Online class sounds fun yet a struggle when it is done. This is when you realize that you appreciate in-person instruction more than self-paced learning, when it is better to wake up with phone alarm than phone notifications about your online activities, and when you have to worry more on your grades than your health.
When the provincial government ordered the suspension of classes starting March 17 due to the threat of corona virus disease (COVID-19), some of the classes in the university started to shift online in order to comply with the requirements of the syllabus.
The online class in times of a health crisis has revealed the reality that not all students who attend in the university are prepared for online instruction. The circumstances are even more difficult for those who live in the upland areas and landlocked municipalities with poor internet connectivity. In fact, out of roughly 7,000 responses in the Rapid Connectivity Assessment conducted in the UA system, 76.9% of the students responded “WITH LIMITED CONNECTIVITY” which implies that they have internet ready phones yet do not have stable data connection or wifi connectivity. Meanwhile, 12.3% answered “WITHOUT CONNECTIVITY” which means they do not have android/iOS phones to receive internet signal or wifi. A meager 10.7% responded “WITH CONNECTIVITY”, indicating they have internet ready phones and available steady internet signal. Among the respondents, 62.2% of them are from the main campus.
The challenge does not lie in the connectivity alone. Most of the students experience the scarcity of resources since text books are only available at school but not in every home. Students also choose to buy prepaid load instead of buying food for their hungry mouths. Much worse, they cannot afford to buy prepaid load anytime. Thus, gathering additional information suddenly became expensive when it was once free in the library. Since the province is under community quarantine, computer shops are not operating, affecting those who do not have laptops. Smartphones and tablets may be useful but these gadgets do not have some of the features of a computer. Thus, the struggle is worse.
Additionally, e-learning at home is prone to distractions because it is a different kind of environment. There are students who are used to do house chores but not in studying at home. A student could already be diverted when he/she is interrupted by sudden house chores in the middle of studying. Boarding houses, libraries, and particular corners of the school are completely different places that are meant for students’ learning. Since classes are conducted using gadgets, students may be tempted to open social media apps, play their mobile games, and watch their favourite series and movies instead of reading their e-modules.
There are also some students whose mental health is affected as they experience anxieties not just because the world is facing a pandemic but also because they have to meet the deadlines. Much worse if they are anxious about their financial capacity to feed themselves at a time when relief goods are rarely provided. Online classes also affect the physical well-being of the students because unlike the interactive classes, there are less movements in studying and the eyes are always tired because of being exposed to the digital screens for hours reading the lessons with tiny font size. Eye strain and migraine attacks are the usual offenses of e-learning.
With these problems in the conduct of online classes, many have called for mass promotion or auto pass. However, Commission on Higher Education (CHED) Chairman Prospero de Vera III answered that mass promotion is a disadvantage to the candidates of Latin honors and scholars where numeric grades are the bases to maintain or achieve the said academic status. Moreover, mass promotion seemed to contradict the retention policy that is implemented in the particular programs of some colleges where students are filtered through their academic performances expressed in numeric grades. Once mass promoted, it would also be unfair for both the students who are close to meet the retention requirements and those who are at risk.
Since the CHED chair said that higher education institutions (HEIs) are implementing ‘flexible learning’, the university transitioned to ‘blended and flexible modality’ by providing modular instruction for students who do not have connectivity and online engagement for those who have. The semester was also extended until May 29 this year. However, students who missed to take their midterm exam and failed to submit their final requirements before the end of the academic year will be given one year to comply or the ‘grade in progress’ scheme except for graduating students from graduate and undergraduate programs who are only given until May 29 to complete their requirements.
Despite the adjustments for the students, the struggle remained a struggle. Even the professors had provided all the reading materials they could give, there are still lessons that are meant to be explained with the physical presence of a teacher. In online classes, students find the explanation and understand the lessons on their own. Students may ask further explanations in their groupchats. However, unlike questions asked in a real classroom that are answered after a blink of an eye, questions in the virtual classroom often take minutes and even hours to be answered because teachers are either offline or might have overlooked the messages.
The debate on continuing classes through online platform ends up in choosing between education and health on which one must either prioritize or sacrifice. However, education and health being the only options for students lead to dilemma when it is the community’s collective obligation to make learning and wellness co-exist and not as choices. One should not be compromised because upholding one is the uncertainty of the other.
Written by JORIELYN MARTIZANO