Dr Yathrib Ajaj
Senior chemistry lecturer, Gutech (OMAN)
Students as well as teachers have new challenges to confront with the COVID-19 breaking down physical classrooms without even touching them or actually “breaking” them. With the worlds’ teachers and students engaged in online teaching and learning, both are learning to cope. And cope they must, because it is the new norm in the world of education and one cannot entirely deny that this may even remain for some time to come.
Virtual learning cannot replace classroom
Online teaching is something we cannot escape from; it is the new reality and like everything, it has its own pros and cons. Virtual learning is fine but it will never replace the classroom! Surveys conducted reveal that both teacher and student miss their classroom interactions, the teaching and the learning. Some even had noted that online studies were not actually conducive for learning.
A need may also arise to redefine the role of teachers in the classroom of tomorrow. Their role may even move towards facilitating rather than just lecturing.
Miss looking into my students’ eyes
Professionally, as a teacher, I miss looking into my student’s eyes to grasp whether they understood the concept, or whether I had to repeat the point again. I miss their interactions; discussing together their educational and social problems and more than anything I miss their smiles!
Gripped by ‘Corona phobia’
Socially, the way some people carry themselves and they way they look at you on the streets and places like the supermarkets are actually disturbing. My need to get a whiff of the currently distant ‘social interaction’ pushes me to step outside, but of course, only for purchases that I require.
Yet, instead of feeling rejuvenated after a stroll out to a supermarket; instead of feeling better, I feel more down and more isolated than ever. Whenever I step out and get into a place where there are other people, I somehow sense the feeling that some are viewing me as some alien creature; or as some monster, so scramble, run, hide your kids from this freak, RUN! Run away to safety!
God, I wonder why there is so much fear? We are in Oman! It is one of the safest countries in the world. Even this Corona virus will not disturb the serenity we enjoy. Yes, many will be affected and many are but we will get out of this! Let us not panic in this manner! I say that but then when I reach home after stepping out, I am also nervous, I also feel unclean as though I have been contaminated, if not by the virus itself, but at least gripped by “Corona phobia” (fear of infection with COVID-19). And, sadly, most of us are gripped by this imaginary ‘fever’!
Additions to the usual agenda
Today, many of us are still in the confines of the four walls of our home. But, as we dislike many parts of staying at home, I cannot but deny the fact it has its plus points. Staying at home has given me a chance to introspect; to rethink over many aspects of my life; given me more time look to the essentials, rearrange my priorities and also a great opportunity to work without stress.
Work wise, I am now getting a chance to watch my lectures and modify them, to rewrite emails twice before I send them, to take a pause by practicing yoga for couple of minutes. All of these were never ever in my agenda even if I so wanted to add them.
Do the lab classes in a week
Coming back to the online part of learning, which is currently adopted everywhere, I have to admit that this is an enormous educational experiment, playing out globally. Not all classes are conducive to being online though, for example chemistry labs. I am fortunate enough that I don’t have to take any lab classes after suspension.
I do have only one solution to handle this issue: students should do the labs in intensive sessions. They can go live on campus before the new winter semester starts for a week and do the entire term’s worth of lab that week.
Students’ difficulties when universities shut down
Now, when the university gets shut down, there are some students who are affected in some other ways too. There are some students that count on their university for medical services/insurance, housing and food. When the university is shut down, these students will be left without such necessities.
Looking at a world post COVID-19, we must consider some points: For instance, the economies of many countries will have to be rebooted; many companies will be closed and there will be so many people without salaries and a means to a living. Among the frontline workers, special care has to be accorded to some of the traumatised healthcare staff. Arrangements must be made to provide them with necessary counseling.
Mountains of debts
Then so many countries, companies and people alike will have to climb over mountains of debts and they would have to use their negotiation skills to buy more time from those they owe money to. And that is going to be a very big and difficult task and they would need to have all their wits around them.
Boom in health insurance
Countries, which are already battling debts, will have to spend more for the treatment of their people. Of course, there will be a boom in health insurance. As the financial difficulties are being tackled, there will be other areas to consider. For instance, one would have to confront digital terrorism, as cases of “hacking and phishing” would peak.
Lend our support
As the world tries to emanate from the chaos that the COVID-19 has created, it would need help and support from all of us. In our own small or big way we should contribute to helping and support our nation and its people.
As a chemist I will try and push myself to strengthen the research in the medical field by searching and working to find a new way to make medicine resilient to such outbreaks in the future.