IN PHOTOS: When students can't just study at home

Freedom, who dreams of being a doctor, sells goods on the side of the road while attending online classes

On the side of the road, Atty. Dennis Gorecho spots a young man selling face masks and shields, among other goods. The seller seems distracted, squinting at a small phone. But he isn't playing mobile games or chatting with friends to pass the time in between dealing with customers. The young man puts his phone down and scribbles something onto his notepad.

Struck by the scene, Atty. Gorecho shares on his Facebook page what he discovered: while trying to support himself by selling things on the side of the road, Freedom Mendiola dela Cruz, a second-year physics major at the Polytechnic University of the Philippines (PUP), attends his online classes.

Look on the Internet and you will find a string of articles for students about how they can transform a space in their home into a workable environment for their online or modular learning amid the pandemic. As helpful as those articles are, they only help a certain type of student.

What about the students whose homes don't have enough space for that sort of privacy? Or the students, like Freedom, who have to go out, despite the potential health risks, to earn a living?

Freedom Mendiola dela Cruz attended online classes while selling goods on the side of the road / Photo courtesy of Dennis Gorecho

After the photo got traction on Facebook, Atty. Gorecho returned to find Freedom selling at the same spot along Evacom Road in Parañaque.

"He was baptized as Freedom," the Filipino netizen writes, sharing what he has learned about the student, "as his father was a former activist who also sells assorted items with his mobile store."

With the name Freedom it would be easy to stretch the image into an ironic, visual metaphor about the state of students during this pandemic. But that arguably belittles the real struggle of an actual student who has little choice but to persevere as he dreams of a better life.

"Physics is a pre-med course for him as he hopes that he will be able to proceed to medical school," Atty. Gorecho continues. "He starts selling at 8 a.m. until 6:30 p.m. and earns a daily average gross of ₱500. He buys the face shields from Baclaran at 3 pieces per ₱10, and sells them at ₱10 each."

Lucy Bantay (left) arranges her merchandise after she helps her daughter Cyline with the lessons on a printed module, Cyline (right) answers the exercises / Photo by Noel Palabate

Last week, Manila Bulletin Lifestyle photographer and writer Noel Palabate shared an honest portrayal of the harsh realities students and parents are going through during the pandemic. In crowded Divosoria he captured a woman's struggle to earn for her family while also attending to her daughter's educational needs.

Third-grade student Cyline sits by her mother's side, answering her school exercises on the printed modules. Lucy Bantay does her best to help her daughter but the English modules have her stumped.

Binabasa ko lang ng paulit-ulit yung lessons kasi yun din ang sabi sa amin ng mga teachers nilabasahin lang paulit-ulit, at maiintindihan din naman (I just read the printed lessons again and again because that is what the teachers told us: read it again and again, and then you’ll understand it eventually),” the mother says.

But therein lies the issue. Repetition without instruction. Again and again with the hope, but not necessarily the promise, that everything will eventually make sense. An education system that, due to circumstances of the pandemic, has shifted a greater burden onto the parents and the students. And the parents and students who juggle it all with trying to make ends meet.