Flexibility and compassion. These were the key takeaways in the first episode of UP Open University’s (UPOU) podcast series, “Edu-Hack: Navigating through a Turbulent Educational Landscape” on April 28.
The discussion centered on answering the question, “How are Philippine Universities Responding to Disruptions in Education Brought About by COVID-19 Pandemic?”
The panelists were UPOU Chancellor Melinda Bandalaria, University of Batangas (UB) Vice President for Academic Affairs Abegayle Chua, and De La Salle University (DLSU) Association of Faculty and Educators President Antonio Contreras.
This year saw Southern Luzon and Metro Manila being hit with back-to-back crises, with the phreatomagmatic eruption of Taal Volcano in January and the COVID-19 pandemic in March. For the education sector, it meant multiple weeks-long class suspensions. While the institutions to which the panelists belonged had online learning systems in place, Chua said it best: “No one was prepared for this kind of lockdown.”
UPOU started shifting to online classes in 2001 and its classes were fully online by 2007, so Bandalaria said that the University initially assumed things would be business as usual. But she admitted the quarantine brought up issues beyond the usual open and distance e-learning operations. Anxiety, stress, accessibility, work-school scheduling, and health risks were some of the concerns raised by faculty, staff, and students alike.
Chua described the class and work suspensions due to Taal Volcano activity as the “dry run” for the COVID-19 quarantine. While web presence and blended learning were already in place at UB, the pandemic forced the institution to shift everything online. Chua, being an otorhinolaryngology (ear, nose, throat or ENT) surgeon, knew “we could not go back to school” because of the health risks.
Sixteen years ago, DLSU already started adopting a learner-centered, outcomes-based approach and online platforms eventually replaced face-to-face sessions when classes were suspended. COVID-19 changed things drastically, but Contreras said, “We hit the ground running.”
“We anchored our response to this crisis on flexibility and compassion,” explained Bandalaria. “Now is not the time to be rigid,” according to Contreras. As for Chua, “Everything now is fluid [and] leniency is key at this time.”
The panelists were in agreement that higher education institutions need to monitor and adjust its actions according to changes in the COVID-19 situation—from government decisions to emerging concerns from their academic and surrounding communities.
UB has prepared scenarios for different end-of-quarantine periods and has anticipated its next term to be fully online. Chua said they have also studied the possibility of limited physical attendance for necessary laboratory work and preparations for those who will be taking licensure examinations.
DLSU has been providing internet connectivity support for its students and faculty, and has refunded the fees it collected for the use of its facilities. Contreras revealed that DLSU is working under the assumption that classes will resume on July 1, but fully online. Like UB, has started to look into managing courses with key activities that require physical presence. The private university has also foreseen a possible decrease in enrollment following the COVID-19 pandemic.
UPOU, because of its nature as an open and distance e-learning institution and its fully online classes, has thus far been exempted from class suspensions and other decisions on the academic year. To cater to the needs of its students, UPOU has made revisions to its academic calendar, adjusting academic year terms, registration schedules, and admission applications periods. The changes will be announced once approved. As it is primarily a graduate institution, UPOU has also anticipated a decrease in enrollment at the graduate level.
This episode of “Edu-Hack” may be viewed here.
For announcements on succeeding episodes of the podcast series, follow the UPOU Facebook account.