Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — In South Korea, two students tested positive for COVID-19 as 66 schools reopened. In the Philippines, a 20 year-old student from Capiz died of a motorcycle accident on her way home, while another 20-year-old student from Masbate climbed a mountain; both were searching for a signal just to submit their academic requirements. In Japan, the students clamor that the quality of classes dropped, making them feel meaningless through online education.
Why do we still romanticize underprivileged Filipino academic resilience and sacrifice the lives of the “hope of the future” — when there is still no nationwide mass testing — just to resume classes?
With a mental health pandemic and digital divide cutting deeper into our educational system, an “academic freeze” must be considered — at least, until and unless the curve has flattened and mass testing has been made and proven effective. At most, a vaccine against COVID-19 should be developed. This pertains to suspending classes or the succeeding academic years in all modes of learning: on-site, off-site, online, and offline.
The “off-site and online”
Imagine staying online for weeks, paying for the internet, and going to computer shops, all for the sake of compliance, while families are struggling and others have nothing to eat, thinking only how to survive every day.
Pushing through an “off-site and online” mode of learning will just further resurface the digital divide evident in our educational sphere. Not everyone has a stable internet connection and it would be hard or worse, impossible for some students to reach a signal.
Institutions equipped to implement this method, by providing gadgets and student allowances, would just increase institutional incompetence in resolving the problems with internet access (not to mention the proper gadgets) of students across the country, as it would leave students of most institutions behind due to incapacity to adopt such measures.
Obliging teachers to prepare for the next term is tantamount to overlooking their conditions as well. Cognitive skills may be enriched through online classes, but it would only leave the class to be teacher-centered while emotive and motor skills may be undermined, as there is no hands-on guidance, physical experimentation, and practical activities.
The “off-site and offline”
In the alternative “off-site and offline” mode, learning materials and requirements can be delivered both by mail. But this set-up will possibly require families to find a means to procure money for courier fees, among others, when they would rather allot it for their necessities — unless the school will handle the delivery fees.
This lack of empathy implies that our educational system is turning a blind eye to whom we should help and what we should focus on — the frontliners, the underprivileged, and flattening the curve. Instead of saving a community for the "hope of the society," it just impairs our mental health. Rather than prioritizing safety and security, it just reflects otherwise.
The “academic freeze”
It may not be the best solution, but an “academic freeze” can be adopted until the digital divide is fully resolved or results of mass testing and curve-flattening are already evaluated empirically. This will require a flexible academic term, calendar, and curricula to lessen the school days required, lower the number of course requirements, and reduce tuition and other fees usually projected for the use of school facilities.
An “academic freeze” can also be adopted through a “no vaccine, no classes” policy wherein all academic calendars and curricula need not to be adjusted, but will just have to suspend classes per academic year. If there is no vaccine yet as of 2020, it may be possible to suspend the Academic Year 2020 to 2021 and resume classes on the Academic Year 2021 to 2022 without adjusting the June to March and August to May academic calendars.
Leave no student behind
Economically affected, agencies, companies, and institutions, whether public or private, can encourage graduating students to apply for a job during the “academic freeze” to uplift local businesses, but they should be lenient in the submission of their academic requirements for employment.
Furthermore, a possible loan with no interest agreement, public-private partnership, or government-business coordination can incentivize school employees and contractual workers so they will still be motivated in sustaining and improving their morale and productivity to provide quality education, post-pandemic.
Early resumption of classes will just cause additional burden to families and guardians providing tuition and allowances as the transition to “new normal” lets all of us, most especially the indigents, prioritize basic necessities from square one.
“Academic freeze” will give the country time to have effective and efficient mass testing or mass vaccination; not only in the hands of one, but for a collective and responsive system to push through this pandemic.
As far as there are underprivileged students who are victims of a distorted system, an “academic freeze” is the most plausible option for students, teachers, and school administrators. It allows them to collaborate in helping our frontliners, assisting our local governments, and in helping the country recover from an economic recession by conducting inclusive socio-economic volunteer mobilization programs.
No student should be left behind. Education is a right, but crisis response speaks of valuing human lives.
Ervine Jules B. Sape is a second year student from Saint Louis University and taking up Bachelor of Arts in Political Science. He is advocating for inclusive political governance, students' rights, deliberative democracy, and universal diplomacy.
Bianca Mae R. Aquino is a second year student from University of the Philippines Baguio and taking up Bachelor of Arts in Social Sciences, major in Anthropology and minor in Political Science. She is advocating for good political governance, proactive studentry, and civic participation.
Andrea Isahbel G. Olivar is a second year student from Saint Louis University and taking up Bachelor of Arts in Political Science. She is advocating for human rights protection, anti-discriminatory practices, and socio-political civic engagement.