A NEED FOR SPACE: Assessing St. Raymund’s Building as a place conducive to learning

Art by Danea Patricia T. Vilog/ THE FLAME 

WHEN COMMUNICATION Arts junior Chelsea Blanco was asked to rate the effectiveness of St. Raymund de Peñafort building as her learning hub for the past three years, she settled with a score of five over ten.

“It’s not safe [in AB] kapag nagkaroon ng emergency, sobrang congested,” she lamented. “‘Yung classrooms, […] essential ‘yan sa pag-absorb ng knowledge bilang isang estudyante [dahil kailangan kumportable rin kami].”

Blanco expected that the facilities in the University of Santo Tomas, as one of the top notch universities in the country, would be of high quality but what she was met with only disappointed her.

Built in 1955, St. Raymund’s has been home to the Faculty of Arts and Letters (AB) since the merger of the Faculty of Philosophy and Letters and the College of Liberal Arts in 1964. Artlets have been sharing the building with the students of the College of Commerce and Business Administration (Commerce), who occupy the third to fifth floors.

Withstanding 53 years, the building has been a witness to history, changes, generations of students and faculty members, and population growth.

As paradigm shifts occur along with the globalization of technology, conduciveness of a place to learning, especially in terms of facilities, has become a crucial indicator in providing quality education.

How does AB cope with the challenges of physical deterioration and emerging innovations in providing high standards of education?

Artlets’ footsteps

The inaugural year of AB saw 1,902 pioneer students in St. Raymund’s with no problems of congestion, Assistant Dean Narcisa Tabirara recalled. “The rooms were just enough for the population of AB.”

Aside from the rooms at the first and second floors of St. Raymund’s, AB also used some rooms at the Main Building and San Martin De Porres building during this period.

Tabirara, who was a student during the 1960s, recalled that the functions of rooms then were different from their present uses since some rooms once operated as a canteen, a library, and a waiting area.

Over the years, St. Raymund’s has undergone various transformations to maximize the use of space.

When the Miguel de Benavides library opened in 1989, AB modified its own library as regular classrooms–presently the rooms 117 and 119.

The expansion of degree programs in the Faculty resulted in a surge in student population. Fortunately, the construction of new facilities and vacancies of other buildings inside the University aided to decongest the halls of St. Raymund’s.

AB posted almost 40 percent growth of student population in 15 years. The total number of students from the academic year 2000 to 2001 to school year 2015 to 2016 surged from 2,934 to 4,871.

In 2011, the Rizal Conference Hall, then a small auditorium for lectures, theater performances, and events, was modified into convertible classrooms.

The completion of the Buenaventura Garcia Paredes, O.P. (BGPOP) Building in 2014 allowed classes to be held for junior and senior Artlets with 14 available classrooms at its 10th and 11th floors.

Naging mas comfortable ‘yung scheduling. There were spare rooms [in AB] for special classes, for petition classes, and sometimes classes for certain student events,” Tabirara said.

This paved the way for the Faculty to convert some rooms in St. Raymund’s as a computer laboratory, ELEAP room, and an accreditation room.

However, the establishment of the Senior High School (SHS) department last year forced Artlets to move out of BGPOP after two years of occupancy, prompting AB to borrow classrooms from the Tan Yan Kee Student Center (TYK) and the Thomas Aquinas Research Complex (TARC) for the academic year 2016 to 2017.

St. Raymund’s is currently housing about 6,000 students from AB, Commerce, and now SHS.

Offering 12 programs, AB alone uses 25 of its 30 classrooms with 69 sections and 16 petition classes. The remaining five classrooms of AB are lent to the SHS Humanities and Social Sciences Strand population.

AB, likewise, holds some classes at rooms 316, 407, 411 and room D of St. Raymund’s; rooms 401 and 403 of TYK; and room 308 of TARC.

“We found the need for additional rooms to adjust for the needs of the schedule kasi you have to make the schedule also convenient for the students,” Tabirara said.

Only 30 freshmen sections will be accommodated for the academic year 2018 to 2019, as per the advice of Dean Michael Anthony Vasco, the assistant dean also said.

With limitations arising, especially in facilities, the number of students being admitted every year in the Faculty is pivotal in managing the ideal classroom size.

Tabirara stressed that regulating student admission based on the physical facilities available is important. “We cannot really compromise the convenience of students and faculty alongside the fact that we have to have safety measures.”

Catching up

In the changing landscape of classroom setting in the 21st century, shifting learning models, technological advancement, and state-of-the-art facilities are introduced to enhance the level of education.

Designed to globalize education, the Outcome-based Education (OBE) curriculum is geared toward student-centered learning.

To comply with this curriculum, Alfredo M. Velayo-College of Accountancy Assistant Dean Christopher German echoed Tabirara with the need to regulate the number of students per class.

“The ideal [student] number [per class] is 30 to 35 and yet UST is 40 to 45. Sa special cases umaabot pa ng 50. Baka it’s about time na […] strictly, sundin ‘yung maximum number of students, especially ngayon na outcome-based [curriculum tayo].”

College of Rehabilitation Sciences (CRS) Dean Anne Marie Aseron believes that a smaller class size will always bring a better learning environment, noting that CRS had long requested its own building. “As much as we would like to expand, we are limited by our facilities. Dati pa kami nagre-request na bigyan kami ng [sarili naming] building. Kaya lang, saan?”

As compliance to OBE and the Commission on Higher Education’s (CHED) guidelines, Aseron shared that the College has a 1:10 faculty to student ratio.

Sa isang [laboratory] namin, of a 45 population, there are five faculty members inside facilitating the laboratory. […] I think tutok ang mga bata ‘pag ganoon.”

However, College of Science Dean John Donnie Ramos said although OBE curriculum is already adapted in the college, the quality of facilities has yet to catch up. “Our infrastructure is not equipped with such kind of method of teaching and learning.”

Ramos added that the Asean University Network-Quality Assurance, a body responsible for elevating education standards, suggested that the University “invest on classrooms that would cater 21st century learning.”

In response to this, the College of Science introduced the Science Online Learning Environment (SOLE) room, a smart classroom intended for student-centered learning. Ramos said all classrooms would eventually be converted into SOLE rooms.

Innovations like this, however, are not viable for the College of Fine Arts and Design (CFAD) due to lack of physical facility, Dean Mary Christie Que pointed out.

Despite the recent renovations at the Beato Angelico Building, which houses the College of Architecture and CFAD, the latter still needs a separate building to totally comply with the OBE curriculum, Que stressed. “We need more space. Hindi pa siya (building) enough kasi we need studios. […] We have to expand.”

Que emphasized that despite CFAD’s small population, the college needs its exclusive learning hub, citing that Art students in foreign universities have their exclusive workshops to practice their crafts.

Wala kasi kaming enough space so […] we let the students do it [elsewhere] and then they submit,” the CFAD dean said.

Faculty of Engineering Assistant Dean Rhoderick Asis, who said the Faculty had already exhausted its capacity, admitted the need for an exclusive building for laboratories which are the norm in foreign universities.

“We should be given another building, […] halimbawa, for laboratories only. If you go to other countries like Singapore, the Electrical Engineering (department) [alone] is as big as UST,” Asis said. “Parang UP (University of the Philippines) lang ang medyo at par with other [foreign] universities.”

On rearrangements

Shortcomings, however, are cushioned by various colleges employing different strategies to lessen the compromise it entails.

Assuring that there is no shortage of classrooms in the College of Accountancy, German said population projections for the first term are anticipated as early as February, since the building of the college can only house 94 sections, approximately 4,230 students, with 31 classrooms.

In CRS, Aseron recalled that they sometimes had to borrow classrooms in other buildings just to “spread out classes” with a tight schedule. “We had to set our classes from Monday to Saturday. Different sections and departments would have days off at different days. […] Dikit-dikit ‘yung mga classes para mapagkasya naming lahat.”

In Engineering, some classes are divided to lessen the burden of a one-student-per-equipment ratio in laboratory classes, Asis said.

“If the faculty (member) is willing, they divide the class into two major groups and then another schedule will be given to them (one group) [para] hindi masyadong madaming students per equipment.”

Asis added that the Faculty of Engineering is updated when it comes to laboratory equipment, but addressed the lack of place to put their equipment strategically with their limited space.

During a certain semester, the Faculty paid for the usage of some rooms at the Albertus Magnus building just to cater to its growing population, the Engineering assistant dean recalled.

Commerce Dean Leonardo Canoy acknowledged the link among student population, available facilities, and the College’s manpower to achieve a “balance” so no shortage in classroom facilities will be experienced.

“Actually, we tried to squeeze (the schedules). Usually, Commerce has classes from Monday to Saturday. What I did is ‘yung time namin, binago namin. The usual one hour (class), ginawa naming one and a half,” Canoy said.

Ramos echoed Canoy, noting that the additional number of sections accommodated at the College of Science is based on the available rooms. “We wanted, in fact, to increase (the number of sections), two years before [the K-12 kaso] hindi na kakayanin ng infrastructure.”

But to achieve a conducive learning environment, more has to be done. Apart from population management and technological advancements and innovations, Aseron stressed the need of solution-oriented faculty members. “The bottomline [is] kung magaling ‘yung faculty mo, kaya niyang dalhin […] kahit malaki ang class size.” F – Mary Adeline A. Dela Cruz and Alton L. Espera

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