AFTER the Commission on Higher Education (Ched) did a lousy job in handling the K to 12 education reform transition, it has committed yet again another horrific job by providing a knee-jerk reaction to an appalling tragedy.
We are talking about the Feb. 20 road mishap of a bus carrying college students on an educational tour in Tanay, Rizal that killed more than a dozen and left 40 others injured. The gruesome incident prompted Ched to impose a moratorium on off-campus activities in all higher education institutions (HEIs).
While it was just appropriate for the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board to impose an indefinite suspension on all four franchises of the Panda Coach Tours and Transport Inc., the order of Ched to ban out-of-school trips is questionable.
Here comes the inability of the commission to stick to its job and not overreach its mandate.
Ched, established in 1992 to be “part of a broad agenda of reforms on the country’s education system,” should not have meddled in the issue in such a ham-fisted way. To be sure it does not have the mandate to intervene directly. Its mandate is to promote relevant and quality higher education, and it is dubious how its unilateral order to freeze all educational tours nationwide could be an exercise of its mandate.
Joseph Noel Estrada, UST alumnus who specializes in education law, said Republic Act No. 7722 or the Higher Education Act of 1994 does not empower the Ched to issue suspension orders in the nature of the recent directive as claimed in the directive itself by the commission. He added that it would be up to the administration of the HEIs how they would view the directive.
“[HEIs should also exercise] discretion and academic freedom. I think it’s the decision of the institution whether or not the planned educational tour or field trip should push through,” Estrada told the Varsitarian.
Although the moratorium enjoins all private and public institutions to halt out-of-campus activities, UST as an autonomous institution should take better advantage of its authority, weighing out options before following the orders of Ched in an instant.
Maybe, it won’t hurt a little or cost too much if Ched would comprehensively review the guidelines regarding educational field trips. Through its suspension order, Ched is depriving the students of their right to cultivate their knowledge.
Quality education also entails out-of-school activities for the sake of practical learning.
The Senate recently began its hearing that seeks stricter regulation of off-campus trips.
Sen. Grace Poe, chair of the Senate committee on public services, led the hearing acknowledging the need for educational trips as one of the means to gain knowledge.
“We should not take the easy route and simply deter schools from allowing its students to engage in practical learning,” Poe said in her opening statement.
“Thus, we need to ask the right questions and create a legislative measure that will prevent road accidents, whether during the course of a field trip or not, from happening again.”
One may argue that the impulsive directive from Ched would prevent similar mishaps in the future, but we beg to disagree.
This incident should pave the way for stricter implementation of road safety rules and for HEIs to review their off-campus activity guidelines; such, we may add, is the responsibility of HEIs and all sectors who care for quality education and not just of the Ched.