Weaponizing school budgets
It seems to be a trend nowadays for public officials to threaten state universities and colleges, especially the University of the Philippines, with deep cuts in the budget for whichever pet desires they have at the moment. Earlier this month, Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano questioned UP’s decision to suspend its admission text, the UP College Admission Test (UPCAT), anew amidst continuing health risks and logistical hurdles. He asked what UP was doing with its money, as if administering the UPCAT was simply a financial matter. More recently, his sister Sen. Pia Cayetano also threatened the budget of UP for not forcing 100 percent face-to-face classes, erroneously assuming that continuing the blended learning model means less than the basic effort in education.
I have my own misgivings and critique of how UP handles it affairs, both as an employee and a taxpayer. However, the way that the Cayetano siblings are choosing outrage and soundbites over fully understanding the complexity of both issues, which require a system of solutions, does not solve the problem. Holding the budget hostage is not going to magically make these issues go away. It’s not as if institutions simply do not want these things resolved.
I know firsthand how seriously the UP community took the potential resumption of the UPCAT. The physical administration of the UPCAT is an enormous undertaking, requiring around a hundred testing centers all over the country in order to accommodate close to 100,000 applicants. Hundreds of proctors are also necessary, requiring travel and accommodations for those who are assigned to far-flung centers. The Office of Admissions also reaches out actively to certain provinces and regions that are typically underrepresented. This is also why an online administration of the UPCAT is unequitable—it will shut the door from students in areas where internet access is either nonexistent or spotty at best. UPCAT, in the midst of a pandemic and physical distancing mandates, would require even more testing centers and more proctors. It is finally set to resume next year, when we predict that health risks and logistic challenges can be more feasibly mitigated.
I also empathize with what happened to science high school students last year, when their acceptance rate crashed down to 60 percent, being an alumna of Philippine Science High School (PSHS) myself. Knowing both school systems, however, I am aware of PSHS’ own flaws in their grading culture and how they have been relatively complacent in securing college placements for their students.
If the government is truly adamant about prioritizing science high school students in state universities and colleges, then they should provide clear and secure pathways to college. A possible solution that is systems-oriented, for example, is to negotiate with the UP system to allow limited advanced placements for science high school students in their STEM programs as an extension of the DOST scholarship.
Face-to-face classes at the university level also have its own challenges. Unlike elementary and high school, college students necessarily travel between classrooms and buildings for their courses. Their schedules also vary greatly, and they would need spaces for independent study, eating, and places to hang out while waiting for the next class.
Some elementary and high schools have resorted to forcing students to stay in place in one classroom, including eating in your seat, just to get around the physical distancing requirements. This is against psychosocial health, as it is even more restrictive than when they were taking classes at home. I’ve personally heard reports of students feeling trapped inside their classrooms given such policies.
Aside from this being psychologically unhealthy, it is also physically impossible to duplicate in a college setting. College students also usually need public transportation, both within and outside the campus. A lot of college students also need to secure their own housing; you can imagine how physical distancing requirements have severely cut the number of students a dorm can accommodate. Building more residences need construction time and money.
We must also not forget that remote learning brought about incidental advantages. At the graduate level, remote learning has allowed us to accommodate students who reside in different provinces. It allowed some of our students to continue their jobs in their hometowns as they study, reducing pressure to quit or take an extended leave from their jobs and thus having no income. In fact, when we conducted a survey among our graduate students in our department, most preferred to continue with remote learning.
It is black-and-white thinking to assume that face-to-face classes are good and remote learning is bad.
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