• A kindly climate for failed students

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    TERESITA TANHUECO-TUMAPON

    HOW can students who may not meet the minimum average of their school with strict selective admission, retention, progression and graduation policies be “saved”? Saved from feeling discriminated against, dropping out of school, belittled, hurt, bitter, depressed?

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    Support for students on probation. Being new in an HEI, I was cautioned by several old-timer academics not to have high expectations for transferees that come to enrol in that HEI. They informed me that yearly, along with the new freshmen, a goodly size of students dropped from the rolls of their previous schools seek enrolment in this HEI and are accepted. My “new” friends, seemed to look down on these transferees for not making the grade in their former schools. In a somewhat disparaging tone, they clarify to me: “They are dropouts from their school which has a strict retention policy.” After passing admission, something must have gone wrong. What must have been the problem? Perhaps, the discipline of literature, one of my several majors, makes me liken these transferees, like all other students, to plants—like that of Jean Jacques Rousseau’s Emile, stressing “wholeness and harmony, and a concern for the person of the learner.”

    “My stand,” I informed my new friends, “is, like plants, these transferees may not have had the kind of climate they needed in their previous environment. Some types, like the cacti, would need more sunlight than rain.” To my new friends, I said: “Let us then provide them the environment they need.” Jokingly, I remarked, “Some of them may thrive better indoors and need talking to.” What I really meant was place these students on counselling and tutorials.

    Is a college/HEI accepting probees, or failed students, an intellectual dumpsite? This brings me to share with readers a “solution” or “remedy” which proved successful to “save” students from dropping out and quitting school altogether who were unable to meet the retention policy of their previous school/s. A science department chair in the College of Arts and Sciences (CAS) where I was then dean, advised me angrily not to make the CAS an intellectual dumpsite. This remark stemmed from the fact that I allowed the enrolment of students who failed to maintain the required semester’s average in their respective colleges—from engineering, agriculture, business, etc. Their failed subjects were usually profession-based courses. I enrolled them, but on probation, of unearned general education courses, limiting their study load to nine units (half of a regular semester’s load). After receiving that angry remark, I set up a standards committee composed of highly respected members of the social sciences, sciences, mathematics and language departments. Together with their chairs, we drew up guidelines for probation. I thought that was a more credible mechanism rather than leaving the decision on probation cases to one person—to me as CAS Dean.

    Student tutors and mentoring mechanisms; appreciation returns. CAS support for probes included student tutors—senior level CAS students who volunteered tutoring services. At the same time, these volunteers are honed in their respective majors. They taught probes the effective use of the library (this was much before the digital world), supervised reading comprehension using the popular SRA kit and tutored probes in effective study habits. Returns were satisfactory. Probees usually finished the semester with an average much higher than the required minimum for regular status. Returning the following semester to their respective colleges to continue their studies, having become better learners, having undergone tutoring and training in good study habits, in due time, they did earn their degrees. It wasn’t unusual for them to drop by the CAS office to bond with the staff who in the past served them solicitously—following their marks for them with their “terror” teachers. Several would bring the staff some yummy drawn from their first paycheck.

    Prejudice could down a student. In reflecting on this experience, I share with readers, some complexities in deciding on the proper advice to students failing in their initial years of studies, that gives them inner strength to face life’s challenges, embedding in them a new paradigm of hope—making the most of a new environment. Such as one student who kept failing one or two subjects every semester. Why he was doing poorly, I learned, was that he was pre-judged, having graduated from a high school that was not highly thought of. Stray phrases though unintended made him feel discriminated against. Definitely there was prejudice in how a couple of his teachers and his more highly placed schoolmates dealt with him. Tutoring was no solution in his case. He wasn’t really happy to be in his school. Given the psychologically unsound environment, better to release him to another school. Indeed, he preferred to be in another school. I convinced his parents to transfer him to another HEI. My staff helped facilitate his transfer documents. I talked to his new dean about him. He would later visit our office, and talk about his new school. He obviously was happy in his new environment and was doing very well indeed. Thirty-six years later, I still remember his name. He is at present a legal figure – a sturdy tree!

    Similarly then, these “flunkers,” transferees in my new HEI, need a new environment. No need to look down on them. What they need is proper sun and rain—love and regard for them—as learners, as persons!

    Email: ttumapon@liceo.edu.ph

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