Thursday, August 28, 2014

UP shifts academic calendar; screens 83K applicants for AY 2015-2016

Note: This photo-essay appeared in the 22-28 August 2014 issue of FilAm Star with the title "UP grind begins with new academic calendar, screening of applicants by the thousands." This author/blogger is the special news/photo correspondent of the said newspaper.

UPCAT day scenes at Melchor Hall.
The weekend of 16-17 August 2014 saw some 83,000 high school seniors taking the UP College Admission Test or the popular UPCAT in various testing centers around the country.  The UPCAT is a five-hour multiple-choice examination in English and Pilipino comprising language proficiency, science, mathematics, and reading comprehension.  Last year, out of around 74,000 examinees, 13,028 qualified for admission, which is roughly the number that can be accommodated by the various academic units in the different campuses of the University of the Philippines System.

We were in the Diliman campus at about noontime of 16th when the morning batch of examinees had just finished the test and they were getting out of the engineering building.  The afternoon batch was preparing to move inside, and we noted two lines: one of students and the other of parents/chaperons. The UPCAT, as usual, became a family event. The parental duty, of course, could only go as far as the entry door of the building.  We chatted briefly with several of them to learn of their first and second choices of courses and campuses.

It was almost the same time last year when the UP freshmen (freshies) of this Academic Year 2014-2015 took the UPCAT. They could have recognized their own predicaments a year ago when they saw the faces of this year’s UP applicants: those who have taken the test and those who are about to take the bout using Mongol pencil 2.

It was barely two weeks past when classes started in UP Manila (August 6) and UP Diliman (August 7).  UP Los BaƱos and UP Baguio opened on August 11 and 12, respectively; and Mindanao, on August 18 yet. 

Mural at the College of Fine Arts.
This means that the freshies had a four-month vacation to fortify themselves for the first bout with UP life: the enrolment process, and the surprises and perplexities inside/outside the classrooms during the first week/month. 

It’s all because the UP shifted its academic calendar the first semester from June-October to August-December, and the second semester from November-April to January-May.

The second semester will no longer be interrupted by the long Christmas break. It will start right after the scholars of the people (mga iskolar ng bayan) return from a happy holiday, hopefully, unless the first sem performance is gravely disappointing.  The calendar shift is most welcome to parents of students going home for the holidays because they will save in transportation fares.

UP President Alfredo Pascual emphasized in his press statement that “the decision to shift the academic calendar is part of the continuing efforts of UP to develop into a regional and global university and to maximize the opportunities offered by ASEAN integration and global educational partnerships”.

The UP Charter, Republic Act 9500 of 2008, mandates UP as the national university, and one of its purposes is to “serve as a regional and global university in cooperation with international and scientific unions, networks of universities…in the Asia Pacific Region and around the world”.

The academic calendar shift comes in synch with ASEAN 2015, when the Action Plan of the ASEAN Economic Cooperation is expected to be fully implemented in the member countries. The Plan includes promotion of the free flow of goods and services among said countries.

The historic AS Steps
UP is a member of the ASEAN University Network (AUN).  According to Pascual, synchronization of the academic calendar with those of ASEAN, European and American academic partners “will create more joint programs and partnerships with other universities, allow students to get transfer credits, particularly under ASEAN and ASEAN +3 Credit Transfer System (ACTS), and address the problem with semestral gaps with partner universities.”  Thus, this synchronization will enhance the mobility of students and faculty within the region.  Most universities in Asia, Europe and North America also start their classes in August or September. 

Ateneo de Manila and De La Salle University are also members of the AUN. According to reports, they plan to shift their academic calendars next year.  The University of Santo Tomas shifted this year to July, and will adjust to August next year.  Other universities may eventually adopt a new calendar.  As far as we know, the Department of Education has yet to decide if the elementary and high school academic calendars will also shift to harmonize with the universities.

Padayon mga Iskolar ng Bayan! (Carry on, Scholars of the People!),” Pascual exhorted the freshies of UP Diliman during their welcome assembly on August 11. 

Fine Arts freshies with artsy headgear.
The welcome program of the University Freshie Month was intended to make them feel at home. The student proctors also made sure that the freshies kept a buoyant spirit when their deans introduced them to the university president.  Hence, they did some gimmicks to lighten up the event, and student organizations rendered presentations to cheer them up too. The contingent of Fine Arts freshies came with artful headgear, which led us to ask the proctors if they are already preparing them for their first Lantern Parade in December. 

Probably their first bewilderment was the call for a bonfire at the UP Diliman Sunken Garden on August 9, two days after the opening of classes:  what’s the hullabaloo about the Fighting Maroons clobbering the Soaring Falcons of Adamson University at a UAAP Season 77 basketball game?

The last time the Maroons won was two years ago. They were UAAP champions in 1986 long before the freshies were born. Probably their only popular ‘connect’ to that event was Benjie Paras who was in that champion team, and his son Andre who was a Fighting Maroon until he moved to San Beda earlier this year.

By now, the freshies may have found favorite places to go to for budget meals if they do not have their own ‘baon’:  snack stalls of the ‘Samahan ng Manininda sa UP Campus’, eateries along JP Laurel Street, ‘kainan’ street, and those inside the shopping center, among others. Late afternoons may see them around Mang Larry’s Isawan, which non-UP students also patronize.  Of course, there’s always the quick and cheap comfort food is the iconic banana delicacy: turon!

Ikot! or Toki! around the campus.
He/she must now be thinking of ways to manage the time for attending classes in different locations especially when the schedules are tight.  Classes in buildings around the academic oval are navigable with strong legs. But if these are outside this loop, say in the new engineering complex, the UP Ikot, which runs counter-clockwise around the campus, or the UP Toki, which takes the reverse direction, may be the substitute for legs. These jeepneys ply different routes, one of them going through the messy traffic on CP Garcia.

After the welcome assembly with the UP president, the university has more events for the freshies, and one of them is the University Freshie Student Council elections on August 26. This reminds us that in our time, freshmen were not represented in the university student council, nor were we allowed to vote. 

Outside of these official events, some freshies may opt to have a political baptism by joining the Junk STS [Socialized Tuition System] unity march around the academic oval on August 27, and Boycott the BOR [Board of Regents] rally at the Executive House on Aug 28, being organized by Gabriela Youth.

It is likely that the Gabriela Youth will culminate the march with a program at the A.S. Steps. Historical events took place here such as:   UP President Salvador P. Lopez declaring support of the UP community in 1971for the Diliman Commune; Senators Ninoy Aquino and Gerry Roxas speaking on national issues before the declaration of martial law in 1972; and students launching the protest movement following the Aquino assassination in 1983.

On August 27, other freshies may want instead to go to the Film Center’s Cine Adarna to witness the awarding of the 2014 UP Gawad Plaridel, an annual media award of the university, to Nora Aunor for her "unique artistry and versatility as a singer,: and for "portraying with keen intelligence and uncommon sensitivity an amazing range of cinematic roles."

The UP Gawad Plaridel was established by the College of Mass Communications (CMC) “to recognize Filipino media practitioners who have excelled in any of the media (print, radio, film, and television) and who have performed with the highest level of professional integrity in the interest of public service.”  It is named after the propagandist Marcelo H. del Pilar (Plaridel), known to history students for the reformist La Solidaridad of the expatriate Filipinos in Spain in the late 1890s.

Freshies may not fail to note the CMC poster announcement that its 50th anniversary will be next year and the Plaridel image is their embodying logo for the theme “Midyang Malaya at Mapagpalaya”.

By the way, Chancellor Michael Tan wrote that "it's still go for the sunflowers for next year's graduation, for the sake of tradition, and science." The protest against the calendar shift used the sunflowers as an argument. But a shorter variety of sunflowers that were planted in June are now blooming. The tradition lives on, and the freshies today will have sunflowers on their graduation four or five years from now. Padayon, mga iskolar ng bayan

Noble warrior of UP Vargas Museum.

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