Institutions of higher learning putting students and staff at risk — Lee Jia Yi

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OCTOBER 10 — I am a student of Tunku Abdul Rahman University College. I am writing to bring attention to how universities, colleges and schools are risking the lives of students and their staff by continuing to hold physical classes instead of online classes.

As of 2 October 2020, my college released a circular stating that online teaching and assessment is mandatory for first year students commencing the October 2020 semester. However, those students of the January 2020 semester (I am one of them) must continue attending classes on campus. This made no sense to me.

Before my semester on campus restarted on 21 September 2020, I had already appealed for online learning but was rejected because there were only two students who wrote in and at least five appeal letters need to be submitted by students/parents in order to be given consideration by the head of division.

On 7 October 2020 the college re-released the circular with minor changes, stating that “all Foundation and Cambridge A Level teaching and learning activity shall remain in effect (status quo) until further notice” and final examinations will be conducted online.

On the 9 October 2020, my college offered an option to study online, it is only temporary and comes with shortcomings because lecturers are expected to hold both online classes and physical classes at the same time.

Before offering this option, our student representative council had set up a poll on the 6 October 2020, for students asking if we preferred to conduct our studies online or on campus. The majority voted for physical classes. In my opinion, this is a naive way to approach the situation. It is like asking a child if they preferred a bowl of sweets or a bowl of vegetables. It is obvious which would be chosen.

Many students like myself, take public transport to campus and at times when classes start early in the morning or end late in the evening, it is impossible to avoid the rush hour crowd where social distancing is completely ignored.

We continue to risk our lives on a daily basis because we need an 80 per cent attendance rate in order to sit for our final examinations.

Students and parents alike do not understand the severity of Covid-19 and how rapidly it can spread. Classes and lecture theatres are the perfect breeding ground for the virus, especially if they are air-conditioned. I do not doubt that institutions sanitise the surfaces of furniture but I doubt that they would disinfect the filters of their air conditioners daily.

This is one problem but the bigger problem institutions face is enforcing SOP.

Institutions can try to enforce SOP but often it is ignored. Humans by right are social creatures and to expect children or teenagers to be able to follow SOP while adults are not even able to, is a little too much. Even I find it difficult to follow SOP because when I am with my friends, I forget that we are currently facing a pandemic. We hug, we share food even while being socially distanced, in fact, we walk together in groups. It is impossible not to socialise when you are on campus.

There have been many studies pertaining to the spread of Covid-19 in enclosed places and where people congregate. An institution of learning is made for gathering people and thus makes a great spot for Covid-19 to spread.

I live with my mother who is over 60 years old and my niece comes over to our house weekly because both my sister and her husband are working. They are both at high risk and I’m sure many students live with their families too. This would mean if any student were to be infected, it would spread through their families.

Students are the perfect asymptomatic carrier and campuses are perfect breeding grounds for the virus.

As asymptomatic carriers, we might not have symptoms of the virus but it does not mean we are not infected. I know for a fact that many students do not go straight home after classes. They go out to malls to hang out with friends and any social media site can tell you the same with pictures of groups of kids taking selfies and drinking boba tea. 

Students do not only go from home to school, we make stops to malls, cafes and even roadside stalls. We switch trains and busses on the way to our campus and if we are lucky and are wealthy enough, we can take a Grab car to campus.

Universities, colleges and schools have the ability to care for their students by reverting to online learning instead of physical, face-to-face classes. Instead of waiting for the Ministry of Higher Education to give instructions for all institutions of education to move their syllabus online, institutions of education should think ahead and petition to the ministry instead.

Why risk the future of children when you can avoid it. Prevention is better than cure.

* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail.

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