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Thoughts on the New Academic Calendar

January 13, 2014

This article by Prof. Winnie Monsod on the proposed change in the Philippine academic calendar caught my eye, one of the latest opinions about the shift to an August-May system. Of course, the arguments for this move have already stated the obvious: the Philippines is the only country to stick with the June-March calendar, while other Southeast Asian countries have adopted the August-May calendar or the September-June calendar (the one used by most of the Northern Hemisphere countries).

Prof. Monsod disagrees: she says that Thailand, one of the countries reported to have adopted this international system, still held out with their own traditional academic calendar for Thai schools. Evidently, she believes that this latest move is simply a desire to copy (in a template manner) the United States and other Western nations, and she says that this is a rush to judgement. She also points out that the cost of air-conditioning the schools during the hot months of March, April and May has not been included in the decision-making process. I am inclined to be sympathetic to her concerns, since most of the governmental decisions of the day are truly rushes to judgement (or prejudice or just plain stupidity), and that we should explore other alternatives, but I disagree with her that this shift is purely a desire to copy.

So far, the arguments (both for and against) are largely directed outward, toward “compliance with the rest of the world”. I shall argue from an endemic viewpoint, which is the best viewpoint for these decisions that affect only the Philippines, why a shift is essential – international students or no international students. All of these points are actually obvious and some have already been argued, but still must be emphasised, since the question of whether to align with the outside world is moot, as the Philippines has been aligning with the outside world ever since 1935 (a bit unsuccesfully).

Firstly: the shift will afford the academe and students a vacation scheme which will lead to a more productive study or work habit, as the case may be. Vacations are important for the academe: they define the extracurricular activities and improvement activities of departments and school districts. The academic calendar must regulate vacations, in accordance with the laws regarding national holidays. The shift will place the inter-term vacation from June to early August, which means that students will avoid the most rainy months of the year. The end-of-year vacation will be from mid-December to early February, which not only enables people to fully enjoy the Christmas-New Year holiday, but also to enjoy the cool weather during the rest of this period. Under the present system, students are being forced to study for midterm exams in January. The holiday creates an obstruction for the student’s study habits, destroying their momentum.

Secondly: Prof. Monsod’s argument about the airconditioning of classrooms is too trivial. Under the present calendar, the rainy months are actually still steaming hot – and more humid than the three months preceding. The majority of students (that is to say, those in the public schools) actually manage with no airconditioning in the classrooms. A good ventilation system is needed, and that is not very expensive to maintain, whichever season classes are held. As regards the comfort of students in these hot months, I dare say that students will be able to work harder during these hot months than in the rainy months – and there are no suspensions of classes due to typhoons or otherwise unfortunate weather events due to the rain. The shift is, therefore, actually highly practical when viewed in this way.

Thirdly: I suspect that the main opposition to this shift comes from the religious bias of most academics, who are accustomed to having the Christian Easter holidays fall in the midst of the school year-end vacation, and the All Souls’ feasts in the semestral break. But let us face it: the Philippines is multicultural, and our government has taken baby steps to recognize other faiths as worthy of its consideration. We have already recognized the Muslim moveable feasts (Eid ul-Fitr, Eid ul-Adha), and this year recognized the first day of the Chinese New Year, as non-working holidays. This is another topic, though, regarding the placement of national holidays, but here it suffices to say that the academic establishment, of all societal institutions, is supposed to take the lead in overcoming this governmental preference for Christianity, and that the shift is a way to express the academe’s equal treatment of all students and faculty regardless of religious affiliation or non-affiliation.

Fourthly: The shift will enable us to undertake more substantial reforms in the education system. At present, the K-12 system is being readied for implementation. This reforming of the academic calendar is yet another sign that we are genuinely interested in rebuilding our education system, now through a real democratic desire for free, easily accessible education, instead of the desire for control that the Americans had when they introduced their own education system. It might be a largely psychological phenomenon, but it matters heavily in a country that has been weighed by massacres of journalists, systemic corruption and its laborious cure, and practically every little instance of stupidity and brazenness by public officials.

However, the truth is, as one of the distinguished academics of UP Diliman points out, academic flexibility is more important than the calendar. I say in addition that the academic calendar is only as beneficial as the academe is competent. Granted that the shift is a positive development; however, the whole outlook of the Philippine academic community must change in tandem with these structural changes. Without the change in outlook, without the desire to change the system for the sake of the students, it will be as Prof. Monsod and others are fearing: simply a template-copy of the systems in other countries, for absolutely bullshit reasons.

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