[OPINION] What makes for 'compassionate' education during the pandemic?
The COVID-19 pandemic changed the landscape of learning all over the world, leaving educational institutions grappling with the question of what it means to educate students during this time, especially when many teachers and students are struggling with the large scale negative impact of the pandemic on their daily lives and wellbeing.
In the face of such suffering, it is only natural to want for our pain to be taken away. Perhaps this is why some universities have decided to mass promote their students. In the University of the Philippines where I teach, the idea of mass promotion as “compassionate” education in this time of COVID-19 has occupied the discourse of the past few weeks. (READ: Netizens debate mass promotion of students amid coronavirus pandemic)
As a mental health professional, I feel that it’s my responsibility to express my concerns on the matter especially since arguments for mass promotion have hinged on a potentially dangerous idea — that supporting our students’ mental health and well-being is predicated primarily on avoidance of pain. For me, this kind of educational policy could compromise long-run gains in mental health and well-being for its unfortunate beneficiaries.
The pandemic is a global disaster, and we are only at the beginning of a process that brings with it destabilization. Naturally, the immediate calls are for practical and psychological “rescue.” Emotions and tensions run high, and people become liable to making forecasting errors at the beginning of this process. It is normal for people to feel consumed, overwhelmed in their confusion, anger, fear, loss of control. For many, this could lead to a pessimistic view of the future and their own ability to live through tough times. (READ: [OPINION] Futures on the line: Why learning through screens won't work in the PH)
Mass promotion as a strategy reflects a forecasting error and a pessimistic view of our ability to survive, and thrive, in crisis. It assumes that our sense of destabilization will not recede and that we do not have the capacity to make the best out of an admittedly bad situation. It assumes that our situations will either not change or that they can only change for the worse. It communicates an implicit message to our students that, even if given time, they will never find pockets of hope and security, will never carve opportunities to maintain a minimum sense of continuity in their lives and mastery in their endeavors.
Studies on mental health and well-being show that those of us who are able to tolerate distress are better positioned to achieve long-term gains in mental health and wellbeing. This trade-off, of short-term pain for long-term gain, means that we cannot shortcut the process because to do so would be to rob ourselves of the opportunity to learn how to manage our negative emotions, view ourselves with kindness especially when we are not at our “best,” get to know who we are when we are not performing our public personae, and find out what is truly important to us.
Clarifying what we value doesn’t happen when times are kind and we have it easy. Instead, it is during crisis, when we suffer, that we are given opportunity to discover what is truly important. This time of pandemic is ripe for us to ask ourselves, what is the real value of receiving an education? (READ: Ateneo shortens semester, students to get refund)
For me, it is instilling in students a compassionate curiosity about their own experiences including and especially painful ones that could refine and enrich them. The capacity and willingness to accept, even embrace, and create meaning from harsh experience, is a gift that will serve them well no matter where they end up. It is especially critical for future mental health professionals whose own well-being could have a huge impact on the wellbeing of clients they will be working with. Now more than ever, we need mental health professionals who are competent, compassionate, and courageous in the face of others’ pain. How, then, can we expect our students to sit with others who suffer if we are the first to let them avoid facing, and working through, their own suffering? – Rappler.com
Divine Love A. Salvador, PhD, RPsy is a licensed psychologist and Associate Professor of Clinical Psychology at the Department of Psychology in UP Diliman. She is a Clinical Supervisor at UP Diliman Psychosocial Services (UPD PsycServ), which offers free telepsychotherapy service to the public during this time of pandemic.