[OPINION] Futures on the line: Why learning through screens won’t work in the PH

Gab Jopillo
[OPINION] Futures on the line: Why learning through screens won’t work in the PH
'It’s not that we don’t want to study. It’s that, given these conditions, we can’t.'

The moment I moved to Manila and enrolled in university, I strove to do well academically, not just for my future or for my parents, but also for the chance to contribute to nation-building. I told myself to pick up interesting lessons and facts applicable outside of class, to focus on university experiences that would make my stay worth it, and to connect with the professors who’ve stood out for me and touched my life.

And for a while, I seemed to be doing alright. Being the type who likes having most things planned out, I mapped a plan and consciously tried to follow it. While there were setbacks and low points, everything still felt rather solid, and I knew that as long as I kept my priorities intact, I could still follow my plan and enjoy the ride.

However, the gears had shifted the moment the pandemic began. COVID-related cases continued to escalate, community quarantines were imposed, and schools decided to shift to online learning. For a moment, online learning didn’t seem like that big a deal and, perhaps for some, appeared to be the genuine solution in order to keep education going; I mean, everybody seems to have data and internet connectivity anyway, right?

But once online classes started, problems began to surface. Students started reporting a multitude of inconveniences, from being unable to join learning discussions due to poor internet connectivity, to lacking the necessary resources for accomplishing particular tasks, to suffering a fragile and unstable mental state. Meetings and deadlines were missed or canceled numerous times, and during instances when students were able to attend, they still had to deal with outdoor noise and a flurry of other distractions. Even professors have admitted to experiencing these inconveniences. Learning materials – books, printed handouts, and folders – have also been left in the city due to the sudden move back to the province to escape the virus. Nobody in my Literature class, for instance, had managed to take the readings home with them.

With students coming from different environments and circumstances, online classes proved to be the opposite of ideal. And besides the general challenge of aiming for good grades amid a non-conducive learning environment, I’ve also spent full days either stressing over how to contact professors who seem unreachable, or dealing with professors who continue to push through with irrational performance tasks.

Because of these difficulties, I have also put a strain on my own mental health. And the thought of many students enduring fragile mental states really puts the state of our education into perspective.

It breaks us to hear numbers continuing to rise, to see how often fear tactics and threats are used to herd the masses, to see trapos taking charge and perpetuating a selfish system. Add to that our personal problems and it feels like we can only choose between putting our sanity on the line or just dropping everything.

Learning through device screens seems optimal only for countries where wi-fi operates flawlessly for all, and educators are considerate of most, if not all, circumstances. Maybe it’s the pressure to compete with the educational systems of other countries, or the need for universities to utilize paid tuition fees, or perhaps the strong urge to continue forming minds for the future – but whatever the reason is behind this insistence on online learning in this country, the problems still remain. These problems have exposed not only the country’s unstable educational infrastructure, but our national system’s overall frailty and lack of preparedness. 

Those unaffected may find it easy to call us students lazy, telling us that the stress we’re under in right now is nothing compared to what they’ve endured. But it’s not that we don’t want to study. It’s that, given these conditions, we can’t.

I stepped into my university determined that once I stepped out, I’d be equipped with the education to take charge of my future, that I’d have the ability to become the person I want to be for both myself and the country. But being under such difficult conditions has put a strain on my education. With everybody else turning a blind eye to the gravity of our situation, it’s unfortunate that the only thing we can do is keep going.

Surely, universities have strived to mitigate these problems and establish conducive learning environments for its students, but we think better solutions could be proposed. For most of us, education is our chance for success, so is it fair that our success now depends on whether or not we have access to stable internet? – Rappler.com

Gab Jopillo is taking up AB Communication at the University of Santo Tomas.

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