Sunday, August 7

Majority of Artlet student leaders back limited face-to-face classes

by MATTHEW DAVE JUCOM and NILLICENT BAUTISTA

photo by FRANCES MARIE G. IGNALAGA/ THE FLAME

MAJORITY OF student leaders in the Faculty of Arts and Letters (AB) support the conduct of limited face-to-face classes in the coming term, a survey conducted by The Flame showed.

All 82 officers of organizations representing AB degree programs and the Artlets Student Council were asked the question “Are you in favor of resuming the limited in-person classes in January?” from Nov. 7 to Dec. 28. They were also asked to state the reasons for their answer.

The informal survey was conducted though Google Forms sent to the email and messenger accounts of the respondents.  A total of 59 students or 72 percent of the target respondents answered the poll.

A total of 49 respondents or 83 percent said they were in favor of resuming the in-person mode of class instruction this month, a number of them citing the mental health issues they experienced in the online setup.

“I am in favor of pursuing face-to-face classes in January because I believe that most of my constituents are suffering while in the online setting, particularly with their mental health. Being isolated and away from human interaction…for an extended period of time is not healthy at all,” a respondent said.

Nine student leaders disagreed with the idea of immediately shifting to in-person classes because they feared the possible surge of COVID-19 infections among students. Some of them pointed out that vaccination does not totally guarantee the safe return of students to schools and suggested conducting in-person classes next academic year.

“As much as I want to go back to limited face-to-face (classes), I don’t think that the university and the students [themselves are ready]. This would require an intensive evaluation and monitoring for the staff, faculty members, and students to follow health protocols and such,” one of the respondents said.

Despite their support for the face-to-face set-up, some student leaders urged the government and the University to craft concrete guidelines before pushing through with their plan to hold in-person classes.

Limited capacity

The survey was conducted while Metro Manila was under Alert Level 2, the second most lenient classification. The capital region was placed under the stricter Alert Level 3 starting Jan. 3 because of the rapid increase in COVID-19 infections tied to increased mobility during the holidays. Under Alert Level 3, limited in-person classes for college students are allowed but only up to 30 percent of indoor venues can be occupied.

The government had allowed higher education institutions in areas under Alert Levels 1 and 2 to apply for limited face-to-face classes in December last year, while those under Alert Level 3 were advised to apply starting this month.

UST Secretary General Fr. Louie Coronel and Vice Rector for Academic Affairs Prof. Cheryl Peralta recently told The Flame that the University may apply for limited face-to-face classes even before December, once the proposals of the academic units have been approved by the University Crisis Management Committee. They added that the University has set health and safety protocols including those for contact tracing and reporting of cases; screening and detection, containment and lockdown; referral and transfer; isolation, quarantine, and testing.

The University is also implementing the ID-tapping system, where the students’ health declaration form in Thomasian online medical services and support will be verified after tapping their ID.

Safety first

Two junior student leaders welcomed the possible resumption of face-to-face classes but with reservations.

I’m happy because we’ve been in an online set-up for so long, finally we can meet face-to-face. At the same time, I’m quite nervous because we’re already getting used to our current set-up,” Journalism Society public relations officer Aubrey Sto. Tomas told The Flame in a mix of English and Filipino.

The administration should also consider the vaccination rate of students and faculty members before implementing limited in-person classes, she added.

Sto. Tomas also hoped that the University would release proper guidelines, especially for students coming from the provinces.

I think (there should be an assurance) that our COVID cases have really declined and that there is a high vaccination rate among the students and faculty to avoid unwanted circumstances, Sto. Tomas said.

‘Prioritize graduating students’

Third-year behavioral science student Naomi Tolentino said the University should also prioritize the resumption of face-to-face classes among graduating students from other programs aside from journalism and communication.

“Since we’re coming to an end [in our] college life, [we have heavier] priorities and requirements [needed] from us,” she said.

“On our end in behavioral science, it is the pilot testing of a material that we are revising for one of our subjects, we could have [potentially] distributed this in person… Human interaction is also important in our course because that’s the basis on how we could develop human interaction per se in the future,” she added.

Last November, AB Dean Marilu Madrunio told The Flame the higher years from the communication and journalism programs would be prioritized once the resumption of in-person classes is permitted since they require face-to-face interactions.

Tolentino echoed Sto. Tomas’ view that safety measures should be observed once in-person learning resumes.

The guidelines and protocols on the resumption of classes should be announced early to “prepare the mindset of students” who have to undergo another “adjustment period,” she added.

“Of course, we have to keep in mind that there [are] always strict guidelines to follow,” she said.

“We have to keep in mind that our health is being risked here no matter what.” F

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