Due to the Commission on Higher Education’s (CHED) February 2017 moratorium on field trips and off-campus activities, the University’s National Service Training Program (NSTP), specifically the Civic Welfare Training Service (CWTS) and Literary Training Service (LTS) components, were faced with several challenges this academic year in terms of logistics and some concerns raised by students.
The CHED moratorium was an immediate response to a tragic bus accident that occurred in Tanay, Rizal on February 20. Fourteen college students and the bus driver perished in the accident while forty other students were injured. The students were en route to Sacramento Adventure Camp in Tanay to undergo medical and survival training for NSTP.
DLSU immediately complied with the moratorium and suspended all scheduled off-campus activities, including CWTS and LTS community immersions. The Center for Social Concern and Action (COSCA), together with the Office of Student Affairs, then released a letter to inform the parents of students participating in NSTP of the situation and the necessary actions that had to be undertaken.
The foremost change implemented for CWTS and LTS was to conduct the project implementation on-campus. According to NSTP Program Manager Carl Fernandez, implementing the activities within the University as opposed to inside the partner communities affected the overall execution of the programs.
“[Ideally], after the facilitators and area coordinators plan the project, we want to present the proposed plan to the community with the host families and other members. ‘Yun yung nawala and it has a major effect on the program kasi it should be [like] a collective plan where everyone is consulted,” Fernandez explains.
Effects on the NSTP program
The implementation of the NSTP program inside the campus caused several logistical issues to emerge at the onset, particularly those concerning venue availability and the attendance of participants. With multiple sections simultaneously implementing projects, conflicts with venue reservations were bound to occur. Students also had to fill out the necessary paperwork to bring in food and equipment for their activities.
The change in venue immensely affected the students’ interaction with participants from their assigned community. To meet the needs of all the CWTS and LTS sections, COSCA set a maximum of 20 participants for each class.
The University also opted to use the NSTP fees paid by the students to shoulder the fares of the participants from the community to commute from their homes to DLSU, instead of directly providing vehicles for transportation. This meant that only able-bodied adults were expected to come on the project implementation days. The lack of exposure and interaction with the physical community resulted to a less significant impact on the students’ immersion experience.
From Fernandez’ perspective, it was LTS that suffered the most due to the drastic change of participants. “For LTS, most of the projects are [typically] tutorials but hindi rin namin [pinili] na pupunta rito ang mga bata considering their safety. They are minors kahit sabihin pa natin [na may kasamang] adults,” he adds. In effect, the LTS sections had to consult with their partner organizations to come up with alternative projects.
Fernandez also argues that the essence of community development and engagement is better felt when the immersion occurs off-campus. On-campus immersions do not leave much room for students to experience the actual challenges that come with project implementation in their respective communities.
Despite the limitations of conducting the activities on-campus, there are also advantages to the setup. For instance, the classrooms in DLSU were beneficial for the facilitators when conducting livelihood trainings, seminars, and orientations for the participants.
From the students’ perspective
Students share different sentiments regarding the impact of the moratorium on their NSTP experience. For Isabel* (I, OCM-MKT), the lack of exposure to their partner communities and organizations kept them from fully maximizing the opportunity to serve. “Personally, it meant that NSTP loses its meaning. NSTP does mean to serve the community, but I was not immersed in the community and felt less willing to continue NSTP,” she expresses.
In contrast, Brian* (I, AB-ISE) shares that he found staying on campus convenient. He shares that majority of his classmates were happy about the declaration of the moratorium since traveling to the community sites was taxing and time-consuming.
When asked about their opinion on COSCA’s response to the moratorium, Brian and Isabel unanimously agree that the administration acted accordingly. However, Isabel says that COSCA could have considered the possibility of still allowing the students to have their off-campus immersions at the respective communities and organizations, since the moratorium was lifted prior to the Saturdays allotted for project implementation.
Meanwhile, Ayla* (I, AB-CAM) shares she found the adjusted transportation arrangements to be unfair for the participants. While she agrees that the University needed to comply with the terms set by CHED, she felt that simply paying for the participants’ fares and not providing transportation in the same manner that they did for students implied that the safety of the participants was not as important as that of the students.
To augment the off-campus immersions previously scheduled for Term 3, COSCA opted to allot two whole-day sessions for project implementation. Resource mobilization was done during NSTP Week, from May 29 to June 3, and on Saturdays leading up to the project implementation. The area coordinators from the different partner communities and organizations regularly attended the sessions and monitored the student’s progress, particularly during their fund-raising activities.
Despite acknowledging the problems resolved by these measures, Fernandez still echoes the sentiments of the students and agrees that the effectiveness of CWTS and LTS was compromised by the implementation of the moratorium.
However, he also commends the students and facilitators for mobilizing quickly and adapting to the new circumstances. He commends some sections who went beyond the requirements of the program and opted to donate first aid kits, educational materials, and equipment to their partner communities and organizations.
With regard to future community immersions, Fernandez confirms that these will resume next academic year. Upon lifting the moratorium, CHED authorized higher education institutions to resume off-campus activities but also emphasized the need to exercise due diligence. This includes orientation and training prior to the immersion, setting protocols for emergencies, and proper validation of the vehicle operators’ capacity to drive safely.
*Names with asterisks are pseudonyms.