Change in Academic Calendar for Higher Education Institutions

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Monday, February 24, 2014


An Open Letter to the Commission on Higher Education Re: Change in Academic Calendar for Higher Education Institutions

I AM speaking as a member of a farming family who hails in the province of Quezon - an agriculture-based province in the Southern Tagalog Region.

May I request that in your deliberation of the change of academic calendar in our country that the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) takes into account the following considerations, which I thought, are concerns that only Filipinos with roots in farming and fishing communities can fully understand - concerns that may not be obvious to decision makers who are from Metro Manila and other urban centers in the country whose family histories are not rooted in the Philippine countryside's farming and fishing communities.

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I will be brief and concise on laying out some items on the following concerns: a) lean months in fishing communities and harvest period in rice-farming areas; b) climate -related factors such as typhoon occurrences; and, c) internationalization of our educational institutions.

a) Lean months and harvest season in relation to enrollment period

Based on research undertaken by sociologists, agricultural economists, marine scientists, economists, geographers, and other relevant disciplines, we are all aware that harvest time in the agricultural regions in the country, particularly rice-based farming, happens every April-May and October-November of each year. This is the time when farming families have extra-income that they can devote to payment of tuition fees, relocation expenses and other costs that are associated with sending their family members to school so they will not end up as farmers themselves - farmers know how difficult it is to till lands, and get decent income from farming due to some structural factors that limit the income potentials of our land tillers.

During the months of August-September, farmers have some difficulties getting extra income for this is the period when there is not much demand for farm-based labor services. This is also the time in the fishing communities when getting into the municipal fisheries and most particularly in deep waters is a bit more dangerous due to typhoon occurrences. This period of lean months is well documented and a part of the everyday realities of farming and fishing families. This is the time when farmers and fishing folks resort to informal lending figures so they can provide for the daily subsistence and other needs of their family members.

I would like you to take into account that given the challenging financial situations that farming and fishing families face in this period it will be very difficult for them to save and allocate their limited resources to send their children to school. What happens to giving our farming families a chance to improve opportunities for the younger members of their household? Given the lack of attention that is given to improve the life of agricultural and fishing communities, are we going to make it more difficult for them to send their children to school? Are we going them to push them to rely on getting loans to pay for the tuition fees of their children during lean months from informal credit providers who charge high interest rates or to the owners of rice mills or other middlemen who would provide them credit but with interest charges that are tied up with buying the farmers’ agricultural produce at a very low price?

The Philippines is still an agricultural country with 60-80 percent of communities (depending on the level of economic development in each respective region) dependent on agriculture and fishery livelihood systems. How do we account for the negative implications of this change in academic calendar in relation to the availability of disposable income among farming and fishing families who like any other families in our country would like to send their young members to college so they can get better chances of being employed in less-taxing and better compensated jobs?

b) On the issue of typhoon months and the need to re-schedule classes to avoid their cancellation

Being a “probinsyana,” and also a resident of Metro Manila, I can say that conditions in Metro Manila and also in many parts of the Philippine countryside are not uniform. We have four climatic types. In the province, a heavy rainfall during the rainy season does not usually translate into flooding that leads to cancellation of classes. In the province – which is about 60 percent of the Philippines, and where more than 80 percent of students reside – a heavy rain incidence does not prevent them from going to school.

The case of Metro Manila and the flooding events and cancellation of classes is something that can be dealt with using urban planning, improvement of our drainage, and construction of dormitories and provision of support services that can help and assist our school children and teachers in dealing with floods.

Nobody is talking about the fact that if we change the schedule, this would translate to students attending school during the summer period – that is on the months of April and May. In a tropical country such as ours, summer months mean temperatures reaching up to 35 degrees Centigrade in some areas and higher in the Northern Luzon regions. Our young and not so young students and school and college teachers will be forced to stay in school buildings that do not have air-conditioning units to make the learning environment more supportive of providing good education – should we then adjust the class schedule during the summer months so that we can avoid the excruciating heat of the summer period? And what about the availability of additional labor in undertaking agricultural activities such as harvesting and clearing and preparing the fields for the next planting season – especially for farming families who rely on the availability of the younger members of the farming families who are on vacation during the harvest and early planting period – does the government have specific plans to attend to this condition?

The condition in Metro Manila should not be the main reason for changing the academic calendar of the whole country – being Metro Manila-centric all the time is not productive for the whole nation – please remember that we have regions to consider – 16 of them I believe. Please take this matter into account in making a decision that often times take into the account the needs of the capital region only.

c) Internationalization of the Philippine educational system

I was very affected hearing arguments given by high ranking officials of the UP system and Ateneo and DLSU regarding the internationalization of the Philippine educational system. Internationalization of our educational system means improving the quality of our basic and college education so constructing more school buildings with school facilities and laboratories that would allow quality instruction, providing more updated and well-written books, providing more training opportunities for our teachers to continuously improve their teaching skills and substantiate their stock knowledge, and making our curricular programs more relevant to the development needs of our country and its people so that we will find ourselves in a better position to participate in international economic affairs, technological development and become more competitive in an increasingly more globalized market economies.

Internationalization does not mean adjusting our class opening schedule to schools and universities in other countries so that the Filipino students will not have to wait several months to enroll in other universities abroad, or for the foreign students to enroll in our universities. The members of the richest one per cent of our country’s population, and those who have access to scholarship programs, are the only ones who can easily afford to send their children to the US, Europe and other developed countries – these privileged students are the only ones who will be inconvenienced by having to wait several months to enroll in universities abroad and pursue college education or earn their graduate degrees (master’s and PhD).

I earned my graduate degrees and was educated in the USA for over five years, and adjusting to their academic calendar by waiting for a few months before I can enroll there did not hurt my chances of getting a good graduate education abroad – the lead time gave me some much needed months to prepare myself and my family psychologically and economically, in relation to arranging my work schedule and finishing up my immediate responsibilities to my previous employers – the Southern Luzon Polytechnic College and the University of the Philippines – Diliman.

In relation to enrollment in our colleges and universities here in the Philippines, I would like to ask this question, are our schools for Filipinos or are we saying here that they are built to serve the educational needs of foreign students? Is the Philippine education system for all young members of the Philippine Society all over the country and not just for the few members of the more economically well-off members of the Filipino society – who are the only ones who can afford to send their children to the USA or Australia or Europe? May I ask whose interests are we serving here? Changing the academic calendar of the country should take these things into account.

Please include these concerns as you deliberate on this matter. As a Filipino academic, who is from the Philippine countryside, I am requesting the CHED officials to prioritize the educational needs of children from farming and fishing communities – prioritize the needs of about 60 to 70 percent members of our society.

If we want to advance our nation into a position that provides nurturing conditions that will allow every Filipino to realize one's potentials, I urge you to take these things into account – before we prioritize the needs of a very small percentage more financially well-off members of our society and the concerns of foreign students who would like to enroll in a few privileged colleges and universities in the Philippines, let us pay attention to needs of the majority of the Philippine student population group first.

*****

(Dr. Doracie Zoleta-Nantes is a daughter of a Filipino farmer. She now teaches at the Australian National University. She is a former faculty of the University of the Philippines-Diliman and is currently involved in a project that aims to strengthen the capacity of communities in disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation in five provinces of the Philippines.)

Published in the Sun.Star Cagayan de Oro newspaper on February 24, 2014.

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