He termed the efforts at easing the social-gatherings-ban as strategic, controlled, progressive and safe.  On Sunday the 31st of May, the president announced the much anticipated gradual easing of the ban on social gatherings. Agree with me or not, the most interest driven directive is the one for final years of all educational institutions to reopen.

But in reopening, has the drums of the largest, and I dare say most important interest group been played in the courtyards that matter? Is reopening even justified? What should be the jaw-jaw between school authorities and the student front in deciding the best course of action in times like this? Here, I’m talking purely from the view point of universities or tertiary institutions. 

When schools were closed and the ban was instituted, universities had been communicating with students – issuing directives as to how school would continue to run even during the ban. If my memory serves me right, my school the KNUST had issued about three communiques informing students of how the university is making efforts for academic work and the school calendar not to be adversely affected by the closure. Except for not increasing the internet bundle allocation for students, the KNUST had moved timeously and demonstrated adaptability in engaging students and keeping academic work running. To that end, I commend them.

Then came directives on eLearning, virtual classes, assignments and the likes. I remember spotting pronouncements of the like from UG and UPSA as well. Of particular importance is the correspondence of 11th May, 2020 which outlined a plethora of resolutions that were made by the KNUST academic board towards final assessment of students including project work. With the scare of the virus still present and also having this profound pronouncements and systems in place, I am unable to see anything that should persuade universities to throw their previous directives to the dogs by asking final years to come to school.

Furthermore, reopening of school in this times may not be cost effective for schools. Think of the fact that veronica buckets with soap and tissue would have to be situated in front of all major entrances – that would include classrooms, of course. The university would at least have to provide some sanitizer or PPEs for staff.

All of which had not been factored into school fees or the budget for the academic year. Why then should any thoughtful institution abandon a cost effective system like the virtual classes and assignments which is already pass piloting stage for a face-to-face program that can be life threatening in this times. As a matter of prudence and caution, universities must reconsider and turn a blind eye to the president’s wholesale directives to reopen.

In line with this, universities must be bold to defend forever the cause of academic freedom. They must resist and reject the Public Universities’ Bill – imagine if the bill had already been passed, universities wouldn’t have any say in whether to reopen. It would have meant an outright reopening.

Antithetically, tertiary institutions must engage students in looking at how to fine-tune the eLearning program and resolve students’ concerns about the program and the inefficiencies in the system like how to get students with network problems onboard. For instance, students without the needed tools such as laptops can be provided with these and the cost factored into the fees for parents to pay in parts.

This is not strange as there are already students who pay fees in tranches and schools who have added other costs such as shuttle services and internet bundle cost to fees. All these, when done properly would position universities and their quasi bodies to be able to introduce courses that can be run on these systems whiles also keeping their physical contact programs when the pandemic is over.

Now, if universities like the KNUST should be saddled with a decision, it should be about how to get international students who are stack on campus in this difficult times back to their various countries. University authorities particularly vice chancellors must use their positions to advocate for government to have a special dispensation for foreign students to be sent back home safely. The plight of international students on campus is unfortunately undesirable.

With the coronavirus causing job losses and financial meltdowns all over the world, parents of international students have to be taking care of their wards in Ghanaian schools where essential commodities might even be scarce due to school closure. In KNUST’s case, this led authorities to donate 800 bags of water and some foodstuff to the international students.

The Law Students’ Union also donated to their international student members on campus. Obviously, international students have suffered enough and must be relieved of their quagmire. 

Ultimately, the twin-goals of universities must be the welfare of students and staff as well as protecting the image of the institution. Recalling final years to campus now and recording a lot of corona virus infections later would be disastrous for any tertiary institution.

Schools must take the safe and sound option of continuing to engage students at home whiles making sure that the standards of teaching and learning are maintained. Already, students are complaining about the volume of assignments, which shows they are being occupied well, so why rush to reopen?

***

Anthony Kangah

Anthony Kangah is a final year student of KNUST and Onetime PRO of the Land Management and Development Students’ Association. He is the current Speaker of Faculty of Built Environment Students’ Society Parliament.