After a Year of (e)Learning in the Time of Pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically revolutionized and reshaped our life and perspectives. It has changed our way of thinking, our way of doing, and our way of be(com)ing.
It has…changed us.

Last year, our government officials announced that millions of students will not be returning to physical classrooms until COVID-19 vaccine is available to the public. Quoting UNESCO in an article by The ASEAN Post, as of March 17, 2021, “some 171 million students enrolled at primary to tertiary levels of education have been affected due to school and institution closures.”

The article cited UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Education Koumba Boly Barry calling this phenomenon an “education crisis”.

CNN Philippines recently reported that “the government is aiming to vaccinate up to 70 million Filipinos by the end of the year, hoping to achieve herd immunity to protect the population against rising coronavirus cases and even faster-spreading strains.” CNN added that as of June 13, 2.6% of the target 70 million Filipinos are fully vaccinated and with the shipment of 13.5 million vaccine doses in July, the government is targeting to vaccinate 2-3 million Filipinos per week.

However, even with the vaccine rollout, Commission on Higher Education (CHED) chair J. Prospero de Vera III said in May “that the commission will continue to adopt (a) flexible learning system in 2021 and thereafter” (Rappler, 2021).

In retrospect, our actions had been interwoven with mobility before this pandemic hit almost every sphere of human life.

We had always been passionate about doing development work by visiting affected areas wreaked by typhoons and other natural calamities in Leyte or Isabela. We used to convene in a cafeteria or a lecture hall for discursive conversations and productive conferences with fellow students and researchers in our own fields.

Restrictions on mobility have affected not only the fields of medical and allied health sciences, but also the arts and social sciences. Pre-pandemic time, the “outside world” used to be our spaces for critical discourse, artistic expression, and development work. Today, the “virtual world” has shrunk these spaces into our screens, blurring our sense of privacy and concept of home.

After a year of Zoom and Google Meet classes in the time of pandemic, we look back and realize that the only way ahead is to move forward. As we continue to thread learning in this critical time, however, the stories of struggles (and even of silence) from the lens of graduate students should be truthfully told and understood.

My conversations with friends from the graduate school have sparked this reflection – and surfaced the impacts of the pandemic on the learning climate affecting our lived online experiences as students of remote learning.

What emerged in these conversations are our common stories of struggles that come in varied forms and faces. Our personal struggles are complex, often marked by internet connection issues as a form of a structural struggle – and even by academic issues that require systemic and institutional reforms.

It is apparent how this global health emergency has prompted us to embrace progressive mindsets, new systems, and futures thinking – and how it interrupted the conventional landscape of education, exposing the inadequacies and inequities in our Philippine education system. In keeping up with the changes of the times, most institutions have begun shedding out their traditional skin in terms of teaching-learning paradigms.

As social beings, it is inherently natural for everyone to search for socialization and coping opportunities. Clearly, our recent proclivities to online communication for social support reveals a lot about our newfound place: virtual space. While we have long embraced Messenger, WhatsApp, Skype, Viber, and other social media sites – our motivations and reasons for taking up these spaces during this time have also changed.

Besides virtual coping spaces, we also engage in recreation – biking, exercising, Netflix-ing, gardening, and leisure reading – for the development of our holistic well-being as an integral element of surviving the pandemic. Unfortunately, some graduate students cannot put a premium on self-care during this period due to personal reasons – which may further exacerbate their current struggles.

We may have unwillingly relegated our manner of pakikipamuhay and pakikipagpalagayang-loob to computer and phone screens in doing development and humanitarian work, but we can choose to be one another’s silver lining in the time of pandemic. We should strive to create virtual spaces that inspire reflection and meaningful (re)action.

Today, we can begin thinking, doing, and be(com)ing.

Iskolar ng at para sa bayan, educator, and researcher. His recent research studies focus on science
communication, organizational communication, community development, and narratives of risks and
pandemic. He enjoys visiting museums and galleries, sipping brewed coffee, and understanding social life
and phenomena.



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