Students slam Cebu university's two-gadget exam rule as 'anti-poor'

Students of the Cebu Institute of Technology–University (CIT-U) protested the school's new two-device exam policy that officials imposed to curb cheating during online tests.

Student activists called the policy anti-poor. More than 7,500 students signed a September 15 petition urging the postponement of the implementation until the university issues "clear and inclusive" guidelines that protect students from "social discrimination".

A unity statement released by the CIT University Supreme Student Council on its Facebook page said the new policy would worsen learning conditions that were already bad because of the government's inability to address the COVID-19 pandemic with medical solutions.

CIT-U released on September 14 a memorandum listing rules for online exams. Students were required to have either a laptop with two cameras or two smartphones and a well-lit environment when taking exams.

“During the exam, a secondary camera/smartphone (if available) must be positioned in a way that both the hands of the student as well as the screen can be seen by the proctor,” said the university’s memorandum.

Students have a third option: using their laptop’s front camera and having a mirror positioned in a way so that it showed their hands on the keyboard. 

"It is not that we oppose the act of promoting integrity, per se. However, considering the depressing quality of internet access in the Philippines, coupled with the financial standing of the families of the students enrolled at our University, we cannot but challenge the pronouncement of the University to push through with the guidelines that go against our constitutional right to the access of education without discrimination," the Supreme Student Government statement said.

Dialogue sought

The student political party UNITED sent the petition to the Commission on Higher Education on Thursday, September 16. 

PETITION. The members of the political party UNITED CIT-U successfully submitted an appeal to postpone the implementation of the university's memorandum to the CHED Central Visayas Regional Office in Sudlon, Lahug, Cebu City, Cebu.

Photo from UNITED

"What we’re hoping for is that they (university) will open another dialogue with us, the SSG, and the administration so that we can fight for the postponement of the guidelines,” UNITED chairperson Geraldine Empuerto told Rappler in a phone interview.

What angered students was the portion of the memo that said “NOTE: Non-observance of any of these rules/guidelines would mean a score of zero in the examination.”

“The school administration has remained tone-deaf to the collective clamor of the student body — to make the new mode of online learning accessible by the greater majority," Anakbayan CIT-U said in a statement posted on its official Facebook page.

“Perhaps unbeknownst to them, a great number of students only own a single device, not many of them have access to high-end gadgets and neither do most of them live in well-lit environments,” they added.

A Rappler online survey found that an average web camera costs around P100 to P500, depending on the quality of the image. On the other hand, the cheapest smartphone costs around P1,900. Students have the choice between buying another smartphone or an HD web camera.

Officials say students consulted

In a statement released on Wednesday, September 15, University President Bernard Nicolas Villamor said the CIT-U Supreme Student Government (SSG) and university heads were consulted and even consented to the guidelines prior to its release.

PETITION. The appeal mainly asked the CIT University Administration to have a diplomatic discussion with students.

Photo from UNITED

“The total well-being of the Technologians is a fundamental concern and a top priority of the University,” Villamor said.

Jan Dale Catalonia, president of CIT-U SSG told Rappler in a phone interview on Thursday, September 16, that they initially rejected the guidelines in July.

Catalonia said the CIT-U SSG recommended alternatives to the two-device policy in the first week of August. By the end of that month, revised guidelines were presented by the university admins. CIT-U SSG appealed for reconsideration and asked university officials to waive the guidelines.

“They really want to have it implemented during midterms on the 24th. According to the admin, if there aren’t any alternatives, they might as well introduce the guidelines to the students,” Catalonia told Rappler.

“On our end, the compromise was to ask for leniency and exemptions for students, but this is not enough for the students; hence our appeal for the suspension of the said guidelines,” he added.

According to the university president, students could still request for exemptions from complying with the guidelines if they have valid reasons. He added that the implementation during the midterms were only a “dry-run” for evaluation purposes.

“The memo was released early to provide sufficient time for class orientation to be conducted by the faculty,” he said.

Unity statement

Hundreds have shared the statement on the CIT University Supreme Student Government page. 

"We stand with the Technologians born and raised in low-income working families. We stand with the Technologians who do not have a comfortable and conducive learning environment. We stand with the Technologians who do not have two devices," the statement said. – Rappler.com