#FEATURE | Kandili: Student welfare and distance learning in 2020

by Athena Ap-apid

Student welfare. Art by Sarah Aquino.

Deadlines tomorrow. Exams next week. And a global pandemic everyday.

Despite calls for an “academic freeze,” Pisay’s school year 2020–2021 still pushed through last September, forcing students into a “new normal” of studying from home. With a new and introduced online learning platform called “Knowledge Hub” (KHub) and a Transitional Council (TC) put into place, the system seemed ready to face the challenges of distance learning amidst a crisis–but not so much the student body. Within a matter of weeks, several complaints were heard about the difficulties in the new learning situation. Student welfare was deteriorating─scholars became more and more exhausted as their requirements piled up and they could not keep up with this new normal. It was at this point that Kandili stepped up to tackle such issues.

Kandili in 2020

Kandili, a student-led organization under the TC, was created to address the students’ mental wellbeing. Although it was only officially recognized last year, it was originally proposed as a club to be established in the school year 2018–2019 in an attempt to address the mental health issues in Pisay that were present even before the pandemic struck.

“It took a long time… [maybe] two years for Kandili to be recognized as a committee under the Student Council because we had to prove that it filled a need that was unaddressed by existing organizations and systems,” said Ma’am Dawn Crisologo, a Biology teacher and Kandili’s supervisor.

Now, Kandili is able to actively play its part in helping the Pisay community. “Kandili is meant to represent the voice of the students; to become the bridge between school officials and the student body, and to reach out to them,” said Kandili’s co-head, Marcus Torres.

Through teachers, feedback forms (i.e. the TC Cares form), social media platforms, and personal experiences, the Kandili core group identified several student welfare issues in 2020. Aside from worsening issues that are already present─such as the heavy workload─the pandemic has brought to life new problems.

“Nationwide and global health issues definitely provided background stress that affected student performance and wellness. Feelings of uncertainty, helplessness, demotivation affected many members of the community,” said Ma’am Crisologo, later pointing out that the absence of social interaction, physical activity, proper learning spaces, and/or access to resources are also additional issues.

Working with other teams

Despite being an organization founded to address these issues, Kandili cannot provide professional help or implement concrete changes to the system.

“Kandili’s goal is to spread awareness about mental health issues and to destigmatize them; we are not capable of providing professional guidance or therapy,” said Andie Acurantes, Kandili’s Logistics Head.

They do, however, work with those who can. The committee helps address problems by forwarding concerns and proposals to the PSHS administration. “We help create proposals/activities/guidelines that would be passed to the higher-ups in Pisay such as the ManComm in the hopes of it being implemented,” said Torres.

According to core group members, direct coordination between Kandili and the Management Committee (ManComm) seldom happens, but the administrative body instead meets and works with the TC and Guidance Counseling Unit (GCU), both of which Kandili frequently coordinates with. Torres noted that Kandili has worked with the GCU for CARE Month initiatives and mental health infographics.

Kandili’s commitment

In resolving the student body’s problems, Kandili has encountered some problems of its own. Core group members pointed out difficulties in coordinating both internally and externally in a purely virtual set-up. Acurantes adds that, “at times [Kandili’s] own members go through a rough patch.”

Nevertheless, the committee continues to strive in carrying out its duty to the student body.

Ma’am Crisologo describes Kandili’s driving force as “the need for mental and socioemotional wellness to be at the core of how members of the Pisay community relate to each other” and that “[as] long as that need remains unaddressed, Kandili will continue to be active in advocating for Pisay to be a safe and inclusive space for all members of the community.”

This determination may be fueled by the frustrations about the current situation as well.

“Academics aren’t supposed to be everything, but with the system this year, it feels as if that isn’t the case anymore. Sometimes taking a break could make a huge difference in keeping up with [requirements] or gaining more backlogs,” said Torres. “[A] lot of the solutions tend to become band-aid solutions. The same thing will keep happening over and over again unless the actual root of the issue is resolved, which in most cases didn’t happen.”

Plans for the future

In 2020, Kandili successfully carried out an information campaign, proposed helpful guidelines and policies, collaborated with other organizations, and heeded student concerns. This 2021, they plan to continue in their advocacy efforts with online events, more information campaigns, and, according to Acurantes, a “partnership with MIN, a mindfulness org, coming up this [February].” The team is also currently working on getting approval for an online retreat and support group as additional initiatives in helping from a distance.

“We apologise if there’s not much we can do because of physical limitations, but we hope we’re able to help in any little way we can. In any case, we’re always open to listen to concerns and suggestions!” said a Kandili core group member.

In the face of uncertainty about the future, Kandili holds on to hope.

According to the same member, “[Kandili hopes] that concerns stop falling onto deaf ears, and that things change for the better.”

The committee has no intention, however, of leaving this as wishful thinking. They plan and wish to help the Pisay community to the best of their abilities.

“Even though things are difficult, we hope to be able to continue contributing to the cause of letting the voices of the students be heard regarding mental health and welfare so that we can change the systems in ways that would benefit everyone,” said Torres.

Ma’am Crisologo, as well, looks forward to the fruit of this endeavor. “My wish is to see the efforts of Kandili (and all the groups involved in advancing student welfare) rewarded with tangible improvements that can be felt by everyone in the Pisay community,” she added.

In serving the student body, a core group member bears in mind their organization’s Pisay dream.

“We hope that Pisay becomes known for producing not only high-functioning minds, but also happy and healthy individuals.”

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The Science Scholar

The Science Scholar

The official English publication of the Philippine Science High School–Main Campus. Views are representative of the entire paper.