Graphics by Franchesca Tuazon

By Luisa Angela Sandoval

One week into the university’s remote semester, students with inadequate access to the internet have yet to receive printed copies of their course packs or flash drives containing its digital copies.

Short supplies and manpower of college units for course pack preparations impeded some UP faculties from distributing physical copies of their course packs to students on time. 

Assistant Professor Reygie Macasieb of the Institute of Civil Engineering (ICE) found last July 31 that there were no 16-gigabyte flash drives available in the Supply and Property Management Office Common-Use Supplies and Equipment (SPMO CSE) Portal. 

These flash drives, capable of storing about 1024 images, 5120 minutes of video, or over 300,000 pages worth of Word documents, would have been used by units in handing out course packs to disadvantaged students.

“I was hoping na dapat sana at this point may readily makukuhang flash drives sa SPMO,” Macasieb said.

A week into the start of classes, the stock of flash drives has not been replenished in the portal.

OUT OF STOCK. The SPMO website shows that the 16-gb flash drives remain unavailable as of Sept. 18, 2020.

SPMO Officer-in-Charge Rachel Locsin said the portal was “temporarily handicapped” due to the unavailability of supplies at the Procurement Service of the Department of Budget and Management (PS-DBM) caused by the pandemic, leaving faculty with no choice but to get their storage devices elsewhere. 

SPMO is a service unit of the university that is responsible for providing common-use supplies and equipment, such as storage devices like flash drives for academic and non-academic units. All the stocks supplied by the SPMO are from the PS-DBM.

Course packs for remote learning

Pursuant to the remote learning being implemented this semester, all UP units are expected to prepare course packs for their students. These should include a study guide, an activity guide and a course guide to aid students through distance learning. 

Read More: UP rushes course packs, offers limited class slots in university’s first dip into remote learning

These course packs will then be distributed in various formats: as digital uploads on UP’s Learning Management System, printed materials to be delivered via courier to students or digital files stored in a flash drive. 

In a memorandum released by the Office of the Vice President for Academic Affairs, the deadline set for the completion of course packs was on Sept. 1. Faculty members who have to prepare more than two course packs and cannot finish them on or before the deadline may distribute their course packs partially and send the remainder once ready. 

The memo stated that course guides should be distributed to students on the first day of classes. If instructors somehow fail to distribute their course packs to students on the first day, faculty members must assure that such materials are to be given to the students within Sept. 13 to 19.

Consequences of unavailability of supplies

Macasieb said that with flash drives out of stock in the portal, the only solution he can think of is for the department to shell out money so that they can distribute the course packs on time. 

“Unless mag-replenish ang SPMO, there’s no other way to procure flash drives within a very short period of time,” Macasieb said. “Although we know may funds naman to reimburse us, … it’s very unfortunate that units have to go out of their way for an office supply na kaya sana i-provide early on.”  

ICE Assistant Professor Maxell Lumbera said that they may use their internal funds for the procurement of flash drives and have these reimbursed later on.   

“Worst case scenario, personal funds of faculty members will be used to procure USB [flash drives],” Lumbera added.

If stocks are not available in the portal, units may opt to purchase directly from suppliers through the shopping mode of procurement, which can be done for items with an amount of P50,000 and below, Locsin said. 

Units have to provide three quotations and print the Certificate of Non- Availability of Stocks (CNAS) from the PS- DBM, and and the Statement of Non-Availability of Stocks, Locsin added.

However, Macasieb said the delivery of the course packs to students would be another problem, saying that the professors will most likely shell out money for that, too. 

Manpower cut short by the pandemic

Aside from the unavailability of supplies, manpower in preparing and distributing course packs has also been cut short due to the pandemic.

Assistant Professor Rosalinde Fleur Zapata, who is in charge of the course packs distribution and preparation in the Department of European Languages (DEL), emphasized the logistical problems in printing and reproducing modules.

Restrictions under the General Community Quarantine only allow two people in the DEL office, Zapata said. Only one can be tasked to print and distribute the course packs, while the other takes care of administrative matters. 

For this semester, DEL will be offering 43 courses with 31 professors teaching.

“It’s difficult for them to manage printing, photocopying, and collating materials for each professor,” Zapata said. 

Course packs quality compromised

College of Arts and Letters (CAL) professor Maria Francezca Theresa Kwe, who will be teaching a total of 7 classes with 15 students each, said that the course packs they made were not as ideal as they wanted it to be after rushing them in time for the opening of classes. 

Aside from the lack of supplies needed for course packs preparations and distribution, Kwe experienced internet connectivity issues in accessing online learning resources.

“The faculty, myself included, [is] spending a lot on secondary backup [internet] providers for when the primary ones fail. It’s quite a chunk of an expense,” Kwe said.

Lumbera, ICE Deputy Director for Academic Affairs, said that one of the main concerns raised by the faculty in their unit is the quality of materials they are producing. 

“We have limited our preparations to PDF files of presentations with annotations but some of us believe there are more options that will make the teaching and learning more engaging and effective,” Lumbera said.

Meanwhile, Zapata said that the audio files she uses to teach her language classes consume a lot of space, making it difficult to integrate these into the digital versions of the course packs.  

“These files take a lot of time when uploading, especially if one’s internet connection is slow,” Zapata said.

Students left behind

Because of the varying connectivity status of students, Lumbera said that they cannot be flexible with their lessons’ mode of delivery, further limiting the quality of learning the students receive.

“Hosting an optional synchronous meeting for example gives us some guilt, even if it is optional, because we know that some of our students are not privileged enough at the moment to attend these activities,” Lumbera said.

The ICE Deputy Director for Academic Affairs added that instructors cannot keep up with the demands of remote learning because of the struggles faced in the work-from-home set-up. 

However, now that classes have already started, Lumbera said that they are left with no choice but to accept this as their reality.

“I think the bottom line is, we, as faculty members, do not have a choice but to comply. Otherwise, [the education of] our students will be at stake,” Lumbera said.

The rush to begin the semester has placed the burden on university staff to push through with classes amid the pandemic, said UP Diliman University Student Council Students’ Rights and Welfare (STRAW) Councilor Tierone Santos.

“Nararapat na ipanawagan na i-address ang concerns ng mga estudyante, mga kaguruan at mga kawani muna bago buksan ang klase. Malaki din ang clamor ng mga sektor na lubhang apektado nito upang ipanawagan ang pagkakaroon ng ligtas na balik eskwela,” Santos said.

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