“Do you guys want to go back to face-to-face classes already?”
That was the first question our professor asked us in one of my classes last week. The immediate response that came to my mind was “Yes,” followed by my zoning out of the black-dominated screen where my classmates were supposed to be. It was only natural that I had become eager to experience campus life, considering my college life began within the four corners of my bedroom.
But it wasn’t long before my enthusiasm for this idea was replaced with uncertainty after the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) announced that limited face-to-face classes would be allowed for colleges in Metro Manila and in areas under Alert Level 2. This means that even without half of the country’s population reaching herd immunity and the released guidelines not being standardized in all higher education institutions (HEIs), in-person classes can be administered as early as this month.
The initiative may seem good at first with us taking small steps toward normalcy, but to say that it will be a “safe” back-to-school is wishful thinking. Looking at the current situation, the new Omicron variant has breached over 38 countries; some have already implemented lockdowns again and discontinued school operations, and officials foresee that it wouldn’t be long before it reaches the Philippines.
Should face-to-face classes push through immediately, students would have to worry about the back and forth transportation as not all are privileged enough to travel in private vehicles or live within the University’s vicinity to travel by foot. Despite the fact that only vaccinated students can participate in this learning setup, it is inevitable that some households will still be vulnerable to the disease, especially those partially or not at all vaccinated, if we become virus carriers.
Housing is another concern for students who live in the provinces or outside Metro Manila. This would then result in the increase of population within the campus’ vicinity. This is a factor that HEIs need to account for as this would heighten the risk of the virus spreading abruptly, and implementing a 50-percent student capacity would not ensure the students’ safety in the would-be-condensed area.
While CHED has stressed that students may opt to continue online classes if their circumstances prohibit them, some students would need to attend in-person classes especially if their programs are dependent on laboratory equipment or require in-person application of theories. This leaves them with a dilemma of taking a risk or getting left behind, similar to what various students have been experiencing in the online setup.
It is a relief that the University has provided provisions and specific phases for the gradual resumption of face-to-face classes. But this may not be the case for other schools that are reopening and participating in the pilot testing. We have yet to see if this setup can prevent another surge in cases or not. After all, it is certain that the influx of students would jeopardize the entire Metro Manila’s safety if precautions aren’t practiced.
In all honesty, the efforts currently done to shift back to face-to-face classes are not the main concern in this situation. Rather, it is the government’s ambition to transition our systems back to normalcy just to keep up with other countries despite their mediocre solutions to contain the spread of the virus.
It is ironic that although students push for the return to face-to-face classes, the desperate plan to go back will only further widen the gap between students of different social statuses when it comes to access to quality education. We cannot neglect the fact that less fortunate students have to choose between securing a stable internet connection and capable devices for online classes, and vaccination to qualify for attending face-to-face setups. These two options are not easily available to all.
Nearly two years stuck in a pandemic, the government should have realized by now that the spread of the virus must not be taken lightly, especially with the discovery of more transmissible variants. Thorough research and surveys on the students’ welfare amid the pandemic should have been conducted in each institution before even considering an in-person setup. Coordinating with other government agencies instead of relying on the HEIs to settle student dilemmas on transportation and vaccination could have also been done.
We all hope for the resumption of face-to-face classes, but our knowledge should never be gained at the expense of our lives. Until effective measures are taken to solve the pandemic crisis in our country, the anticipated return to our campuses may still be a bleak possibility.