“Ma’am, salamat po sa kaunting kaalaman na nabigay mo pero magdro-drop na po ako. Mahina po kasi ang signal dito sa isla at ang mahal ng load, ‘di po kaya tustusan ng mga magulang ko, mangingisda lang po ang tatay ko,” was the last message left by Ramil in our group chat three weeks after the opening of the semester.

When the school year 2020-2021 opened and COVID-19 started to scare, the number of students informing us that they’re dropping from their enrolled courses increased. Some would say that their parents lost their jobs or had been furloughed and that they have to help them eke out a living. Others would lament that the lessons in their learning modules are difficult to comprehend on their own; thus, they would just wait for the face-to-face learning to resume. And the list of (valid) excuses goes on.
As the academic year pressed on, more and more stories about students and teachers climbing on the roof of their houses, on trees, or mountains just to have better internet connectivity became ordinary. Others became viral on social media and were used as funny memes by some intelligent minds.
At home, parents became more involved in the learning process of their children. But we knew little about the toll it took from them. How they managed to balance work and home life, or what sacrifices did they have to bear to provide the much-needed smartphones or devices for their children’s schooling in the new normal. We can only guess that others might have already been scraping the barrel for the mobile data packages of their children’s online class meetings.
As we all say, we all have our own fight and that we have to face our own battles–cliché but still make sense. But what about the vulnerable ones just like our disadvantaged students? Can they also fight and win this war? 
This year-long battle against the pandemic has not only exposed the weaknesses of our education system but also the split between the haves and the have nots. Those who have (decent internet connectivity, and advanced tools) also have better access to education, while those who have less, also mean lesser learning opportunities and slimmer chances of getting a higher mark. 
Yesterday, for instance, Rizzalyn was asking me if she could access again the 100-item final exam I posted on our Google Classroom because her phone went off while answering the test. “Nasa number 53 pa lang po ako, Ma’am,” she said. “But the test could only be accessed once. If I changed its setting to accommodate your request, it would be unfair to your other classmates,” I replied. The negotiation continued, anyway.

While our leaders are still seemed flummoxed as to what to do as all of us are, they must address the learning issues promptly and intelligently. They should be the catalysts of change, not the embodiments of the status quo. They must have the willpower and ‘waypower’ to do what needs to be done to turn students’ hopes and dreams into a reality. After all, that is the mission of every educational institution.

If we still believed that the youth is the hope of our motherland, we have to invest in them. We have to support them and give them the best education they deserved. As John F. Kennedy  once said: “Let us think of education as the means of developing our greatest abilities, because in each of us there is a private hope or dream which, fulfilled, can be translated into benefit for everyone and greater strength for our nation.”

The post-pandemic era might seem far, but I hope that in the semester(s) ahead, there would be no Ramils and Rizzalyns who would have to leave the group or beg for another chance because of their circumstances.

I also hope that no one from us will ‘log off’ and leave our students’ battles on their own. Lest we forget, we are responsible for them today as they are to the future. A time comes that they’ll be the ones standing in the front lines saving the day from another virus apocalypse. Who knows? That’s not hard to tell.

Disclaimer: Students’ names mentioned above are aliases.

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