail. Given previous responses to their calls, it is likely that these current ones will also be unheard.

"We must continue to assert for our rights," Seth said. "We challenge them to stand with their constituents in our campaigns in ensuring a safe, democratic, and accessible education amidst the pandemic."

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