Should we resort to academic freeze during the pandemic?

Posted by Greten on 07 Aug 2020 under Thoughts

Debates on many aspects of human lives are ongoing on how to best approach this Wuhan virus pandemic (COVID-19, SARS-COV-2); one of these aspects is education. If people should avoid mass gathering and avoid leaving their homes whenever possible, how are we going to implement education for the academic year 2020-2021 while the pandemic is ongoing.

South Korea opened schools in May just to close them again a few days later because of a spike in cases shortly after despite schools putting up barriers and implementing social distancing rules. Countries that reopened schools or continued operating schools during the pandemic observed increases in cases among the students and staff. Fortunately, children are less affected by the Wuhan virus; they are more likely to remain asymptomatic and less likely to get hospitalized. The real puzzle that remains a mystery is how they are likely to transmit it to elderly family members and those with underlying medical conditions.

Snow flake with a book and a graduation cap inside.As a parent, I am also not comfortable with sending my son to school. I am also hearing several other parents prefer printed learning modules or online learning this school year; even blended learning is not seen as an option because that would still entail being physically present with teachers and other students regularly.

Sometimes, I will browse Facebook and see memes, hashtags, and other things people share in their posts, and I came across what I will consider a nuclear option: academic freeze. There are students, parents, and other stakeholders in the education system that calls for a halt in primary and higher education.

What is academic freeze?

Academic freeze is the stop of all educational activity, including regular classroom and distance or online education, for a specific period. For example, the students who finished grade 3 last March 2020 will not enter grade 4 if DepEd freezes the academic year 2020-2021. They can only start grade 4 on the academic year 2021-2022, when they would have been grade 5 if there's no academic freeze.

Other suggested academic freeze is not one just school year, but until the vaccine for Wuhan virus is already invented.

I first encountered this call on academic freeze because I saw one of my acquaintances posting #academicfreeze, so I clicked the link and saw several other posts showing their support for academic freezing. I also tried searching if anyone is posting #notoacademicfreeze, and the result is yes, some people are opposed to it.

Reasons for academic freeze

You can find several reasons that people give in support of academic freeze. You can search #academicfreeze or #yestoacademicfreeze in Twitter and Facebook, and you will find a handful of people pushing for an academic freeze. The reasons provided has been expressed in different ways; the general ideas are usually the following:

  • No child left behind: Not everyone can afford the technology needed for elearning. Some parents cannot guide their children to work on learning modules (either they are too busy making ends meet or didn't reach the educational level their children are currently taking). Thus, the proponents' solution is it's better to have an academic freeze than have some children advance in grade level and others left behind.
  • Distance education does not work: Online education and printed learning modules are no substitute to the traditional classroom. The classroom is not just a lecturer standing in front of learners; they also facilitate activities that aid in the acquisition of knowledge and develop their motor and social skills. Distance education may relay knowledge and processes, but it cannot develop motor and social skills.

Two boys studying, one has laptop and the other has not and relies on using notebook and pen.

Together with these reasons, the academic freeze's proponents have different ideas on when the academic freeze can be lifted.

  • Academic freeze for one year. Better to delay a child's education for just one year rather than put them at risk of getting infected with the Wuhan virus.
  • Until a vaccine is available: The academic freeze must remain until a vaccine for Wuhan virus is discovered and becomes available to the public.

Reasons not to academic freeze

A silhouette of a student in toga and graduation cap.Some people oppose the academic freeze. You can search #notoacademicfreeze in Twitter and Facebook, and you will also find people who are against academic freeze. The reasons provided has been expressed in different ways; the general ideas are usually the following:

  • Teachers will lose their jobs: During this time of the pandemic, several businesses closed and consequently, people lose their jobs. Some lose their jobs due to government regulations, for example, bus and jeepney drivers cannot ferry passengers due to quarantine. We need to not add teachers among those who are jobless for at least a year.
  • Distance education works: Distance education modalities like printed modules and online education may not be the same as traditional classrooms, but they work. The pandemic should not stop anyone from learning, and to keep ourselves safe while also learning, distance education is the best option that we can use. Also, some students prefer online education over the traditional classroom.
  • I'm graduating in a year: There are college students who are due to graduate within a year. Some of them are graduating to take jobs that are much needed during the pandemic, such as nurses, medical technicians, computer engineers, and data scientists. If there is an academic freeze, we are halting students who are due to graduate, and we deny our society the workforce it needs during this crisis.

My take: let education continue

After weighing both sides, my conclusion is to say NO to academic freeze. While those who are pushing for academic freeze have valid points and good intentions, they are insufficient reason to stop education. During this pandemic, we need to stay safe, but otherwise, we should strive to continue living with some alterations. If your employer allows you to work from home, why resign from your work? If the groceries are open, and you can continue buying under strict social distancing protocol, why starve yourself? Resorting to academic freeze when there are methods available to continue education despite the pandemic is tantamount to resigning and starving when you don't have to.

Those arguing for no child left behind are blinded by the idealistic sense of equality that created communism. Education has never been equal even without the pandemic. There are schools with better libraries, better laboratories, and better classrooms. Are we suppose to forbid these schools from having these advantages? Public schools conduct their classes under the tree or in an open area during calamities because their classrooms are used as evacuation centers. Should we force private schools to conduct classes in the same manner? The pandemic did not create inequality; it only altered the inequality that already exists.

The idea that distance education is not as effective as traditional classroom education is not entirely true. It can be better for subjects that require the acquisition of knowledge and skills through self-practice, such as science and mathematics. It can also depend on the student; some are comfortable watching videos to see how something (say a mathematical process) is done, while some are more comfortable having a teacher show it to them. However, in these times of pandemic, we may not have what's best for everyone, but we need to do with what we have. Distance education might not teach our children to navigate playground politics or social skills, but who knows: such dynamics might still be present among classmates in Zoom or Teams. Distance education allows our children to continue learning while keeping them safe from the Wuhan virus, so let's use it.

Those pushing for academic freeze for a year since it's just a year, the solution is not to enroll your children—or yourself if you're already in college—for a year. After all, it's just a year. Why stop everyone else?

Using the vaccine as the parameter to decide whether to reopen the classes or not is downright unrealistic. While many pharmaceutical companies are now researching and developing vaccines for the Wuhan virus, do not assume that a vaccine will be available until they are tested and shown to work without adverse side effects. HIV was first reported in 1981, and until now, it has no vaccine. What if a vaccine is never developed? Are we going to stop all schooling and send the human civilization back to the Middle Ages?

There is nothing for me to add except to nod in agreement, that we cannot afford to have teachers lose their jobs. Also, those who are about to enter the workforce for much-needed jobs during the pandemic should not be delayed.

A compromise solution: universal accelerated examination

With or without the pandemic, there's always inequality among the students: inequality of opportunity and inequality of the quality of education. However, our society tries to reduce inequality by providing educational opportunities to the poor but deserving students. How do we determine who is deserving? Using examinations, of course: government agencies such as DepEd and DOST, as well as various private foundations, provide scholarships to those who can pass the scholarship exam they administer.

The same solution can apply to students during the pandemic. Those who are enrolled this academic year can course through their current grade level, obtain a passing grade, and go to the next grade level. For those who cannot enroll for various reasons, they may still try to educate themselves at their own pace using any resources they can muster. When the pandemic is over, and the schools can resume their regular operation, those who missed a grade level can take an accelerated exam to determine their eligibility to enroll to the next level.

For example, now is the academic year 2020-2021, and there is a pandemic. A student is supposed to be grade 3 but didn't enroll because he lives in a far-flung village with no internet access, and he cannot use printed learning modules either because his parents finished only grade 2 and, thus, cannot help him study. However, he did his best to study grade 3 materials by burrowing printed modules from his friends. Suppose the pandemic is over before the start of the academic year 2021-2022, there must be an exam that can determine if he is eligible to enroll in grade 4 instead of grade 3. If he passed the exam, he could jump to grade 4. Otherwise, he will enroll in grade 3.

Should we have an academic freeze? Please share your thoughts in the comment section.

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Last updated on 07 Aug 2020.

Learn from others
Annie Mae says:

I have read your article and I must say that it is very comprehensive and enlightening. Although I just read it today, still your claim tackles issues up until now. That’s why I wanted to raise this concern regarding the students who killed themselves because of their experiences in modular classes. It was all over the internet and in the news. Many students have said that this school year is worsening their mental health condition, adding stress and anxiety in this pandemic. My question is, what can you say about these incidents? Do you still consider Online/Modular Classes as an effective and better solution in this new normal? Why and why not?

I would appreciate it if you answer my questions as I am in need of opinions regarding this matter. Thank you very much.

Greten says:

Hello Annie Mae,

I do not know the thought process of these students who committed suicide, but the news are saying they are connected to frustrations over internet connections and buying cellphone loads. To be honest, I cannot imagine why students would do that unless it merely intensifies existing mental health issues that some people are already experiencing due to quarantine.

Please note that I never said students should push through with continuing going to school. Not enrolling this school year is a legitimate option. What I am against is the academic freeze across the board.

Online learning and correspondence education (what DepEd call “modular” is better for some students, and not for others. It is really a matter of appreciating innovative and independent ways of learning vs using what is proven to work. However, given the pandemic, online and modular classes provide a balance between allowing students to learn and keeping them safe from the virus.

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