All UP constituents, students, faculty, administrators, and staff, are dealing with the “uncertain” and “unusual” situation forced by the COVID-19 pandemic on teaching, learning, and operations.
This was acknowledged by the officials of the University of the Philippines in its online welcome ceremony for students on September 9, the day before the first semester of Academic Year 2020-2021 officially started. UP President Danilo Concepcion, Vice President for Academic Affairs Maria Cynthia Rose Bautista, and Student Regent John Isaac Punzalan all said the event was certainly not the welcome new and returning students expected.
Concepcion called this semester a “testament to our ability as Filipinos to overcome hardships”. He asked the UP community for understanding and cooperation as everyone grapples with new methods and processes. There will be mistakes and inadequacies, and some necessities may not be given or addressed immediately, but Concepcion emphasized that “as long as we are united in our belief that the pandemic must not succeed in crippling education and intellectual development, the torch of knowledge will triumph over our fears and worries.”
To freshmen, in particular, he asked them to accept the new normal as a historic challenge, one that would be the mark of their generation as students who continued to study and learn despite a pandemic. In the end, Concepcion reiterated the importance of keeping health and safety as top priorities and that while the University’s buildings may be closed, UP as an institution remains open to its constituents.
Bautista, meanwhile, said COVID-19 “thrust universities worldwide into uncharted territory.” Remote learning would be the norm for UP at this time, she added, clarifying that remote learning does not exclusively mean online learning. It means holding no physical meetings, possibly employing ICT, and being synchronous/real-time or asynchronous.
Course packs in digital or printed format will be the “primary means of delivering course content”. She described course packs for remote learning as more comprehensive than course packs for face-to-face classes, because these include study guides. Some faculty members will be providing course packs at the beginning of the semester while some will be giving these at intervals.
“This semester will definitely be far from ideal,” Bautista admitted. “If we were still unable to predict problems that arose even under the best circumstances of a regular semester, we will definitely be unable to anticipate many more unprecedented problems as we shift to remote learning, but we will learn from these problems, find solutions to them iteratively, and build on these solutions for a better planned second semester.”
She further revealed that UP recognized the imperfections of this semester and “continues to suspend rules on academic standing.” This semester will not be counted as part of the maximum residence rule for students and their regular load of 15 units has been reduced to 12 units.
Assistant Vice President for Student Affairs Richard Philip Gonzalo, who is also the director of the Office of Student Financial Assistance, gave a brief orientation on the reconfiguration of the UP Student Affairs System (SAS) as well as its new programs in response to remote learning.
Factors considered in the reconfiguration include: independent learning with limited interaction with peers and personnel; the home as a new learning environment which may not be fully conducive; digital divide; socioeconomic circumstances of households; effects of remote learning on mental health and psychosocial well-being; venues for connecting and expressing freedoms; and, protection of students’ rights.
The new SAS programs to be rolled out are: the Student Learning Assistance System (SLAS); the UP Student Mental Health and Wellness Network; Peer Learning Groups (PLGs); and, the Student Helpdesk.
The SLAS expands Student Financial Assistance Online, which was created in 2014 to accept applications for tuition subsidy and allowance. It will gather information on financial capacity, connectivity situation and options, and other learning assistance requirements to allow students to continue their studies. [Apply for gadgets and internet subsidy via UP’s Student Learning Assistance System Online]
Undergraduates from low income households, including those enrolled at the UP Diliman College of Law and UP Manila College of Medicine, shall each receive an internet connection subsidy worth P1,500 per month through a telecommunications company of their choice. Based on updated application information, those from the “most vulnerable” shall be offered gadgets on top of the internet connectivity allowance. This is in line with the Kaagapay sa Pag-aaral ng Iskolar ng Bayan Fundraising and Resource Generation Campaign that was launched in July to support the remote learning needs of around 5,600 UP students from financially-challenged households. [Support the remote learning needs of our Iskolar ng Bayan]
The UP Student Mental Health and Wellness Network aims to increase the availability of mental health service providers in the different UP campuses who can “provide service and facilitate referral, treatment, and other interventions”. Toward the creation of this network, Student Affairs offices from across the UP System will submit information on accredited organizations and individuals that offer mental health and psychosocial services. A harmonized process is intended for the efficient facilitation of referals within and across UP constituent universities.
The University acknowledges the critical role peers play in instruction and learning. PLGs will consist of students guided by faculty facilitators to provide tutorial services, peer counseling, and other support activities. The PLGs are “envisioned to address students’ concerns on self-paced learning and contribute to the overall mental health and well-being [of students] by enjoining [their peers] to be active agents in coping activities”.
The Student Helpdesk will be “a one-stop center for seeking advice on academic matters, emergency concerns, and even legal concerns, even when they are at home”. It will be managed using a triage system, referring students to appropriate units and groups that can directly address their needs, and giving information on application processes for learning support and financial aid, among others.
Apart from these programs, Gonzalo reiterated the following: merit-based scholarship awards and incentives will continue to be given; campus learning resource centers remain operational; the process of recognizing student organizations is still in place; counseling and guidance services are available; and, financial assistance programs such as scholarships, grants, tuition loans, student and graduate assistantships, and donor-funded initiatives, will continue to accept applications. He added that most student housing facilities will be closed during the first semester for the University to formulate protocols and prepare for “when the pandemic subsides”.
Punzalan, representing the students in the UP Board of Regents, the University’s highest governing body, described this year as being “historic”, not only because of the pandemic but also because the current situation “shows how ready we are to come together to protect our right to education and offer our intellect and talent to our countrymen.” He enumerated to his fellow Iskolar ng Bayan some of the things that they need to fight for and protect: health, accessible education, academic freedom, and the freedom to know and be involved. “Our voices will never be silent,” he declared.
He was optimistic that the next time students see each other, “we will be cheering ‘UP fight’ together while watching sporting events, going on food trips around the campus, studying and hanging out with our classmates and fellow organization members, and participating in demonstrations to fight for our rights.” Punzalan ended by asking his constituents to “find hope in ourselves, in our fellow students, and in our community as One UP. Be the light in the midst of darkness.”
Vice President for Public Affairs Elena Pernia formally closed the online welcome ceremony. “We have been called to be creative and confident, patient and understanding, but most of all, committed to do our best in addressing educational challenges.” To UP students in particular, she gave this reminder: “The phrase ‘para sa bayan’ (for the country) is not empty rhetoric, but a guide to how one must live.”
The program also included productions by TVUP: “Upward, Onward, Forward”, a backgrounder video on the University; and,“Husay at Galing”, a music video of the song originally composed by Ferdinand Jarin with musical arrangement and instrumentation by Pordalab.