Vice Rector for Academic Affairs details plans on continuation of learning, emphasizes prioritization of health, safety of students

Decision makers of the top Philippine universities, including the University of Santo Tomas (UST), discussed online learning in a radio interview aired through Radyo Katipunan 87.9FM on April 17, 2020. Representing UST was Vice Rector for Academic Affairs Prof. Cheryl R. Peralta, DrPH. Peralta was interviewed along with De La Salle University Chancellor Br. Bernard Oca, FSC; Ateneo de Manila University Vice President for Loyola Schools Dr. Maria Luz Vilches, and University of the Philippines Vice President for Public Affairs Dr. Elena Pernia. Radyo Katipunan host Noel Ferrer was joined by reactors that included UST Communications Bureau Assistant Director for Broadcast Asst. Prof. Faye Martel Abugan, Bank of the Philippine Islands Trade Director Richard Liboro, and ADMU Professor Jovino Miroy.

Sharing some of the University’s practices, Peralta said, “We deployed an internet connectivity tracker for faculty and students to identify their potential concerns. With that information, our academic units were able to render the detailed monitoring, so later on they can be assisted, once the students return to campus.”

“We really have to accept that [a shift to online learning] is the new normal,” remarked Peralta, adding that “Even if the ECQ is lifted as planned, the main concern will always be the health and safety of our people. It’s not just teaching and learning that will change, I think even our processes, our other services will change in consideration of putting in place preventive practices to avoid the spread of infection.” Admitting that continuous evaluation of implementation was necessary, Peralta said that communication among all stakeholders is important and that they are open to improving the set-up as necessary. “We are in constant communication with our student leaders, the various presidents of the student councils of the different academic units… We are committed to exploring ways to help our students and our faculty,” she emphasized.

Rising to the Challenge The University already has its established online modes of learning access, however, managing the adjustment of a large University is not easy. Peralta shared, “It’s quite a challenge to take care of the needs of 40,000 students, over 2,000 faculty members, and more than 500 support staff. We had to take into consideration the differences in the government regulations for each of our programs and we had to draft the policies in a way that will capture everyone and yet allow everyone some time and space to navigate that, to implement it at their level.”

Preparedness is the key, said Peralta, adding that, “We’ve been monitoring the COVID situation since it came [to the Philippines] in late January. We were able to anticipate that there could be suspension of classes. As of March 9, we deployed the continuity plan for teaching and learning, just to make sure that once there is suspension of classes, everyone knows what will be done [as regards to classes].

Later that same afternoon, Mayor Domagoso suspended classes for a week.” Regular delivery of instruction through the BlackBoard learning management system also referred to in UST as Cloud Campus was implemented on April 14, 2020, at the end of the government’s initially announced period of community “In consideration of the various possible situations that our students and faculty members might be in because of this crisis, similar to the other schools, no one will get failing marks this term,” reassured Peralta.

On May 4, 2020, it was announced by the Office of the Vice Rector for Finance led by Rev. Fr. Rolando F. Castro, O.P., that unused fees for AY 2019 to 2020, such as those for retreats or field trips, will be fully refunded. Other fees may be refunded to up to 50 percent. Students with remaining fees due in the second term of the A.Y. 2019-2020 will still be allowed to enroll for the next academic year. Staggered payments for unsettled balances will be allowed until December 2020. While the University is committed to ending the term on May 30, facultymembers will keep a maximum of three gradable assessments per course for the remaining school days.

Peralta shared, “What is clear for us is that we would like students — who are not ill, and whose current situation allows them to complete requirements this term – to complete this semester. Graduating students particularly, if they want to take the licensure examination, they may want to really complete all their courses to qualify for the licensure exam. Surveys have shown that some students’ family income has decreased during this crisis, so [if they want to lessen financial burden by not retaking classes or by graduating early], we want to grant them that opportunity. For bridging, audit classes may be offered after quarantine regulations allow.”

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