Being an integral part of society, universities and students across the globe have always contributed through their collective efforts during any emergency. Efforts to work collectively in knowledge-sharing and research collaboration are vital in combatting the global challenge brought by COVID-19. The global spread of Coronavirus (COVID-19) is having a massive impact on universities around the world and also in Pakistan. As the situation continues to change rapidly, top priority of universities will be health, safety and well-being of students.
COVID-91 has become a catalyst for educational institutions worldwide to search for innovative solutions in a relatively short period of time. Universities are planning for several contingency scenarios and taking decisive informed action to limit the spread of COVID-19 while ensuring the continuity of teaching and research. Universities have transmitted courses to alternative means of delivery, making innovative use of technology and other ingenious strategies to carry out teaching and learning activities. They have enabled their faculty and other staff members to continue their vital work from home. Nowadays, we all are familiar with the terms “Social Distancing” and “Self-Isolation”, and these all are part of our individual and collective efforts to slow and limit the spread of COVID-19.
According to the latest figures released by UNESCO, almost 1.3 billion students worldwide are unable to go to school or university due to measures adopted to stop and limit the spread of COVOD-19. The pandemic is expected to have enormous consequences and will also have a devastating impact on global education. There is a famous proverb, “In every crisis, there is an opportunity”. This is the right time when whole world is in the race to invent the vaccine of COVID-19, we need to think that being a nation where we are standing.
The role of university students is vital in this crisis. Although government has imposed a partial lockdown countrywide but students can work innovatively even from home. Any crisis presents the opportunity to help students learn, cultivate the compassion and increase resilience while building a safer and more caring community. Students and young people should understand basic, age-appropriate information about coronavirus disease COVID-19, including its symptoms, complications, how it is transmitted and how to prevent its transmission, stay informed about latest information regarding COVID-19 through reputable and authentic sources such as UNICEF, WHO and national health ministry advisors. They should be aware of fake information or myths that may circulated by word-of-mouth or via social media.
As universities are closed till 31st May, 2020 in Pakistan with a hope that spread of COVID-19 can be controlled till that time, students, researchers, teachers, faculty members and administrators should not take this vacation as free time, rather they should utilise their time effectively and intelligently. Universities should set educational plans for engaging its students effectively during this time period by giving assignments, quizzes and other helpful materials. Teachers should use online strategies for reaching out to students for assigning work or exercises to them for home study. Radio, podcast or TV broadcast of academic content can also be used for this purpose.
They must emphasize to students to read literature books to continue their focus on educational activities and character building as well. Those who have background of management sciences can be asked to design or work on some new innovative projects. The students with background of social sciences can be asked to focus on the history of pandemics and their secondary effects, and can be urged to investigate how public policies can promote tolerance and social cohesion. Similarly, those with background of biological sciences can be asked to cover the study of viruses, area of detection and treatment of respiratory disorders and medicinal compounds to treat COVID-19. Students with background of media studies can be urged to make their own but credible and verified from sources public service messages via social media, radio or local TV broadcastings. Media literacy lessons can empower students to be critical thinkers and make them effective communicators and active citizens.
The purpose is we need to engage our students in this time and make sure that they are utilizing their time in a positive sense. As COVID-19 has forced Universities around the world to adopt online learning. In fact this is a golden time when universities have to update their teaching models by advancing alternative means of studies which is through virtual classrooms by using information technology. There are many courses that are now available free, as almost 190 Universities of the world have offered more than 600 free online courses for innovative learning of students.
Students should utilize their time by enrolling in such informative courses by visiting renowned websites offering courses like Coursera, Udemy and others. They can also learn life skills using several courses, including basic household chores like cooking and others during this free time. They should also assist in preparing support material against COVID-19 i.e sanitizers, masks and cheap testing kits. Inter University Consortium for Promotion of Social Sciences Pakistan, a largest network of Pakistani universities has already announced online course on Public Health and Civic Education which can be availed by the students while staying at home.
The first and foremost priority of students should be to protect themselves and others. Right now students should play their role of leaders by giving awareness on community level and insisting to adopt precautionary measures. It is necessary to ask questions, educate themselves and get information from reliable sources. Students can present themselves as volunteers to assist local authorities with proper training and assessment.
Along with students, there are responsibilities of parents and guardians as well in this extraordinary situation. Parents should monitor their children’s health. They should teach about good hygiene practices like asking them to wash hands, drink plenty of water cough and sneeze in a tissue or their elbow, avoid touching their mouth, face, eyes, and nose. They must encourage children to ask questions and express their feelings . They should also remain in touch with schools/universities for follow up of latest information.
The COVID-19 is taking so much from us but it is also giving us something special i.e. an opportunity to come together as one humanity, to work together, to take care of one another, to collaborate, to learn together and to grow together.In other words, keep your social distancing but bring your hearts together.
Muhammad Murtaza Noor is associated as National Coordinator with Inter University Consortium for Promotion of Social Sciences Pakistan, largest network of Pakistani universities. He is also Country Coordinator Global Academics Leadership Academy Pakistan Chapter