Dr. Safina Ahmed
Assistant Professor Pathology
Shifa College of Medicine
Word count: 620
Read time: 4 minutes
Unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted timetables and assessment schedules of universities and colleges worldwide. It has provoked uncertainty and anxiety among students as well as financial distress for the stakeholders. Remote teaching has tried to counterbalance the loss to some extent, but it cannot completely replace on-campus face to face activities involving student-teacher interaction. More so, laboratory classes and practical sessions are difficult to conduct virtually. The pandemic has also resulted in a situation in which medical students have lost the opportunity of interacting with the patients which is a prerequisite to acquire important clinical skills and become a good doctor. It may have long-lasting impact on students’ career progression and practical lives.
The question is, ‘How and when to reopen?’All universities are thinking through multiple issues. Should institutes be opened in the next few weeks or should they be kept closed for the rest of the academic year? Should faculty, students and staff be tested for Coronavirus antibodies? Can a class of a hundred students be divided into small groups or should lectures be delivered online? What sort of restrictions should be implemented on students to maintain social distance? What changes need to be made in timetables and curriculum delivery? Can premature reopening of institutes lead to a second surge in this epidemic?
Despite all these uncertainties, there is a strong wish to resume educational activities as everyone feels that social isolation has caused great mental stress among students. They have suffered from major interruptions in their studies and assessments. The students all over the world are struggling with Zoom, Google classroom and other digital learning resources to take sessions online rather than concentrating on their course objectives. Broadband connectivity issues and power failures further add to their problems. Lack of structure and disruption of daily routine has caused a negative impact on their productivity. Social isolation and lack of interaction with their colleagues has resulted in anxiety, stress, and fears.
Parents and teachers have their concerns. Parents might not be very eager to send their children back to colleges as infection rates are still fluctuating. They might have apprehensions about how social distancing will be managed on campuses. Similarly, teachers are also concerned about the safety of their students. Teachers, who are working mothers, are worried about the safe childcare for their children, without which they cannot return to work.
There is no one right answer to all these questions. In my opinion a hybrid model must be devised weighing the risk to health and impact on students’ learning and thriving. Reopening of educational institutes does not have to be based on extreme approaches. There can be selective resumption of teaching activities keeping student’s groups small and scattered. There may still be a need to continue to offer some level of remote learning. Physical infrastructure, teaching schedules, hostel accommodation and transportation facilities need to be evaluated. There should be defined entry and exit points for different students. Common areas must be sectioned off and floor markings need to be used to maintain a social distance. Portable hand sanitizers should be used to promote hand hygiene. Part-time schedules can be implemented to reduce the number of people on campus. Temperature checks at the entrance may be a sensible approach. Parent-teacher committees should be formed to discuss any concerns. All possible precautionary measures should be taken to prevent the potential spread of the virus.
There are no absolute universal safety measures and we must learn to live with this virus. Public health measures, which are necessary to stop virus progression, should be followed honestly by all individuals. Hence, there is a need to bring a change in our lifestyles.