Loose threads

EDITOR’S NOTE: This article mentions suicide. Readers are advised to proceed with caution.

Whenever you look at an entangled ball of yarn, your mind tries to find a workaround to fix the knots. Possible approaches might be to throw the entire mess away, remove each strand—handling each one properly—or cover the yarn and place it in the drawer until you can make a decision. Whichever you do, you either address the entanglement or continue to ignore it.

Last June 16, a grade nine student at Sto. Domingo National High School in Albay took his own life. On October 6, a 21-year-old college student from Bohol Island State University succumbed to suicide. Recently, on October 12, the same thing happened to a grade six student from Negros Oriental. These are just some of the students who passed away during the pandemic while struggling with distance learning. Upon seeing the news, people pointed at the Department of Education’s (DepEd) remote learning system as the reason for the students’ deaths. Indeed, this is likely a factor, as the victims’ families noted how the children were struggling with having to purchase gadgets, buy prepaid load, or get the modules to keep up with the new system. But with the department fervently denying accountability in every case, their response was the equivalent of pulling one strand, cutting it, and then throwing all of the yarn in the drawer.

The institution decided that it was more imperative to address the link of suicide to their modules rather than address how their system was a factor in the death of these students. The problem with such a response is it not only invalidates the experiences of students struggling with online learning but shows how stubborn the institution is in fixing their implemented system.

The disposition of people—especially during the pandemic—is influenced by complex sets of issues piled on top of one another. Suicide on its own is a sensitive and complicated matter that is difficult to unpack. We cannot pinpoint a specific issue as its overarching cause. We can only try to untangle the threads and understand where they are coming from. Most of these students did not have the financial capability nor the technological resources to effectively participate in remote learning. It is also worth noting that how the ongoing pandemic affected their mental health and their financial situation could have played a role as well. There could be a plethora of factors as to why they took their own lives, and while remote learning has not been proven to be the direct cause of student suicide cases during the pandemic, DepEd must at least acknowledge that it may be a factor worth addressing.

DepEd neither expressed initiative to develop nor expressed any concrete measures that can help ease the burden of distance learning. Instead, the department’s first action was to wash their hands from being held accountable for their lack of training for teachers and resources for students and the overall absence of a clear direction toward any improvement of their system.

“We would like to appeal to everyone to stop directly connecting such [suicides] to modules or distance learning.” Their response to the series of deaths throughout the pandemic is not only disheartening to see now, but has dangerous implications for the coming months. With the possibility of face-to-face classes being slim for the foreseeable future, the lack of initiative from the department only shows how flawed and unprepared they are in giving students and teachers what they deserve.

Now, this leads us to wonder whether classes should be optional. DepEd expresses that students are given the option to attend classes or not. Granted that enrollment is not mandatory, but not everyone is fortunate enough to approach education as something optional. Education is usually the ticket for people to a better life and some do not have the luxury to delay that. Students should not even think of delaying their education out of concern for their mental health because quality education should cater to mental well-being in the first place. Transferring to students the duty to make education accessible is irresponsible and dangerous.

Aside from this, teachers also feel a considerable amount of burden in trying to work with distance learning. Suddenly shifting teaching styles while trying to establish connections with students is not easy. And while this can take a toll on their mental health as well, no signs of initiative ever show up on DepEd’s end—only instructions for students and teachers to “adjust” to distance learning.

When a problem within the system arises, and the institution relies on the victims to take action, that is not initiative but a lack thereof. 

The issue at hand is not a single thread meant to be cut, it is an entanglement that should be pulled apart one by one. Identifying which overlaps with which, sorting threads heavily tied with one another, and untying the knots to work toward proper change. One cannot forcibly pull the strand out nor act like the yarn was never entangled in the first place. None of us expect change in a day, but we at least expect the loose threads to be acknowledged, addressed, and worked on. There is still a chance. The yarn is still inside the drawer, waiting to be sorted out. When DepEd finally tries to own up to its failures, only then can we say that no student was left behind. 

However, if no efforts are made for accountability and reform, then these students who were already deserted by the current educational system might—God forbid—not be the last names we will be hearing on the news.

Miguelito Jongco

By Miguelito Jongco

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