In the wake of the widening economic gaps and academic predicaments of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, several students have already resorted to desperate measures to survive.
With the pandemic setting the country’s already shaky status quo into national mayhem, the Department of Education (DepEd) and Commission on Higher Education (CHED) were already pre-determined to push an online adaptation in the coming pandemic-hit academic year. Given this elitist pronouncement, the state’s neglect of students’ collective clamors for an academic freeze has forced many students into age-inappropriate activities to earn money.
The most affected sections of the national student population are senior high school and college. The only-for-the-privileged academic setup could not get any more anti-poor—and prejudicial than what it is today.
The Crux of the Matter
Vox Populi PH spoke with students who have become online sellers and digital sex workers in light of fiscal struggles spawned by the country’s new academic norms.
They are spread out in the work spectrum: academic commissions, artistic commissions, merchandising of bootleg/pirated goods, to trading of pornographic content—one could only choose between biting the risk—of the dust.
18-year old “Hailey” [real name redacted] takes part in the numbers of online traders caught up in the current detrimental educational system. The sister-of-two said that in early 2020, she has been starting to accept general academic commissions, a type of intellectual trade which has skyrocketed to social media in the peak of remote learning. However, knowing that her labor conforms to academic dishonesty, Hailey chose to thrive in anonymity by racking up actual earnings in secrecy needed for her college admission and educational necessities.
“I have lasted a year doing commissions, and I’ve earned thousands already,” said Hailey. “Online class is survival of the fittest…I’m glad that I am still making it up to this day, lol.”
Likewise to Hailey, artists “John” and “Troy” (their aliases) were also brought into the horrors of systemic frustrations and extreme financial losses. In retrospect to their pandemic-long diary of the daily financial brawl, the two recalled how hard it is for art to keep them quenched in the slow burn of these recurring academic inequities.
“Ever since, finding a client has been my struggle… People treat visual art as a business. Few could afford; [it is] as if art materials are a cheap investment,” said the Grade 12 student John.
Much to these artists’ enterprise melees in the social media scene, Troy also thumbed down the implementation of the seemingly classist and exclusive academic resumption, saying that this move has left them with ‘dead-end’ choices—with neither of which they want to choose.
Online seller “Kate” admitted that it was hard to survive selling profitable albeit unregistered merchandise online. However, she had little choice but to continue selling bootleg Korean Pop albums and merchandise despite the possible legal implications, as this was her sole source of income. Her business supported her continuing struggle to stay afloat as a student.
The struggle to keep up with the choking norms of distance learning has put her in jeopardy—both in education and life in general. She admits that she’s hesitant in continuing and wishful Kate wants to end her business soon.
Onto Higher Stakes
Months following the distanced learning imposition, students have become the firsthand casualties of this impulsive decision from the government.
The new learning model has turned out to be the biggest calamity that ever happened to Philippine learners. Distance learning did nothing to contribute to the just struggle for equitable education. On the contrary, it also wrought social and mental turmoil to students.
Third year college student @Psychee (his Twitter username) revealed that he has been suffering from daily episodes of emotional desolation since the beginning of the pandemic. Following his depression and traumatic exposés, all of which he chose not to deliberate, the breadwinner further disclosed that it was also his extreme thirst for social validation which led him, as per choice, to the explicit domains of online trade of nudes and porn.
“I get all the validations I need from all the good comments I receive after every transaction…It relieves me and, at the same, helps me earn for a laptop purchase; without a laptop, you will come crawling in college,” he said in a mix of English and Filipino.
Moreover, the 21-year-old could only believe in his philosophy—the survival notion of financial independence.
“Life is hard nowadays; you can only trust yourself. But, sometimes, all you need is guts. Do not worry about me. I love what I do. It is a win-win for me.”
The Real Deal
The naked truth of distance learning is that it has become oppressive to vulnerable individuals. Students’ cultural glorification of resilience and academic hardships have become vain band-aids to state loopholes and the power-holders dereliction of duty.
A pandemic-free future is still a total blur—so is the country’s vision of an equitable education if this grueling system continues to steamroll the hardly-progressing Philippine academe. The punitive enterprise of distance learning has come to gamble layers of risks with the pandemic. Students like those above have braved the rough deals the remote learning’s discriminatory system has forcefully traded them—barely adequate access to education.
Yet, in light of all economic, social, and mental academic exhaustion, what we could only buy, through our wishful thinking, is for the country to come for a national realization—that education is a fundamental right, not a privilege.
Philippines, hear the cries of your children.
Jude Adrian M. Nicolas
Jude Adrian M. Nicolas is a current Bachelor of Arts in Psychology student at University of Southern Mindanao and a Junior Feature Staff at the said University’s official student publication, The Mindanao Tech. He was also the former Sports Editor of Mlang National High School’s The New Bamboo Torch, representing Cotabato Province in National and Regional Schools Press Conferences as a Sports Writer. As a student-journalist and a psychologist in the making, he channels mental health advocacies and matters through journalism and literary. Email him at: firstname.lastname@example.org.