by Jose Sealtiel Cruz
I had to put myself on a writing break after I got a right shock on the first day of May: we were given course requirements for my Physics classes – both the 4 unit lecture and its subsequent 1 unit laboratory class – and in my Engineering Drawing class, more than a month after I have done anything remotely related to my academic load. I am proud to having finished writing (understanding will take far longer) six chapters’ worth of Physics lectures in that span of time, but don’t get me started with our drawing project.
The course syllabus made by the course group from the National Institute of Physics, or the (dreaded) NIP, calls this “remote asynchronous teaching and learning.” They are technically correct: we are “learning” from our homes (remotely), and we are not required to attend live online classes but instead approach the lessons in our pace (thus asynchronous). Essentially, we were given online classes hidden in another name: the lectures are released online, and consultations are done through e-mail, save for some lecturers who contacted us (and can be contacted) through text. While online classes are surely a way forward to deal with our current education problems, it does not pose a way out of them.
The persistent problem with implementing online classes is that not every student has some form of readily available online access. Though smartphones are on a constant race of being the cheapest and the availability of secondhand phones, the reality is that not every learner will have access to a smartphone – if a phone would be enough, which in some cases is not.
The device is one problem; the internet connection is another. A little less than half our population is connected to the internet, a statistic that would be lower when we consider those with stable internet connection. Even “well-off” students, however we classify someone as well-off, can have internet problems: COVID-19 forced us inside our homes, and home may mean being in a disadvantageous location in terms of internet speed – if there is a connection in the first place.
The Department of Education (DepEd) is trying to work their way around this issue with their online platform, the DepEd Learning Commons, as they lobby to cellular network companies to give this service out for free, much like how they are providing free data for Facebook access.
The Commission of Higher Education (CHED), however, has left this issue for universities and colleges to deal with. This has been a bigger issue for universities that shifted their calendars to start in August.
Some professors pushed forward into giving online classes, forcing disadvantaged students to find ways to comply – diskartehan, so to speak. Given the times we are in, diskarte deems dangerous and to be forced to do so is unfair. The Mapua student who climbed a mountain to pass class requirements comes to mind, but it can be something much simpler: buying load to have mobile data or materials for a project. Some would be so out of touch in telling students to buy pocket wi-fi devices to connect to their online lessons.
Internet café businesses thrive here for a reason, with their (somehow) reliable internet and computer access for low rental fees. Of course, the cafes are closed as we are told to stay home.
But we should address the elephant in the room: we are shifting to online classes because the pandemic forced us to. The concept of online classes, of course, is nothing new; but educating the whole student population online was never attempted. This is for good reason: not everyone finds it easy to learn online.
To take online classes requires discipline and a drive to do more self-studying, besides the prerequisite internet-capable device and, obviously, an internet connection. This is the downfall of online learning, even if we assume that all students have the capability to attend online classes.
The mere fact that we are forcing ourselves to shift online in the middle of a pandemic is inhumane: people are getting sick and (sadly) die, losing jobs, trying to make ends meet, avoiding (or, in reality, enduring) abusive family members, and generally attempting to stay sane. In this period of uncertainty, homes are not as conducive an area to study in. To hold online classes – and to be assessed – in these times is an unwanted burden.
Yes, grades are important, but it will not take back time that could be spent for looking after ourselves or our families. We will not be looking back to these times and reminisce how we studied hard or how high our grades were. “The grading scale we used before the pandemic cannot properly measure the performance of students in a time of upheaval and disruption. Grades lose their meaning during an existential crisis,” said (beloved) Chancellor Nemenzo in one of his recent messages to the UP Diliman community.
The solution, as it stands, is to simply stop any form of classes and promote students. Freezing the semester did not sit well with me because it assumes that we are in learning condition once classes resumes – we are surely not. Redoing the semester, meanwhile, feels like a waste of resources and would cause another calendar adjustment.
Universities can take a leaf off from Ateneo or the Pamantasang Lungsod ng Maynila. I am glad that UP Diliman has asked the (utterly disappointing) Board of Regents to allow professors in giving out passing grades – but the fact that the university has to ask to do so disturbs me.
Education is very much important, but formal education can take the backseat this time around. The pandemic showed us greater lessons: accountability, for one, and human compassion.