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Lost semester or lost summer term?

By: Jobers Reynes Bersales - Columnist/CDN Digital | April 16,2020 - 07:00 AM

 

The sudden rise in positive COVID-19 (coronavirus disease 2019) cases in Cebu City, centered around Sitio Zapatera, Barangay Luz, has put a damper on those who were hoping early this week of seeing an end to the Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) by April 28, a date stated in Cebu City Mayor Edgardo Labella’s executive order. (In contrast, Governor Gwendolyn F. Garcia did not put an end date to her own declaration for the province. She apparently understood better the unpredictability of the situation when fighting an invisible enemy that attacks humans in all their idiosyncrasies, including the idiotic, or more to the point, “benignitic”, to coin a word that best describes the mad scramble for ingredients at Carbon Market over the weekend.)

With this rise and the fact that mass testing at 10,000 persons per day, according to the national government’s Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF), will only go into full swing from April 30 onwards, the writing is clearly on the wall.

In the educational arena, it appears that all state universities and some of the private institutions that shifted from the usual academic calendar to the new August-December and January-May semesters, have been hit hardest by this virus. While all public schools from Grades 1 to 12 were about to close as the mid-March quarantine was first issued, those that shifted their calendars were still about to hold midterm examinations. 

For a private institution like the University of San Carlos where I am based, this virus could not have come at a worse time. Just as it was about to get out of the four-year transition to the new educational curriculum (and the concomitant deficit that came in its wake as tertiary faculty members had to be supported in the absence of teaching loads), the virus hit hard. For USC was about to collect midterm dues when the community quarantine was ordered. Now it appears that, barring any rosy picture suddenly emerging, even the final examinations scheduled to be held around third week of May will probably be out of the question.

But should the entire semester be scrapped as result? I don’t think so.

I do not subscribe to ending the semester now and accepting all students wholesale into the next semester. This virus cannot be used as an excuse for a free pass. 

It will be disastrous not to the teachers but to the students who are all half-baked in their knowledge acquisition. Note that many subjects this semester are required to be taken in order to proceed to the next, higher-level but related subject. To simply pass any student will mean the teacher in the next semester will have to review the previous semester’s prerequisite lessons before proceeding to the subject matter. Time will not be enough. Education cannot be rushed. 

And while some teachers are offering online courses now, the distance learning infrastructure just doesn’t match face-to-face education at the moment in this country, especially in matters or testing and examining student aptitude. 

A better alternative would be to do away with the summer term altogether and continue the semester into June and July, assuming the ECQ shall have been lifted by the middle or end of May. Rather than lose an entire semester and pass all students who have learned only half what they ought to know, it would be better to do away with the June-July summer term for those following the new academic calendar and use it to finish the semester.

In the worst-case scenario, should this virus continue to make formal education impossible beyond July, then this semester must be held in suspended animation to be continued once the all-clear has been called, even if this will be a year or two from now, God forbid, of course.  

How we professors and ordinary teachers will be paid will be a most daunting task for school owners in such a situation. But it is something for them to tinker about. 

So that we will not reach this dark scenario, I urge everyone to obey the authorities, continue to stay safe at home and avoid being “benignitic”. Or else even an entire semester may not be enough to get us out of this pandemic.

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