Academic Freedom and Responsibility During a Disruptive COVID 19 National Emergency

Students of top schools in the Philippines have protested online education and have called on CHED to ban this nationwide.[i]

During the disruptive COVID 19 national emergency, colleges and universities have no choice but to operate online.  The Department of Health, thankfully, has mandated physical distancing, and national agencies and local governments are supporting this, CHED included.

For higher educational institutions the only way of operating today is online.

Therefore to suggest that the CHED prohibit online education today is to suggest that CHED prohibit higher education today.  This contradicts the reason for CHED’s existence, especially if one considers that the COVID emergency will not go away in the near future.

Looking at the situation of the pandemic in the world today, where 592,000 are infected and 27,000 have been killed by the pandemic, the emergency situation will not change in the near future – unless we want to invite the fate of Italy and Spain into our country.

The nature of universities is that students and teachers come together in academic freedom in search of truth.  The eros for truth comes from the students and teachers, and the academic freedom is part of that eros.    If some students don’t want to be part of this, then they can in freedom prioritize housework to homework.   But if students want to be part of it, and the only way higher education can go today is online, then I suggest that they enter into dialogue with the administrators and teachers of their school to understand whether or not they can buy into the manner their school can offer online education.  If they can’t, they either stop studying or enroll to a school that can.

But to suggest that if four HEIs in Manila are not prepared for online education, all HEIs in the Philippines are not prepared may not be fair.  And to suggest further that CHED stop online higher education nationwide at this point is not only unfair to those HEIs who are prepared, but a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature and powers of CHED.

In the Philippines, academic freedom rests in the higher education institutions.  It does not come from CHED.  It comes from the Constitution (Art XIV, Sec. 5 (2).

The shift to the new mode of educational delivery will have disruptive consequences, just as when the mode of production shifts in industry.  If our mode of educational delivery is still chalk and blackboard or lectures and PowerPoint when the world is shifting anyway to blended and online learning, our teachers will have to adapt and our students will have to adapt.  Today, this is much clearer than before COVID 19.  If teachers don’t, they risk becoming irrelevant to the new system, meaning, they risk retrenchment.  If students don’t, they risk not being able to get the professional training they desire, meaning, they risk losing out on higher education in a fast-changing world.

Unfair?  The corona virus is unfair.

Personally, I feel that online delivery certainly shifts responsibility for learning onto the higher education student.  Being able to carry this responsibility is in fact expected of higher education students after the K-12 reform.  But I also feel that intense personal interaction with teachers online is necessary for quality online instruction.  Teachers will no longer spoonfeed;  they will coach, they will guide, they will inspire, they will assess learning.

I am happy that at the Ateneo de Davao University the student government is in intense dialogue with their administrators and teachers – using Zoom! – to help ensure that online instruction is efficient and successful.   This is a welcome manifestation of academic freedom and responsibility.


[i] Cf:

About Joel Tabora, S.J.

Jesuit. Educator
This entry was posted in Personal Views, Philippine Educational Reform and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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