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03.06.2020 Opinion

“We Are Not In Normal Times": Final Year University Students Are Also Not In Normal Times Too!

By Richard Amoh
“We Are Not In Normal Times
LISTEN JUN 3, 2020

Under an ‘unfree’ umbrella of living, today, I want to share my thoughts and seek the application of the ‘mantra’ “we are not in normal times” towards final year university students in Ghana too.

I wouldn’t hesitate to share my condolences with the family of George Floyd, the black man who was murdered unarmed by white police officers at Minneapolis in the US. This is ugly and must be frowned at with no scintilla of justification of the act of the policemen. I would also want to urge all to avoid various discriminatory acts of racism, tribalism, and toxic ethnocentrism too. These are all not!

Fast forward, I wouldn’t want to add too much flesh to the gum of my inputs in this piece in order not to bore my readers today. Indeed, we are not in normal times.

Covid-19 has really been a torn in the already tearing flesh of people all over the world, not leaving Ghana out. The pandemic nature of the virus affected countries and their people in various spheres; socially, economically, academically, psychologically, religiously etc. The most underestimated element we have not been fair to in our approach to controlling and containing Covid-19 is our psychological or mental health. But, it doesn’t have a loud voice, so so be it.

On academics or education, on 15th March, 2020, the President of the Republic of Ghana, Nana Addo Dankwah Akufo-Addo, imposed restrictions on the country and closed all schools in the country including tertiary schools. This was welcomed by all and deemed necessary as a way to contain, trace, test and treat the virus as a way of controlling it. In the course, various universities developed mechanisms for teaching and assessment because ‘we are not in normal times’. Online assessments with packed assignments and tests became the new norm in this ‘abnormal times’. Students living in remote areas like, Manso Kumpɛse, who do not have favorable electricity, internet connection, smartphones and even airtime were ‘forced’ to climb the Odum plant in their forest just to submit assignments. These were all done in peace amidst various complains. Most students especially in final year have already ’completed’ school online, some are left with submitting final chapters of their project works, some are left with two or three assignments to complete the semester, some are also in the pipeline and others haven’t made enough progress because ‘we are not in normal times’ and their schools cannot develop good mechanism to necessitate online assessment.

We woke up as expected on 31st May, 2020 to be addressed by the President on way forward towards easing of restrictions; we cannot live under the restrictions forever. The ‘good news’ for final year students in tertiary schools was that, we shall resume on 15th June, 2020. This also faced various reactions of pleasure versus displeasure; whether or not it was necessary or not. Mr. President informed us of details from the Minister of Information and Education on the declaration. Hon. Dr. Matthew Opoku Prempeh has ‘shocked’ Ghanaian students with the details.

“Six weeks of academic work then four weeks of examinations. Split all classes. Foreign students who are outside the country and are identified will be allowed to return granted their country will allow them exit...” These and more, but students from various tertiaries are waiting for communication from the managements of their respective schools.

Following all that has happened, as concerned as I am and a victim of all consequences of the decision, I have a few concerns to raise. PLEASE, PAY ATTENTION TO MY NUMBER NINE (#9). If the directive by the government is so endorsed by the managements of the various tertiary institutions (in as much as some of ‘us’ may not agree with it, especially when some students will be sleeping in four-in-a-room in their hostels off-campus), then these are my thoughts, after gathering a number of concerns from student leaders, final year students and other concerned people as the Public Relations Officer of the KNUST SRC;

  1. I believe that, looking at the nature of the virus and its mode of spread and the fact that lecturers and students are at risk of risking their lives, there should not be any classroom sit-in learning since various universities like KNUST (where I’m from) have started assessing students online (meaning, learning new topics has ended and students are being assessed on topics taught already). Avoiding classroom learning and examination writing will help avoid unnecessary contacts and possible spread of the virus if one has it.
  2. If final year students are to resume, students should use that period to meet in a number of groups to discuss assignments since some of their assignments are given in groups of 5-7. Here, a better social distancing and discipline within a short time can be ensured.
  3. If final year students are to resume, they would have to use the opportunity to meet their project supervisors individually to discuss their project works’ progress and receive reviews tète-à-tète. They can also use this period to facilitate project defense, since that involves the student defending the project and a few lecturers only.
  4. Schools which have started writing the online examinations (assignments and tests) should be allowed to continue with it. Some benefits, if they’re to resume, are that it will help avoid accessibility challenges since all final year students will be in school where there’s good network and access to WiFi on campus. But, the already written assignments shouldn’t be ‘put aside’; the struggles in writing these tests shouldn’t be disregarded.
  5. I ask that, if students are to return (especially to sit together to write exams), are we all going to be tested including the lecturers, looking at the nature or the role of both parties in sit-in exams writing to quarantine those infected, if any? If not, then it’s riskier to think of sit-in exams.
  6. On the issue of final year international students outside the country, if their countries do not allow exit, what are we putting in place for them? If they will be allowed to write online when not allowed exit in their countries, then same should be given the rest of the final year students to write all tests, assignments and examinations online.
  7. Final years who have challenges with submitting answers to assignments can submit all answers individually to lecturers, if they so resume.
  8. If final years resume, they can finalize the popular ‘graduation’ (by finishing the semester’s works and project works) and leave their various schools in peace. As to how the graduation is going to be organized, if congregating isn’t so urgent, then let’s not converge at all, maybe not now.
  9. There’s one very important suggestion I want to make. Covid has affected us all greatly. Students are ‘forced’ under this trying period to face this fear and write tests. Some are emotionally traumatized and unstable, but left with no choice than to write these assigned tests. Some may have their relatives who are victims of Covid. Imagine sympathizing with such a situation home and writing tests. Amidst all these, I suggest that, students who may have obliged and written various tests, but are likely to trail after compiling results should be given a compensation of at least a pass. Students are not responsible for the Covid and shouldn’t suffer so much without any leverage because of Covid. In the context of ‘WE ARE NOT IN NORMAL TIMES’, an at least ‘A PASS FOR ALL POSSIBLE TRAILING FINAL YEAR STUDENTS FOR SECOND SEMESTER’ policy should be introduced by the various universities and their managements. In the course of salvaging the Covid situation, the government has introduced packages for frontlines workers, introduced free electricity and water supply package for Ghanaians, introduced an alleviation fund as loans to revive businesses and a lot. What final year students should benefit is ‘A PASS FOR ALL POSSIBLE TRAILING FINAL YEAR STUDENTS FOR SECOND SEMESTER’. Covid shouldn’t prevent final year students from graduating. I’m not instigating laziness in students, but this would be fair to such students. WE ARE NOT IN NORMAL TIMES. LET US COMPLETE IN PEACE.
  10. Those who had trails in the first semester and were waiting to write resits to graduate in November, can we arrange for them to write within this period too? We are not in normal times.

The writer, Richard Amoh, is a final year student of KNUST and the Public Relations Officer of the Students’ Representative Council (KNUST SRC PRO).

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