Education in Isolation

by Samantha Z. Argonza

Samantha Z. Argonza, Culture Editor (Photo by Ethan Cardaño/ THE FLAME)

ACROSS THE tides of survival in the northernmost stretch of the Philippines is an island province that only had its first LTE connection in 2018. Adjusting throughout the pandemic has become a challenge in a process of reassessment. 

In-person classes are resuming  gradually, yet it took me two years in the pandemic to process the risks, which also continuously reminded me of my home’s constant struggle with access to resources.

Spending about ten days in Batanes last August 2022, I still encounter the internet disconnections of our plugged home wifi more than twice daily. My friend, who is also in the Faculty of Arts and Letters (AB) and is currently in Batanes, has revealed that in every five minutes of attending online meetings, unstable internet connection often kicks in. 

After typhoon “Henry” hit the isles, instead of using her laptop, she attended class through her mobile phone. This also brought difficulties in watching online video lectures. 

Moreover, for almost two weeks, there was a power curtailment advisory all over the province. It reduced the power operations by one-third, bringing a daily 16-hour brownout last September 4-14 in the six municipalities. During the power outage, she explained that in complying with her tasks for internship, she had to borrow two more laptops.

Unstable internet including rotational brownouts are not news in this province especially in the aftermath of typhoons. Also, there is the delayed transport of goods, even the diesel fuel tanker for electricity postponed due to large tidal waves preventing sea vessels from docking. 

Beyond being tagged as a reference point in Philippine Atmospheric Geophysical, and Astronomical Services Administration, the geographical location of Batanes is historically tied with typhoons. The reboot of cell towers, electricity power lines, and internet or data connection is already structured in post-disaster management plans. 

Going back to the first few months of 2020, flights from Manila to Basco (capital of Batanes) and vice versa were limited to twice per month with just one airline operating for this island province. This is also due to mobility restrictions, allowing only returning residents and authorized persons outside residence to book their flights to Batanes. Once a flight is canceled, the passengers will have to wait for at least a month to move or rebook flights. 

It was already more than a year of not returning home along with uncertainties in the access to flights. I was unsure back then if the quality of my learning was enough, because I felt imprisoned by mental distress. Lack of concentration and discipline are among my concerns with distant learning.  

The lockdowns in Manila had prompted me with “quiet quitting,” a term conversed upon in social media these days as a work principle or philosophy. This pertains to working within one’s limits and without going beyond work hours. Also, according to my friend from AB, she was not able to leave Batanes since October 2020 as she has to prioritize her mental health along with her thesis course requirement. 

Balancing productivity with health is a major investment in resources. This significantly went on until 2021. Going back home after the first term is among the opportunities to unpack the emotions held back from the quarantine. This chance was not just to unwind at all, it is still about meeting halfway with the setbacks. I had to submit my requirements a day before the deadline at around four in the morning. Learning materials must also be downloaded before six a.m. since the internet connection slows down after that hour. At times, the camera during Zoom meetings must be turned off to stay in the session.  

My friend also shared that there is a professor who failed to acknowledge the attendance of students who did not open their cameras. There were instances that some students intentionally do not open their cameras, so those in the actual situation of unstable internet connection are not given consideration. To address this concern, there must have been an established system of verifying the conditions of the students, especially those who are living in technologically-challenged areas. 

Moving forward to the first quarter of 2022, four flights are expected each month in the province. It then turned to regular flights that placed hesitancy in buying tickets because of the increase in base fare caused by soaring fuel prices. The transportation around the metro is not an exemption. 

For years, the concept of isolation has evolved. It has tied feelings to a place. To create the distance between home and inaccessibility, between quality education and online distractions, and between relationships and communication barriers, is a constant readjustment. 

More possibilities for face-to-face engagements are just around the borders. Students are then again sailing for another season of adjustments. F    

Editor’s note: This article was originally published in Vol. 58, Issue No. 1 of the Flame. View the entire issue through this link.

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