ADNU President not in favor of ending semester early

Ateneo de Naga University President Fr. Roberto EN Rivera, SJ said the university "will exert all efforts to save the semester."

Rivera wrote: "This not only gives the students “their money’s worth,” it also sets the stage for the future of learning in this pandemic-ridden world, a future that is now here with us."

His explanation consists of the following ten points:

1) The COVID-19 crisis and the exigencies of quarantine have forced many of us to stay home. In that sense, it is unlike any other emergency we have ever faced before. During the 1985 EDSA revolution, for instance, I recall as a college student at Ateneo de Manila how classes were cancelled after the February uprising, never to resume again for the rest of the semester. I also remember September 2009, when Typhoon Ondoy hit the Philippines. I was back as a college teacher at Ateneo de Manila, and again classes were cancelled for the semester. In both cases, the rationale for ending the semester was that there was much to do and learn from outside the classroom—alternative socio-political classes, relief operations, community building venues, etc. Such is not the case now, when we are told that the best way we can help is to stay home.
2) Since for many students there are no viable activities to participate in outside their homes, the Ateneo de Naga has the responsibility of providing learning opportunities especially while classes remain suspended. To do otherwise would be to abandon our mission as an educational institution. We are glad that the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) affirms this mission. In its “COVID-19 Advisory no. 6”, the CHED states that: “During the period of extended Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ), HEIs shall continue to exercise their judgment in the deployment of available flexible learning and other alternative modes of delivery in lieu of in-campus learning if they have the resources to do so.”
3) In the EDSA Revolution and the Typhoon Ondoy examples I cited earlier, the cancellation of classes with more than a month to go in the semester left gaping holes in the learning and instruction process. With the COVID-19 crisis, however, we in AdNU have the opportunity to patch up such holes. Echoing the CHED advisory, the AdNU has been blessed to have the capacity to offer “flexible learning and other alternative modes of delivery.” The implementation of online and blended learning and instruction is based on educational infrastructure that other schools are not fortunate enough to have. The implementation may not be perfect, for reasons that have been cited in the SSG letter, but for us in AdNU the opportunity is there and it should be utilized in this time of crisis.
4) Numbers 4 to 8 shall respond to the substance of the SSG letter. I praise the SSG for consulting 525 of their fellow students, which is no mean feat considering all the constraints placed by ECQ. However, this number is to be taken with a huge grain of salt. It is by no means a scientific, randomized survey which can be considered an accurate representation of the sentiments or experience of the 3214 total students in college. Nevertheless, this does not discount the usefulness of what the SSG has accomplished. They provide us issues and concerns in online and blended learning identified by a substantial portion of the student body. But whether the majority of the entire student body is in agreement with these issues and concerns, and the recommendations the SSG has gleaned from them is contentious, to say the least.
5) There is some unclarity with the graphs presented by the SSG, since it is not indicated what the values in the x and y axes of these graphs represent. However, we trust the SSG has diligently summarized the data into the three areas of student concerns they identify, which is what I shall address now. First, with regard to “Deadline” concerns, the observations and ratings given on non/leniency of faculty are well taken. If indeed the perception of the students are accurate, the VP-HE and our Deans will make sure that the faculty under their supervision comply with the leniency that has been promised to the students. This is a very good example of the SSG calling the University leadership’s attention to critical issues. However, to say that the instances of non-leniency is cause for second semester cancellation invalidates the efforts at online learning during the ECQ, as well as the nearly three months of classroom learning that came before it. It will be very unfair to both teachers and students who exerted so much effort during that time.
6) A second concern the SSG identifies is dubbed “Feedback System,” where they bewail the lack of face to face interaction when the online component is introduced into the learning mix. Again, this is a valid observation, but it cannot be listed as a reason for ending the semester. What is overlooked here is that online learning develops other capacities that the student should have, most especially the ability to do self-learning. Self-learning requires greater initiative, reflection, and discipline than traditional classroom interaction. RA 10968, the Philippine Qualifications Framework Act, declares unequivocally that Philippine college graduates should be able to carry out professional pursuits “… with substantial degree of independence and/or in teams of related fields with minimal supervision.” Thus, in this new world that has been fashioned for us by COVID-19, there will be no choice except to resort to online learning and instruction if education is to continue and survive in the next few years, until COVID-19 is under control.
7) The final concern the SSG references is collectively dubbed “Means of Communication”, which actually combines the problems encountered by students (and faculty as well) in internet access and connectivity, the absence of necessary equipment and software (e.g. laptops, tablets, specialized programs), and unfamiliarity with the various online platforms employed. All these are problems that were actually anticipated by the administrators and faculty when we gave the go signal for online, and eventually blended learning. We went “full speed ahead” despite all these limitations because: first, again, we really have no choice in the matter since online learning is the “new normal”; and second, we are hoping that the online learning employed in the balance of the semester will not be the totality, but rather a complement to the three months of classroom work that came before. These difficulties should not negate all the hard work already put in these past months and are not a reason to terminate the semester.
8. All the suggestions of the students collated by the SSG for the improvement of online and blended learning have been noted and are truly appreciated. These will be invaluable for the improvement of the new and emerging mode of education that we find ourselves in. I cannot emphasize this enough: this is the “new normal” in terms of education, and we have no choice in the matter. COVID-19 and its fallout will be with us for the next several years. We had to start somewhere, and unfortunately, it had to be during this pandemic. While I empathize with our current students that we had to start with them, the experience will not be for naught. Their experience, albeit a difficult and challenging one, will be the foundation on which we build the edifice of online and blended learning in AdNU.
9) To address separately here the issue of a refund of tuition and fees. Here I need to emphatically point out that the biggest expense for us in the University is for the salaries of faculty and staff. It is an investment that has been proven to be worth making not only in AdNU but in Jesuit education worldwide. In AdNU, this has borne fruit in the many accolades our academic work has garnered, from the slew of PAASCU accreditations of our programs, to the fact that we remain as the only Autonomous Higher Education Institution in Bicol. This is something we need to preserve in this new mode of education we find ourselves in. Students may not be in school, but faculty and staff are being paid and maintenance costs are incurred for our facilities. A refund may not be a realistic option, but I assure our students that utmost consideration will be given to difficulties in settling remaining financial obligations to the school this academic year.
10) Finally, I would like to express my strongest opposition to the notion proposed by the SSG that blended and online learning represents a “class divide,” and that cancelling the second semester will be in the service of an “inclusive” education. All the more, because we want all students to benefit from the work that has been put into this second semester, equality in education means ensuring that we preserve the integrity of this semester. Mass promotion will not achieve this. The learning process must continue in this crisis which is just beginning. “Inclusivity” does not mean dismissing learning for all, but rather giving learning and teaching the best effort in these difficult circumstances, while caring in a special way for those who have serious difficulties with the process.
It will be recalled that earlier this week, said university's Supreme Student Government (SSG) wrote a letter to the Vice President for Higher Education (VP-HE), Dr. Alfredo Fabay calling to end the semester.