Our undergraduates and post-graduate students have been on e-learning for more than one academic year since the Covid-19 pandemic started.
A new academic year will commence in October 2021. However, up to now, we have not been officially informed if the new semester will still be conducted online or otherwise.
From the experience of other countries, it has been proven that life can return to near-normal with high vaccination coverage. However, SOPs such as mask wearing, maintaining physical distancing, frequent handwashing, etc. are still required to be practised.
With the high vaccination coverage in our country, there are plans to reopen most, if not all, economy sectors, including schools. However, to date, the Ministry of Higher Education (MOHE) has not informed us of any plans.
Our undergraduates and post-graduate coursework students have spent more than one academic year with e-learning. Some students (those attending one-year courses) might even have graduated without stepping inside campus.
They have missed campus life, interaction with peers and lecturers, and also feedback from both peers or lecturers. Other students have missed opportunities to improve their communication skills, clinical or practical skills (especially those studying disciplines such as engineering and science).
However, this is the best solution during the Covid-19 pandemic for tertiary education to continue, and to ensure there is continuation in the supply of professionals or experts amidst the pandemic.
By now, MOHE should be ready with well-planned protocols for the possibility of reopening campuses for full or partial on-site teaching and learning.
The administrative staff and students should not be informed of the decision at the eleventh hour. The plans should be open and transparent for parents, students and staff to provide feedback in order to make campuses safer and ready for on-site teaching.
The reopening of campuses should not cause a surge of cases among students or staff. There should be protocols that deal with how to receive large number of students, any reduced capacity in lecture halls, adjustments to timetables, and the need to check the ventilation systems of lecture theatres and tutorial rooms. If these venues are found to be poorly ventilated, the measures that must be taken must also be addressed.
Another important issue to be considered is the vaccination status of the students and staff. What is MOHE’s stand on this aspect? Should all students and staff to be vaccinated before on-site teaching are allowed?
What measures will the MOHE and universities take if staff and students refused to be vaccinated? What level of vaccination coverage for campuses should be considered safe to be reopened for on-site teaching ?
We hope the MOHE will provide answers to the above.
Prof Dr Moy Foong Ming is from the Department of Social and Preventive Medicine, Faculty of Medicine, University of Malaya.
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