Photo by Sofia Tomacruz/Rappler
MANILA, Philippines – Students of the top schools in the country on Wednesday, March 25, urged the Commission of Higher Education (CHED) to suspend online classes nationwide, as the country grapples with the novel coronavirus outbreak.
Student governments of the Ateneo de Manila University (ADMU), University of the Philippines (UP) Diliman, De La Salle University (DLSU) Manila, and University of Santo Tomas (UST) submitted the petition to CHED after several student groups aired their concerns about transitioning to e-learning in the middle of an pandemic.
“We humbly request the Commission on Higher Education to exercise its administrative powers to issue a memorandum order regarding the suspension of online classes and consider our arguments and recommendations. It is our utmost responsibility to uphold our rights as students and ensure our welfare amidst the crisis,” they said in the petition asking CHED to suspend online classes until the end of the Metro Manila lockdown on April 14.
“While we understand the need for learning to continue, the different circumstances of students across universities are not ideal and conducive for such,” they added.
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, classes in all levels and government work are suspended until April 14, coinciding with the duration of the 30-day lockdown in the capital region.
However, several schools have opted to make up for lost time with online classes, following a CHED advisory 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.”
Echoing concerns raised by both students and faculty members, the student governments cited in their petition 3 main issues that hamper the conduct of online classes, especially as households nationwide adjust to life under quarantine.
The student governments pointed out how access to internet connection and learning devices continued to be a “privilege up to this day,” placing those with poor internet access at a disadvantage when it comes to online classes.
They also stressed how the coronavirus outbreak’s effect on the community may make it difficult for students to focus on academic requirements, especially if they were already struggling physically, mentally, and financially. Others may also be coping with household preparations in light of the restrictions imposed by the lockdown.
“Adding more workload for the students increases their burden and contradicts the purpose of the lockdown, which is to help their families prepare and adjust to the situation at hand,” they said.
Another issue they raised was the probable lack of environments conducive to learning at home and the effectiveness of the online lectures.
They noted that the suspension of online classes should include the suspension of requirements such as quizzes, deadlines and submissions to allow students to focus on “necessary household preparations as the country faces the COVID-19 pandemic.”
They also suggested the distribution of online materials for self-learning at one’s convenience, and adjustments to the academic calendar as alternatives to online learning.
However, the student governments clarified that the online materials should only be “supplementary in nature while face-to-face classes are suspended,” and could also help prepare students for the resumption of classes.
They said that deadlines in the first week should be waived to allow students to adjust after a long period of class suspension.
They also proposed that possible adjustments to the academic calendar and shifts in academic requirements should be consulted with all sectors involved, and with “utmost consideration” given to graduating students as well.
Aside from the 4 student governments, the Student Council Alliance of the Philippines (SCAP) and Students’ Rights and Welfare Philippines (STRAW PH) have submitted a position paper to CHED on the same appeal – to suspend online classes amid the coronavirus outbreak.
Several institutions including UP, Ateneo de Manila University, and Lyceum of the Philippines University, among others, have canceled their online classes.
While DLSU Manila initially suspended online classes, the classes were conducted starting March 25, though faculty members are not allowed to force students to participate.
Several others are still employing the e-learning method to catch up on their curriculum. – Rappler.com
Samantha Bagayas is a community and civic engagement specialist under MovePH, Rappler's civic engagement arm. Aside from writing stories about movements and civic initiatives, she works with movers and campus journalists across the Philippines to amplify issues affecting their communities.