Students urge suspension of online classes during coronavirus lockdown

Samantha Bagayas

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Students urge suspension of online classes during coronavirus lockdown
Several student councils and groups point out that resource constraints and lack of stable internet make e-learning difficult for young Filipinos during the outbreak

MANILA, Philippines – Several student groups are pushing for the suspension of online classes, as the country grapples with rising numbers of confirmed coronavirus cases.

In a bid to contain the spread of the virus, several areas of the Philippines, including the whole island of Luzon which houses over 57 million residents, are on lockdown.

In Metro Manila especially, classes in all levels and government work are suspended until April 14, coinciding with the end of the 30-day lockdown in the area.

However, several schools are opting to make up for lost time with online classes, following an advisory from the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) that encourages schools to use “available distance learning, e-learning, and other alternative modes of delivery in lieu of residential learning if they have the resources to do so.”

Several student groups, however, have pointed out that imposing mandatory online classes as an alternative will greatly hurt the vast majority of students who do not have access to the internet. (READ: How metro schools continue lessons amid coronavirus threat)

In a position paper submitted to CHED on March 19, Student Council Alliance of the Philippines (SCAP) and Students’ Rights and Welfare Philippines (STRAW PH) pointed out that these online classes will force students to go to crowded places such as computer shops to access wifi or sari-sari stores to get cellular data.

They added that for some, these options are expensive, dangerous, and limiting, especially as students in Metro Manila are barred from public spaces due to the coronavirus threat.

“In the framework of online classes, only students who can afford to have internet installed at home are those who can access education. Thus, online classes are merely manifestations of the divide among social classes in our studentry, when education should not be limited to a certain few,” they said.

The challenges

Bolstering their stand, they conducted an online survey with 2,340 teachers and students from Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao as respondents to check the different challenges they face in online classes.

In its survey, over 72% or 1,748 people said they had difficulty understanding lessons from online classes. Meanwhile, 67% or 1,567 struggled with online classes due to loss of internet or stable connection.

The other 3 obstacles that respondents faced during online classes were the large volume of internet-intensive tasks (64%), strict guidelines such as attendance (43%), and lack of gadgets (22%).

The results spurred SCAP and STRAW PH to call on CHED to suspend online classes and assignments, as well as put in place mechanisms to help students or teachers who are on the losing end of these e-learning methods.

How online classes affect students, teachers

Several student groups including the Saint Louis University (SLU) Supreme Student Council, National Union of Students in the Philippines (NUSP), and University of the Philippines (UP) College of Education Student Council have echoed the call.

The Society of Mass Communication Students from the Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Marikina added that several students and teachers may face resource constraints and a lack of concrete guidelines on how activities and assignments may be coursed online.

UP College of Education Student Council, meanwhile, remarked how the government has not provided comprehensive guidelines and support for the transition to virtual learning, especially in the middle of an outbreak.

“Without clear mechanisms and sufficient resources for online learning, the burden to look for ways to conduct and attend virtual classes is just put [on] the students, teachers, and parents, especially in public schools…Our right to quality, accessible, and relevant education must not be hindered just because of logistical issues and state neglect,” they said.

They suggested for schools to utilize virtual learning classrooms, where lessons are already outlined and resources are easily downloadable anytime, so students can study if they have the means to do so.

NUSP agreed, saying some schools have no proper guidelines on online submissions or no learning management systems to fully plan, implement, and access specific learning processes during the outbreak.

SLU Supreme Student Council in Baguio City pointed out that the continuation of e-learning might affect the mental health of students, as they grapple between prioritizing their health concerns and their academics during this outbreak.

As of Sunday, the Philippines has already reported 380 confirmed cases of coronavirus, with 25 fatalities.

“Educational institutions must realize that the added academic pressure — especially in online educational platforms they were not trained to use — does nothing to contribute to the physical and mental welfare of our students,” SCAP added.

Instead of online classes, SLU Supreme Student Council proposed the extension of the academic year to make up for the 30-day class suspension brought by the Luzon lockdown.

“This would not mean that we are promoting academic negligence of students, but for quality education not to be compromised…during this state of calamity,” they clarified.

The student government of Technological University of the Philippines also explained that the suspension of online classes must also cover the online submission of requirements to allow families, especially the urban poor, to focus on the provision of necessities such as food, water, and medicines during the crisis.

“Even if only a few students are unable to comply without fault, the purpose of learning and education for all would ultimately be defeated should online classes and requirements push through. The priority of one’s health and the welfare of the community must be put above the need to find the means to online access at the cost of safety,” added University of the East-Caloocan Central Student Council.

According to CHED’s advisory, higher education institutions that have shifted their academic calendars can “adjust their semester as needed, adopt different delivery modes of teaching, and provide make up classes to compensate for the 30-day class suspension.”

Several institutions including UP, Ateneo de Manila University, De La Salle University Taft, and Lyceum of the Philippines University, among others, have canceled their online classes. Several others are still employing the e-learning method to catch up on their curriculum.

The Department of Education, meanwhile, has DepEd Commons, an online platform for public school teachers to support distance learning. Since the platform is still in its early stages, its use is not yet required. However, teachers with available resources and access to internet are encouraged to use online alternative platforms during class suspensions.

“We acknowledge the reality of [the] situation wherein DepEd Commons and its Open Education Resources (OER) are not accessible to all teachers and learners. Given that not everyone has access to a stable internet connection, online learning platforms are only given as an option for those who have access to such medium,” DepEd Undersecretary Alain Del Pascua said.

“We must start somewhere and work our way towards the ideal where all teachers and learners in the country can access such resources. Until that time, we offer DepEd Commons and OERs to those who can make use of them, as we continue to work for the connectivity of all our schools and offices,” Pascua added. –

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Samantha Bagayas

Samantha Bagayas is the head of civic engagement at Rappler.