When the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic set in last March, the world has stopped as everyone thought, literally and figuratively. For one who has been used to a busy life being a professor and a University of Santo Tomas (UST) administrator, I would not imagine that the world would stall at any moment. But it happened anyway. In a wink, I do not have a class to command to submit papers on time, listen to my discussions, and follow the scheduled class days. Deadlines to beat in the office are gone, scheduled meetings and activities were canceled, and even the plan for the much-awaited summer vacation suddenly vanished. After some weeks trying to comprehend just what had happened, it came to my realization that the world does not revolve around my life. Life is not about me and what I can control. The world can stop and restart without me. Those who can renounce virtuously control and narcissism are at the advantage—what a timely teacher about control and life.
When the pandemic caught everyone by surprise, alarm and panic erupted. The worst form of consternation happens when the idea of getting the virus that could result in death is vivid as it can happen to me or any of my loved ones. But the world needs not to stop and so is learning. And it was a real tug-of-war on who would triumph between the university finding a way for the Thomasian students to continue classes despite the pandemic and the students’ clamor to end the second term and refund the unused fees. Such a scenario was felt by almost all the local universities. Forms of encouragement to continue the remaining class days by online classes via our Blackboard Learning Management System were to no avail in convincing the students to accept wholeheartedly the plan of the university. Reasons such as poor internet connectivity, emotional and psychological stress because of the pandemic that makes one unfit to study seriously, the physical get-up of homes that do not make a place conducive for learning, and the long list of reasons were justifications to discontinue classes.
“ True education is the spark that sets ablaze the desire to succeed, hurdles any form of obstructions along the path of success, and sees the future as bright. ”
In the end, the university succeeded in finishing the term and the academic year through online classes amid the pleas, petitions, and dialogue with student leaders. What a rough and tough ending of the academic year. But on a personal note, big questions have flashed from everywhere.
I thought our learning institution provides an education, “where champions in life are born?” But why do our students back down at the sight of an impending adversary in the form of a health crisis? Is it not time to rethink the education we provide for our students? Could it be that our educational mission is superficial in form and shallow in reality? Is getting a degree and passing school examinations with flying colors the apex of what it means to be educated now? This question is posed not only for Thomasian education but the education of the youth in general.
If learning is such a desirable pursuit, then there is no obstacle in achieving it. Could it be that the problem is rooted in the wrong emphasis of our educational approach? For the longest time, education has become a form of compliance rather than a drive for passion. Unless we move away from the industrial format of teaching and learning, much is left to be desired about education in the 21st century. True education is the spark that sets ablaze the desire to succeed, hurdles any form of obstructions along the path of success, and sees the future as bright. How I wish I could contribute in changing the mindset.
“ If there is one positive contribution the pandemic has offered us, it has left us with the only choice of trying to break from the old framework of education to realize that there are many pathways to learning. ”
One option for the universities to operate for the whole duration of the pandemic is through online classes, where students are not directly monitored by teachers. Hence, the locus of learning has changed. This set-up is considered alarming by educators who have not taken advantage of the use of technology as a complementary tool in the usual classroom-based instructional delivery. How I wish we could have departed a long time ago from the old classroom set-up that sees uniformity rather than the uniqueness of each student. I, too, could have explored the world of the students and their connectedness through the world wide web rather than having maintained the boundedness of the physical classroom. Indeed, we realize that there is no boundary to learning while we explore.
If there is one positive contribution the pandemic has offered us, it has left us with the only choice of trying to break from the old framework of education to realize that there are many pathways to learning. The physical distance now between the professors and students opened some spaces for students to become independent learners. Online classes could have been manageable to execute now had we realized earlier the importance of forming our students to become self-directed learners.
The University of Santo Tomas has just celebrated its 409th founding anniversary. Never in its 409 years of existence, she had ceased operation except on two and obvious occasions — the Philippine Revolution of 1896 to 1898 and during World War II in 1942 to 1945, where it had become an internment camp of captured Americans by the Japanese forces.
Needless to say, UST had been through wars, revolts, the worst of natural calamities, political threats to close, epidemics, and the rest. She had witnessed almost everything and survived everything starting from the written history of this group of islands, a colony, and eventually a nation. She is the best teacher on what it means to survive and thrive, knowing that it is not the powerful, not the wisest, and not the wealthy who will endure but those who can adapt to the worst or best of the changing times. This emerging pandemic is just one of the milestones capped in her long history as she provides the best Catholic education in the Philippines. A university counting not on human wisdom alone but God’s unending grace — this is the Pontifical and Royal University of Santo Tomas.
Edited by Charmie Joy Pagulong