By Kezo Andre Javier

Cartoon by Aureus Ken Pupa

Various academic organizations, particularly in Baguio City, recently called for an academic break to allow students to take a breather from the demands of their school requirements in the midst of the raging pandemic. This is in light of the recent news of cases of self-harm, to the extent of suicide, among students of Saint Louis University (SLU). And while we are almost two years into this online mode of learning, it seems like some education officials still did not learn the lesson – that upholding academic excellence is never mutually exclusive with caring for the welfare of the students.

In its open letter to university officials, the SLU Supreme Student Council stated they have had enough of the ‘empty promises’ from the administration, adding that SLU has failed to show the exact same principle it teaches to its students – compassion. And in the midst of the incidents of suicide among the student population, the council stressed that the inaction from the university is nothing different from being responsible for the deaths of these students. “How many losses will it take for you to care for your students?” the council asked. By doing nothing, university officials just added to the problems piling up for their students and unfortunately, some have reached the tipping point. The lives of these students are lives that could have led them to a bright future. But with the lack of compassion and empathy from the school, their path to this future had been cut short.

While the council acknowledged how the university molds students into excellence in their chosen fields, they condemned the endless flow of academic requirements assigned to students. In the same open letter, the council asked SLU officials if they can still expect students to give quality performance when they are working even on weekends which should have been rest days. The same sentiment resonates throughout the country, at least for the majority of the studentry, ever since the implementation of distance learning in all educational institutions. Be it modular, online, or blended mode of learning, a common theme arises in the majority's studying experience – the unusually high number of academic requirements. 

While we advocate for excellence in academics, we should never forget that these students are humans too. They also have limitations and the fact that they are studying at home does not mean they should be allotting all of their time for studying. They have lives outside school or in this case, outside their virtual classrooms. 


And facing this issue, a genuine academic break easily addresses the problem as it gives students time to relax and not worry about their academics because even if there are weekend breaks, it is inevitable that students would be stressed out thinking about the requirements or examinations for the following week. Implementing a break will allow students to care for themselves, which is a crucial aspect of life in isolation during this pandemic.

In response to this open letter, the SLU administration issued a statement wherein they emphasized the actions they are currently taking to help students with their concerns, especially their ‘non-academic needs such as mental health, welfare, and safety. “Even prior to the candlelight protest, the SLU Administration has already begun a dialogue with representatives of the SLU KASAMA/SSC in order to thresh out their request for an academic break. In fact, it was agreed upon that a follow-up meeting between the SLU Administration and representatives of SLU KASAMA/SSC be conducted on November 9, 2021,” the university officials said. While they acknowledged the importance of mental health and other matters that are easily dismissed in today’s society, it is important to note their lack of sense of urgency with regards to these concerns. 

For the past few months, there have already been numerous cases of suicide among SLU students. And in light of the uproar on social media, several students shared their experiences with the SLU administration, particularly with regards to their mental health needs. While we recognize the efforts from the university, there is a need to emphasize urgency with these matters, especially as it involves the loss of lives. The lives of these students should have not been lost in the first place if the administration addressed their concerns immediately. 

Education officials must understand that breaks are a need because academics are not the only concern that matters to students. There is an ongoing pandemic and we cannot act like everything is normal. To echo the SLU student council’s call, “how many losses will it take for you to care for your students?”

Loss of student lives cannot just be attributed to the heavy workload and lack of breaks. Just recently, a student died trying to save her laptop from their burning house in Quezon City. Melanie Trinidad, a graduating student from the Polytechnic University of the Philippines, rushed to their house to retrieve the laptop she is using for her studies and ended up trapped in the fire, eventually killing her. This case just proves how the education system in our country values the lives of students. From a perspective, one can say that the academic files in the laptop or the laptop itself cannot be worth the student’s life. But since she was willing to risk her life for the sake of that laptop, the student thinks otherwise. For her, she cannot lose that laptop and it only goes to show the misprioritization that our education system has imposed.

Because the majority were used to teachers and schools not being considerate of their needs, students are compelled to go lengths just to fulfill their academic requirements. If only we have instilled a culture of true compassion in education, this student would not have taken the risk, knowing that the professors and the school would understand her plight. Unfortunately, it was not the case and hers was another life lost that should not have been.

Academic breaks are not a demand; they are a necessity. In the midst of the pandemic, we cannot act like everything is the same as what we were used to. This public health crisis brings a significant impact in the lives of everyone, including students. While we continue to push for education continuity even through distance learning, we need to understand that the pandemic also takes a huge toll on students, especially on their mental health. It is imperative for them to be given time to rest and clear their minds from the stress of academics every once in a while because this will keep them sane in this period of isolation. Upholding academic excellence is still the goal but in doing that, the students’ health and wellness cannot be compromised.