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Shifting school time: Changing the academic calendar

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Last February 6, the University of the Philippines (UP) decided to shift the academic calendar for all campuses except for Diliman. Ateneo De Manila, De La Salle, and University of Santo Tomas are expected to follow.

Earlier, it was the “big man” Senator Franklin Drilon who revived the proposal.

In the new calendar to be “pilot tested” this year, the first semester, which previously starts on June and ends on October, will start on August and end on December. The second semester which previously starts November and ends April, will start January and end May. From May to June, summer vacation will be shifted to June to July.

According to UP President Alfredo Pascual, “the decision to shift the academic calendar is part of the continuing efforts of UP to develop into a regional and global university and to maximize the opportunities offered by ASEAN integration and global educational partnerships.”

Proponents have also earlier stated that the shift is to adjust to climate changes and to spare students from floods which happen in June and July.

Protests greeted the move. UP student leaders decried the “railroading” of the decision and the lack of consultations among the stakeholders. Various sectors have previously also expressed their opposition to the plan.

Adjusting to climate?

Billy Formoso recalls that “Roxas tried it, scrapped it in the 60’s:”

The students complained it was too hot to be cooped up in a classroom in April and May, thus making it not conducive to learning.

The new vacation months— July and August—were also still stormy and wet and so the kids and their families could not go anywhere for a vacation. They experienced cabin fever in their own homes. Resort owners weren’t too happy either—they had no customers.

And, it still stormed and flooded in September, October and November so that many school days were lost.

 

Jun Verzola discusses interesting points regarding the “Pinoy summer” which he says is mythical.

Mon Ramirez posts interesting charts on his Facebook page.

Disastrous for peasant families

Earlier, Karlo Mongaya expressed worries re the effects the shift will have on peasant families, saying August is the worst time to start classes because of practical issues:

For the poor peasants and farm workers, los muertos is literally the season of the dead..

 

The rural poor of Negros and Panay islands have another name for this dead season: “tigkiriwi,” a Hiligaynon term for a face in severe pain. Tiempos muertos is also the “tinggulutom,” the time of hunger.

 

Many farm hands would go down to the cities to look for work to augment whatever cash advances that they can scrape from the landlords. Loans are taken from sharks at usurious rates. Peasant girls are sent to work in the mansions of the hacienderos for extra income.

 

School opening during tiempos muertos would therefore only add to the burden of poor families who would have to think of a mountain of school expenses from tuition to uniforms, school supplies, and allowances on top of their day to day survival needs.

Formoso also raised this issue: “April and May are harvest months and the kids were needed by their parents to help bring in the crops. And so many students absented themselves from school.”

Considering that rising tuition rates are forcing more students out of school (remember the UP student who took her life last year because she could not pay tuition?), this should have seriously been considered.

Global integration

Earlier, Professor Winnie Monsod wrote in her column about the shift’s “flawed rationale”:

First, the move is supposed to be necessary for UP to achieve its role as a “regional and global university.” What it does not say is that only the European and North American universities are on the August/September to May/June calendar. And that is because that coincides with their fall, winter and spring.  The other countries in Latin America, as well as Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa have academic calendars that start in February, right after their summer months. Does this mean that these countries are not “global”?  Or that we don’t care to cooperate with them?

 

Then, much is made of the fact that we are the only country in the Asean University Network (AUN) that still adheres to a June-March calendar. But the policy paper mentions Thailand’s two academic calendars: one for the Thai system, and one for the international programs. Now that sounds eminently sensible.  Why can’t we examine that alternative, if we are so anxious to attract foreign students (assuming that they will be attracted)?

Kabataan Partylist Rep Terry Ridon raises the issue of education tourism and higher tuition rates due to the calendar shift:

If more higher education institutions join the bandwagon for the academic calendar shift, we fear that the time will come when our universities become so foreign-oriented and overpriced that it will be filled not by young Filipinos but by foreigners who wish to finish their studies in the tropics.

CONTEND-UP says the shift means “Bending over backwards and missing the point of UP education”:

 

The de-synchronization with local private and public high schools would arguably have a greater potential negative impact on enrolment and access of local undergraduate and graduate students than any positive gains which might accrue in attracting students from universities in Southeast Asia and beyond. The question is, who are we really supposed to serve? Are not these still primarily Filipino youth and students? Why should UP bend over backwards to attract foreign students when it should instead be going the extra mile in filling up slots with students from underprivileged and marginalized backgrounds? 

 

“Internationalization” should not mean a blind process of homogenization which disregards national relevance along with natural and cultural factors.

Cleve Arguelles says factors other than the calendar, like access, government spending and tuition rates should be looked into if UP wants to really be a global university.

Former UP student regent Jaque Eroles examines the ASEAN 2015 and said that it will have adverse impacts on the economy:

This regional economic integration program will push for further liberalization of trade among ASEAN countries, including the Philippines. It directs member-countries to eliminate tariffs and other non-tariff trade barriers to enable free entry of imported goods from other ASEAN countries and its global partners. It will also open the gates for foreign business investments to flood our economy and eventually massacre our local business, manufacturing, services, and even agriculture. AEC will have adverse impacts to the Filipino economy, people and even those of other ASEAN countries.

 

So just when you think that shifting of academic calendar is one harmless proposal, look at the bigger picture and think again.

The National Union of the Philippines (NUSP) also looks into ASEAN 2015 and says the shift will further commercialize education. What we need, says the student union, is a “shift in orientation towards a nationalist, scientific and mass-oriented type of education” instead of a calendar shift.

Here’s what UP Professor Gerry Lanuza thinks:

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Btw, aside from the academic calendar shift, UP Student Regent Krista Melgarejo said that UP also railroaded the approval of several controversial moves. Among them, the renaming of the UP Diliman College of Business Administration to Virata School of Business, UP’s participation in the controversial PCARI project, and the involvement of SM Investments Corporation in the UP Professional Schools in Bonifacio Global City. Read her report here.

 

Originally published in Blogwatch.

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