During this country’s pandemic and subsequent crisis, calls for an academic freeze until a vaccine has been declared effective are dominating social media through hashtags like #AcademicFreezeNow and the like, citing the many downsides of keeping classes going through the pandemic.
An academic freeze—meaning the halt of classes of all forms—would allow the government time to regroup and implement a plan of action that would hopefully eradicate the virus or at least carry out mass testing, contact tracing, isolation of all positive cases, and many other things to help flatten the curve that should have been done a long time ago.
If online classes push through, it would worsen the digital divide as not everyone has the means to learn through online classes or even to attend them. It would greatly help students who don’t have enough money or accessibility to online classes, of which there are many. Just a cursory look at the growing number of posts #PisoParaSaLaptop or #PisoParaSaEdukasyon will confirm that classes in this pandemic would be more of a harm than anything. Students resorting to asking literal strangers over the internet for donations to help fund their education shouldn’t be normalized or even needed in the first place. Education shouldn’t be something that only the privileged have access to.
Online classes would mean that while working through the problems caused by this pandemic, families would have to buy the right tools and gadgets for their children, and this problem is multiplied by the possibility of having multiple children in one home who possibly need to use different gadgets from their siblings. For many people, even getting an internet connection is a struggle, as the Philippines’ famously unstable Wi-Fi is also famously overpriced for its overall performance. How can parents possibly provide the things needed for their children’s education when many have already lost their jobs due to the pandemic?
The families of students would not be the only ones inconvenienced, however. Teachers would also struggle with converting their materials to being online-class-friendly and navigating the use of Zoom or whatever other platform will be used for these online classes. It is not an easy task to monitor a whole class—sometimes multiple classes—through a screen. For many whose online classes have started already, it feels more like they are merely submitting their requirements instead of actually learning anything at all. There are students who require to be monitored face-to-face as they struggle with learning independently, and also those who process information at a different pace than most of their peers who would also struggle with online classes.
An academic freeze will be nothing but a band-aid on this tumor of a pandemic if nothing is done about the real problem, COVID-19. As stated earlier, an academic freeze is supposed to let the government work to eradicate the virus while keeping students safe at home. If the government had any plans to do something worthwhile, then it should have been put into action months ago. Putting into action an academic freeze right now would only serve to give academic workers a harder time and also give the government another excuse to not do anything about the pandemic.
According to Education Secretary Leonor Briones, if too much time passes with no education going on, the newly trained professionals that the Philippines needs would be slower in completing their academic careers. She added that there are studies that show if the period of no classes is too long, such as six months or longer, they forget what they have been taught and lose interest in learning any further. Another reason mentioned was the possible stunting of mental and emotional growth in students. Despite the backlash and several technical issues that could possibly interfere with the start of classes, DepEd hasn’t backed down on their stand.
Another movement gaining steam throughout social media is #LigtasNaBalikEskwela. Teachers, campus staff, and other school administrators would stand the risk of losing their jobs in an economic crisis if an academic freeze pushed through. Not even students would benefit from an academic freeze, as many could permanently drop out of school. Students also becoming stagnant and losing their enthusiasm to learn is also a very real possibility as they get used to having no academic work to focus on. #LigtasNaBalikEskwela calls for mass testing—ensuring that the minimum health standards in schools are met—and an immediate, effective medical response to the pandemic. Another goal of #LigtasNaBalikEskwela is for more funds to be dedicated to schools and their proper management - an example being clinics with qualified health personnel and a ready supply of tools and medicine. It also holds CHED, DepEd, and other government agencies accountable instead of letting them take the easy way out with an academic freeze which gives them the excuse of doing nothing about the pandemic since school is suspended.
So, what should be the solution taken? None of these solutions are perfect, and for all the advantages one may present, there are equally heavy downsides. One thing is for sure, though—the most pressing matter at the moment is containing this pandemic, and if we don’t see attention and funds redirected to doing that, the problem will never be solved.