We can’t keep sailing off to another semester pretending that the “boat” we are on isn’t sinking.
But as UP proceeds with class activities in the second semester of the Academic Year 2021 to 2022, it seems like we have no other choice but to do so.
Just like we have done in the past two full years of remote learning, we will once again open our devices and glue ourselves to our screens while mindlessly submitting one requirement after another. For some, the new semester means subscribing once again to hefty mobile data subscriptions to not fall behind online classes. Many more won’t even see the semester unfold, as their declining mental and physical health demand a leave of absence from the distanced learning setup.
The mechanical repetition of events might dupe us into believing that remote learning is here to stay, but lest we forget, this setup is only a response to a national health emergency—a three-year-long one.
While government officials promised us a “better Christmas,” 2022 was not welcomed through festive celebrations. It was greeted in trepidation of the highly transmissible COVID-19 omicron variant, which has sneaked into almost every household in the country. Campus authorities recorded that UP Diliman faced its highest surge of COVID cases right before the start of the second semester.
Students in Visayas and Mindanao also felt the deluge of the new year, as they had to double down on their recovery from the havoc of Typhoon Odette. With homes barely restored from the strongest typhoon recorded last year, students confronted Odette’s impact while fearing another storm of schoolwork materializing over the horizon.
Students, faculty, staff and employees split themselves into halves to cater to their family’s needs and their own. And still, they split themselves into quarters to meet the demands of the coming semester, which entails a ridiculous sense of normalcy.
None of these conditions are “normal,” and that should have been enough reason not to approach the upcoming semester as any other we have had before the pandemic. But as we have witnessed UP’s scant compassion firsthand, we realize we are not on the same boat with the University after all.
Every semestral opening, the UP community would have to plead to either postpone or halt it. This semester alone, various campus formations requested UP Diliman Chancellor Fidel Nemenzo to postpone the second semester nine times.
Yet the contradictory response to the petitions, and the ones that have come in the past two years, has been the same script that no longer surprises anyone. The community will still contend with compressed semesters, delayed financial and gadget support and inconclusive guarantees of a gradual return to face-to-face classes.
We are handed academic breaks under the assumption that seven days or so of rest will suffice. But really, the academic break is a tokenistic misnomer. Students are still grappling with incomplete requirements, with student councils setting up petitions and grievance forms to ensure genuine academic breaks.
Professors strain to rush their course packs for the shortened semester as they complete their students’ grades from the previous one. For staff and other working personnel, their overwhelming and persistent calls for financial relief and benefits remain unheeded and their efforts uncompensated.
It cannot be the wellness break UP claims it to be when the community still wrestles with work in the face of depleting or inaccessible mental and physical health support from both the campus and the national government.
And what is the purpose of doing all these even amid a global emergency?
Despite the progressive thinking that the University boasts, it cannot free itself from the claws of neocolonial, neoliberal and commercialized education. It remains shackled to international powers that convert our schools into factories of cheap labor. It continues bowing down to mighty corporations that drain the life and vigor of our education system.
This enduring form of education has taught universities to prioritize students’ marketability in the workforce and see how well they can out-toil each other in a pandemic. It has taught campus executives to rabidly sell themselves to corporations that look at worldwide rankings with lust and ardor.
Students must still keep turning the University’s cogs every day, come hell or high water. In pre-pandemic times, even requests for single-day class suspensions are met with raised eyebrows, as even a crack in the academic schedule would derail productivity and impair the country’s workforce cycle.
As Nemenzo said himself, UP cannot move the semester as it cannot delay the input of licensure exam takers who would become civil servants. It cannot postpone the graduation of thousands of students as doing so would pause the heartbeat of corporate giants.
To international corporations, any impedances in the global schooling system would create a hole in their financial calendars and an even bigger hole in their annual profits. And God forbid any clogs on their profiteering agenda, not when the whole country has already adjusted its academic calendar and grade level system to match the hiring process of corporations worldwide.
Much has been said about the menace of profit-oriented education, many of which are from UP’s own students, professors and staff. But that has not stopped the University from pushing its community to produce output even in times of turmoil.
This is not honor, by any means, not when UP neglects the calls of the very people who carry its name through the ranks of a globally-competitive education. There will neither be honor nor excellence in a community whose leaders leave its constituents sinking instead of steering the boat away from imminent storms.
UP, which prides itself as a bastion of forward-thinking, should be the first to know of its part in this grand dictatorial scheme. Its complicity in this profit-oriented education system speaks more about the University than the successes and accolades it boasts. With years of experience in remote learning, UP is not illiterate in reading the story of its constituents’ exploitation.
We cannot call this mercenary arrangement as education, as this is not what is expected of students. Academic freedom wilts without liberating learning—one that encourages students to explore outside the thick walls set by corporations and governments.
The University has offered its own walls to those whose lives have been challenged by COVID. It has sent out its medical practitioners, experts and academes in service to the country ravaged by the pandemic. The University has seen all the charts and the graphs. It knows, as anyone does, that the community has been treading unstable waters since the start of the pandemic. Everything we’ve done in the past years under remote learning is patching holes.
It cannot pretend as if its own constituents are spared from the pandemic, or from the output-driven ills of the education system. The University cannot be a harbinger of change if it cannot even see the lapses in its own learning setup.
UP, claiming to be the engineer of change in society, should heed the demands of its community to remain afloat in the uncharted waters we are in. This administration must go against the tide of neocolonial, neoliberal and commercialized education that has long punctured our vessels. Because alas, the boat is sinking. We can’t keep going as if it isn’t.