The beginning of lockdown seems a whole lifetime ago, doesn’t it? Being enthused about Dalgona coffee and perfecting your sourdough starter feels like an entirely different era. The days now seem to have merged into a tangle of time and space.
Among everyone, college students are perhaps the most dissatisfied. They had to leave their beloved campuses in droves, adjust to life back home, and are witnessing the worst of the pandemic through their screens. The tranquillity we enjoyed, of endless days of entertainment consumption and catching up on sleep, is now being shattered with the uncertainty of reopening of many educational institutions.
Because despite the momentous shift from blackboards to online teaching, hailed as the most progressive move this turn of the century in the field of education, most educational institutions seem to be in a hurry to revert back; opening campuses, calling students back into lecture halls for learning in person.
Are there any merits to this idea?
The most obvious would be the benefit that comes from practical education, the opportunity to learn by doing. Another important facet of college has always been the social experiences, the network building that helps with professional growth. The benefits of teamwork under the mentorship of professors have no replacement.
But do these benefits really outweigh the safety concerns that would almost certainly arise as a consequence of groups of young adults mingling and living their college lives? With a high number of shared spaces, like the food halls and libraries as well as recreational areas, social distancing inside or outside the hostels cannot be guaranteed. This has caused much skepticism and fear among students and parents, their anxiety giving rise to an understandable hesitance to come back.
Data from universities in the United States of America shows that the rate of students positive for Covid-19 had jumped from 2.8% to 13.6% over the week students were on campus. This data, scarily enough, comes not only from places like the University of Alabama, where college students invited COVID positive patients to the parties to intentionally get the infection and win a pot of cash.
For a country like ours, already buckling under the immense pressure of the health crisis, reopening education institutions like schools and colleges seems like adding a cherry on top of an already melting sundae.
During a normal year, it isn’t an unconventional choice to keep the academic year on track. Should the pandemic continue for more years, college cannot be paused indefinitely. However, in the face of this new uncertainty, especially considering the minimal benefits of traditional teaching, when online classes continue to keep the course on track, and online tests do serve as an adequate marker of progress. This poses the argument, is it not better to wait to reopen until there is a vaccine?
The mental health of students has always been highly factored in the decisions of all administrations. The added stress and anxiety of having to return to highly susceptible environments to maintain academic progress makes this a decision that shouldn’t be taken lightly.
Why then should our prestigious institutions want to attempt to chart these tempestuous, unknown waters? Should the need to mitigate economic loss overpower the need to protect the health of students, faculty, and the support staff? Will they do so regardless?
These are complex questions that need careful consideration, and there seem to be no easy answers to them. As for us, all we can do is dust off our disregarded books and prepare ourselves to return to the drudgery of academic rigor. And wait.
Written by Kriti Gopal for MTTN
Edited by Saher Kalra for MTTN
Featured image by @inferno_0909 (Instagram)
Artwork from economist.com