UP student councils campaign for safe, gradual resumption of face-to-face classes

UP student councils across the system called for ‘better’ implementation of remote learning and the gradual resumption of face-to-face classes in the 50th General Assembly of Student Councils (GASC) Monday.

Among the six resolutions adopted so far in its first online regular session, the GASC approved a resolution aiming to intensify nationwide campaigns for “quality, compassionate and relevant education.” 

The resolution was filed by the UP Diliman College of Education Student Council (UPD CESC) following the university’s ‘abrupt’ transition to remote learning in the first semester of this academic year. 

It cited that the education sector, which is “already facing a lot of problems pre-pandemic,” continues to be in dire straits due to the global health crisis. 

UP is not exempt from the challenges of distance learning, as more than 5,600 of its students reportedly could not afford their remote education.

“In UP alone, we witnessed how ill-prepared the implementation of remote learning was,” UPD CESC Chairperson Eugene Solla said. 

(Read: Over 5,600 UP students may be unable to continue under remote learning

UP faculty members had to rush their course packs less than a month before the Sept. 10 class opening. The UP administration only offered training programs and webinars late August to help them with the sudden shift.

Within the compressed four-month semester, UP declared multiple class suspensions due to the onslaught of consecutive typhoons and emergency maintenance of internet service providers. 

Prior to the suspensions, students and teachers were muddled by UP announcements discouraging the conduct of synchronous classes in the aftermath of strong typhoons. These announcements now work differently under distance learning, as students are still expected to comply with asynchronous requirements.

In turn, the resolution said that students struggle with remote learning due to “limited logistical resources, internet connectivity issues, psychological and mental health concerns, and personal and financial problems.” 

Despite pleas to end the semester and mass promote students, the Board of Regents decided to proceed with the semester. 

“The same is true with the Philippines at large — we have seen a lot of people struggling in continuing with their studies, and the government’s incompetence and indifference, DepEd [Department of Education] and CHED [Commission on Higher Education] to be specific, just add insult to injury,” Solla added. 

With UP set to resume its second remote semester in March, the resolution called on the university to utilize the next months in addressing the concerns of students and teachers.

It also called for the timely procurement of students’ scholarships, the provision of hazard pay and proper health compensation for teachers. It added that teachers who were laid off due to the pandemic should be provided a continuity plan.  

“Issues on funding, accessibility and relevance are not new in our education sector, and unfortunately, these problems have been magnified and worsened by the ongoing health crisis,” Solla said. 

During the amendments of the resolution, the UP Diliman College of Social Sciences and Philosophy Student Council raised that: “Now, more than ever, the quality and access we have to education have been further compromised due to the ongoing political crisis and most especially the global pandemic.”

Meanwhile, the UP Visayas University Student Council (UPV USC), along with five UP Visayas college councils, filed a resolution which seeks the “safe reopening of schools and the gradual resumption of face-to-face classes.”

The six councils decided to propose the resolution following the “rise of leave of absence applications, students experiencing mental health deterioration and breakdowns, and the overall drop in the quality of education,” said Josh Serilo, UPV USC’s Officer-in-Charge Head for Students Rights and Welfare Committee. 

With the education sector scrambling with distance learning, the councils also contend that these issues “would increase the already unequal footing of students.” 

But as the Philippines nears its first year of quarantine, schools and universities nationwide are most likely to continue with remote or online mode of learning. 

This comes after President Rodrigo Duterte rescinded on Dec. 26 his greenlight order to conduct pilot testing of face-to-face classes in areas deemed low-risk for the COVID-19 spread. 

In Panay, negotiations between local government units (LGUs), the inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases and DepEd were already underway to allow the gradual resumption of physical classes provided that minimum health protocols are followed. 

The dry run of face-to-face classes would have included some 119 Iloilo schools “nominated” by their LGUs to participate this January, according to Panay News.

But after reports of a new COVID-19 variant emerged, DepEd suspended the pilot implementation, forcing plans on conducting physical classes to take a backseat. 

As the country’s COVID-19 cases nearly tally to 500,000, the resolution noted that the administration “continues to lack a proactive plan to gradually reopen schools for face-to-face learning.” 

Under the resolution, schools are recommended to have additional and adequate funding for them to afford proper facilities, medicine and sanitation personnel. Schools should likewise practice minimum health standards and secure transportation and dormitory needs for both students and employees. 

Planning for the safe resumption of face-to-face classes, Serilo said, should have a campus or institution-based approach instead of a blanket approach, since each campus has a different situation. 

Earlier today, the student councils resolved to “formulate a campaign roadmap” to localize the call to gradually resume physical classes of each UP unit.  

But the eventual face-to-face classes still need concrete policies from the colleges and units. 

“With this call, we would still be adhering to minimum health standards and protocols, as we are still in a precarious situation with the emergence of new COVID-19 strains, and devising safety nets and contingency plans for UPV constituents residing from different regions to ensure that no one will be left behind,” Serilo added. 

With the assembly set to reconvene tomorrow, UP student councils have yet to decide on two proposed resolutions: 

  • UP Los Baños’ University Student Council and two UPLB college councils’ “Resolution for the General Assembly of Student Councils to Campaign for Pro-people Disaster Risk Reduction, Management, and Response Programs” 
  • UP Diliman University Student Council’s “Resolution to Amplify the People’s Movement for the Junking of the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020” 

If adopted, resolutions filed in the GASC represent the systemwide stances of student councils over certain issues, which are also used as basis for their future campaigns and projects. 

The GASC is the biannual convention of UP system student councils to discuss crucial issues within and outside the university, as well as matters related to the student regent, the lone student representative to the Board of Regents. 

With reports by Geraldine Santos

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