Mass promotions and more
The Philippines’ lockdown caught most elementary and high schools at the tail end of their school year, with the next school year due to start in June.
Colleges and universities have been more problematic, many having shifted to an academic calendar where the second semester ends in May. In other words, we were caught by the lockdown right in the middle of the semester.
Immediately, there was talk about going online, but a survey among UP students found that many did not have reliable Wi-Fi access. Some did not even have their own computers, and would have to rely on mobile phones for online classes.
Then the faculty were surveyed. We found that some did not have regular Wi-Fi either; many, in fact, were on prepaid plans where they have to buy loads. Faculty also felt unprepared for online learning systems.
All these findings were for UP in Metro Manila, so I can imagine how much more difficult it is for students and faculty outside the capital.
Several universities have now opted to go for mass promotions: Just give a P or passing mark to all the students. Many faculty had reservations about this, worried that this will leave many students half-baked, especially on core and foundational courses.
I had my reservations, too, but felt we need closure. We can’t keep extending the semester hoping to cover lost ground. Instead, let’s credit what students and their faculty have done. This will be especially important for graduating students.
While classroom lectures may have ended, many students were engaged in other learning activities—for example, documenting life in quarantine, especially the plight of lower- and middle-income families and communities.
Fine arts students have been making face shields for health personnel using their FabLab 3D printers. Engineering students have been designing isolation tents and looking into manufacturing ventilators. Still others rendered community service, getting food packs to poor communities that remain, even in the heart of Metro Manila, unreached by government aid.
Someday, these students will tell stories to their children and grandchildren about how hard it was to get those P grades way back in 2020 at the height of the pandemic.
Beyond mass promotion though, we have to recognize that we owe it to students to catch up with some of the courses’ content. I feel we should allow students to sit in and audit certain classes, even re-enroll in courses if they want a letter grade—and they should be allowed all that without being charged tuition.
The lockdown has wreaked havoc on people’s livelihoods and savings, so expect many students to be pulled out from schools, aggravating our high dropout rates. I talked with other schools’ administrators, many compassionate ones who understand and want to give tuition refunds and tuition credit (meaning part of the payment this semester can be credited for the first semester of the next school year), but the private schools’ expenses are mounting, too, because they have to pay full-time teachers and staff, with or without classes.
Government must come in, by maintaining the no-tuition policies in state universities and colleges, maybe even expanding it to graduate students. Government should consider subsidies and tax credits and other forms of support for all schools, and to encourage a moratorium on collecting tuition debts, loans, even unpaid dormitory fees.
Comparisons have been made with the mass promotions of February 1986, made because of the Edsa revolt. But the situation was different then because the semester was nearly over, and classes resumed in June with a new government.
Today, we deal with a pandemic, one which will probably have several waves, hopefully milder ones, but the threat of serious infections will certainly continue well into next year.
June is around the corner, and while it is not clear if we can resume classes, we need to continue to plan and to prepare. There’s so much work to be done revising course content, retooling teaching methods, and reconfiguring our physical spaces.
The UP Diliman University Student Council’s campaign for mass promotions uses the hashtag #WalangIwanan. I laugh and tease them electronically, “as long as we’re six feet apart.” But, yes, it is an apt slogan.
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