About 15 months into the Corona Virus period and everything is different. To say a lot has changed is an understatement. Our way of life as we knew it has been transformed. Jobs lost, marriages broken, mental health issues are on the rise, the list goes on and on. Looking at the effects of Covid-19 on different categories of people in the country, I believe students are among those who carry the heaviest load.
It is common to hear phrases like ‘Haingekuwa Corona ningekuwa na-graduate this year’, along the streets of JKUAT. An entire year, 2020, was a waste for most students. We can only imagine how complicated it was for those students who were on long holiday between January and April 2020, a holiday that was forcefully extended to a whole year by Covid-19. We all know, or at least understand, how hard it is to stay a year or just a semester longer in school. This is a heartbreak from which most students haven’t healed.
In as much as the University tried to reduce time loss by introducing online learning, it wasn’t and has never been a walk in the park for most students. Take for instance, a second-year Onyango, who comes from the bosom of the remote Gwasi village where the network is constantly a problem. He and so many other students did not find it easy attending the online lectures while at home. This is the reason some members of a class are left behind while others carry on to the next level. The physical separation itself has not been very easy for students.
There are also courses like Health Sciences which cannot be effectively done online. For these students, 2020 never happened. I have listened to a few of my friends complain that their attachment has been carried forward because they had to join their colleagues for year 4 semester 1. Such inconveniences!
The new norm: Students adhering to the Ministry of Health guidelines to prevent the spread of COVID-19
It was frustrating for my course mates whose attachments had to be terminated when Covid-19 struck in March 2020 and media houses had to keep social distance. Attachment reports had to be presented, yet no more attachment opportunities coming by. What are the odds of graduating without sufficient industrial experience?
While some should be 4 weeks into industrial attachment, some students are still helplessly looking for opportunities. These opportunities are hard to come by. Institutions prefer keeping their employees to recruiting interns. They therefore never hesitate to dismiss or just lock the attachment opportunities.
Another observable change that was possibly brought about by idleness, courtesy of the pandemic, is the increase in the number of expectant students, not just in universities and tertiary institutions, but also in primary and secondary schools across the country. It’s already tough enough navigating student life, the idea of doing that while doubling up as a parent is just nerve-racking.
Right now, blended: online and physical learning is the new norm, especially for humanity courses like Procurement, Strategic Management, Commerce, etc. While blending is economical, it is not effective for everyone.
Students are naturally lazy. Some only log in to those online lectures to fill the class attendance list, after which they minimize the web page and get on with their social media businesses on Instagram, Facebook, and the rest. Other times they log in, then get to bed! After all, the notes will be sent later before the examinations.
That aside, internet data bundles are very expensive for the majority of students. Only a few can afford bundles enough to take them through a 3-hour lecture. The rest are seen wandering about behind Hall Three or Technology House as early as 6 am, looking for Wi-Fi.
Moreover, the loneliness experienced by students is great when they no longer get to meet their colleagues and friends in class. There has always been some joy and unity created when cracking jokes a few minutes before the lecturer gets in. These social interactions go a long way in bonding the students and even encouraging them to attend lectures. However, this is gradually fading because social distance has to be kept.
For some unlucky students, Covid-19 robbed them of their loved ones. All of us understand how painful losses are. The wounds are even deeper when the fallen is the sole breadwinner of the family. Depression is the order of the day, and temptations to discontinue studies are inevitable.
Students have to learn to embrace change brought by Covid-19 pandemic because it is gradually becoming the new way of life. The pandemic has broken things, some permanently, but it is nature that can only be accepted. I pray we all adapt and bring out our resilience and innovative spirit that has always been JKUAT comrades’ second nature.