November 10, 2020 (6:07 PM)

5 min read


Ateneo de Davao University’s decision to dedicate the first two months of the second semester to non-academic formation has clearly painted the picture of a compassionate and benevolent administration. It showed, among other things, that AdDU is concerned for the well-being of its community of students and teachers. But while it gives everyone a breather from the stressful milieu of online classes, it does not relax the pressure on students’ pockets in a time of crisis.

The Academic Vice President (AVP) memo released last October 23, 2020, stated that, until January 4, 2021, all online academic activities will be put on hold to give everyone “quality time to rest”. Apart from students’ non-academic activities, the period will also be used for teachers’ preparation of online courses for the second semester—courses which the administration promised would be much more improved and standardized. However, it also clarified that enrollment would remain as scheduled and will end on November 8.

This policy strikes as appalling for the reason that the enrollment schedule was maintained when, in fact, classes—which the students are paying for with the bulk of their tuition—do not begin until January. Why burden the students with paying as early as November when they will not sow the benefits of this payment immediately, anyway? The pandemic has already brought great financial uncertainty to several families, and greater instability, still, as the government continues to blunder in its Covid response. How indifferent is a policy which pressures students to pay thousands two months before the start of classes just so they could continue their education in a set-up that is still far from organized? 

While it is true that AdDU has extended material assistance in the form of Wi-Fi devices and other gadgets, and has adjusted fees since the online shift last March, several inconsistencies in policy during the first semester seem to reflect a lack of coordination between different offices and stakeholders.

In terms of assessments, student complaints regarding professors who do not comply with the Primer on Academic Policies persisted despite the admin’s assurance that they apply a ‘triangulation technique’ to gather feedback, as well as hold webinars to orient faculty members. While some professors’ attempts to make online classes engaging are commendable, there are still those who insist, for example, on grading formative assessments (FAs), imposing strict deadlines, or requiring students to be online for synchronous classes. If ‘flexible learning’ as promised in the Primer were true, then why all these contradictions?

Finances are also a delicate issue, especially for scholars. On the one hand, the Office of the Academic Vice President, emphasizing the importance of self-paced learning, said that incomplete semestral grades due to SAs that may be taken within the academic year are a non-issue. “What is important is the development of competencies,” the AVP said in a SAMAHAN-hosted forum. On the other hand, the Finance Office seemed to be insisting that scholars are exempted from this policy since they are already supported financially by the University. Thus, they will have been able to present complete final grades by the end of the semester. When asked about possible adjustments for the scholarship renewal process, the Admissions Office had no concrete plan at the time except for “the need to discuss and create procedures.”

The effects of an incoherent system take its toll the most on students. Not only do they have to deal with poor connectivity, unfit environments, and, at times, alienating learning, but also they have to grapple with the demands of submitting FAs on time or being present on online recitations, otherwise receive a failing mark. Recently, more and more students have also had to juggle their academics with part-time online jobs just to be able to pay their fees. Online classes, it seems, has not only changed the way students learn; it also further drew and exposed the divide between those who can and can’t.

A university administration that fails to consider this in its policies perpetuates the inequality that it has been claiming to end since its founding. To be clear, its concern for the mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being of its students and faculty is noble, yet it shrouds the underlying culprit for most of these uncertainties—the financial. 

The second semester is a chance to right the wrongs of the previous semester. Indeed, it is unfortunate that students are being pressured to pay two months before the actual start of classes. The university administration should ensure that these payments will not go to waste by coming up with concrete measures that will improve the quality and accessibility of online learning. If anything, the current financial policies only raise expectations that the second semester will be more organized and by extension, more worth paying. As this pandemic and shift to online learning are far from over, the Ateneo, if it truly cares for its students, is challenged to revisit its academic and financial policies in order to ease the burden on students and their families, and to fulfill its mission for social justice.

End the silence of the gagged!

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