Chiemeka Adindu, Calabar
Barely one week into full resumption of academic activities at the University of Calabar after a break of almost one year resulting from the nationwide strike embarked upon the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU and the COVID-19 lockdown, students are still struggling to reconnect to the point they left last year.
In an interaction with some students of the University of Calabar when TNN visited the University, it was gathered that the reality of the resumption and academic activities has not dawned on them yet.
The students who gave audience to TNN also narrated the ordeal they had to face before settling down as a result of the renovation of hostels which made management of the institution delay in the allocation of hostels. They also decried the introduction of virtual learning, stating that the network and finance to catch up with the development is not available.
Edu Grace Enebieni, a final year student of plant and ecological sciences said: “After the long COVID-19 break/ASUU strike that lasted for 10 months plus, school finally resumed on the 7th of February and since I resumed everything kinda looked strange. I literally forgot my matriculation number. The first day in class a Lecturer while giving a note asked a question, what is hybridization? We turned to look at ourselves and burst out laughing and I even took out my phone to google its meaning. We had forgotten everything, in fact, our brains were formatted”.
Another Student, Ihedioha Judith Chidinma who is studying accounting had this to say: “I resumed School on Tuesday and since then I’ve been trying to find myself in UNICAL. I felt like crying on coming back to school without having a place to stay and I finally had to stay with a friend’s family at Atimbo. It was actually terrible. Seriously it hasn’t been easy to reconnect and I can’t even remember the names of my classmates not to talk of the lecturers and the subjects. In fact, my brain is still on lockdown”.
Reacting to the issue of virtual learning she said: “Nigeria don reach that level? Abeg make dem calm down for that one. Na all the students get phone? Dey know no say things dey hard for this country? You buy data 1K e no go even last for 2 weeks. Network no dey even gree us learn and we no dey even hear wetin the Lecturer dey talk. They should try and do something about it even if we had to come to lectures twice it would be okay for us. Most of my classmates don’t have android phones and it’s always difficult for them to join the classes and after the classes they’ll be begging and all of them are lost. Even me, I’m trying to install the zoom app on my phone and my phone is rejecting it and exams are around the corner. They have to do something about it.
“We are not observing the COVID-19 protocols the way they’re preaching it on social media. If they’re preaching 90 per cent, what I’m seeing is 20 per cent. Even lecturers, most of them find it difficult to wear their nose masks and it’s not healthy.” She however advised her colleagues, especially those who were yet to resume, to do the needful, study their books and adhere to the COVID-19 protocols as stipulated by the NCDC.
On her part, Utibe William Jeremiah, a second year student of English and Literary studies had an entirely different view in all of this. She said the outbreak of the pandemic was indeed a blessing to her.
“It gave me ample opportunities to explore the world and know much about my talents. Though the outbreak must have been a thorn on others’ flesh because of the sad occurrences they may have encountered, my achievements during this pandemic blossomed; I was able to learn a trade, acquire skills that could help me earn a living. It also helped boost my academic capacity because I was opportune to meet different types of academic instructors within the globe who educated me on different fields of studies.
“The pandemic period brought about a strong bond in my family, where we had good times, my parents were settled at home to attend to the long and millions of pressing issues that affected their children, there was more love and affection that made us realize the essence of family.
“However, as a student, I was always conscious about the fact that, sooner or later ASUU will definitely call off the 10 months strike. Ostensibly very happy that the strike was suspended and the date for academic activities have been announced. My whole body, especially my brain on entering the school premises feels like a child who has lost his way and must be found.
“Coping with academic activities during this short period isn’t that easy though my mind has been prepared already for the random workload which I must engage in. I really appreciate the speed at which lecturers in my department are embarking on, the timetable is strictly adhered to without any chances, this made me wish, had this level of enthusiasm been before all the pandemonium, activities would have gone three hundred miles away at present.
“A major challenge is the virtual learning which is a great obstacle to students who don’t have access to the virtual world or digital community or even when a student have the gadgets for this virtual learning but doesn’t have money for subscription, it’s a problem, this has become an embargo to many students and had already led to missing of tests and academic activities because of the aforementioned barrier. Conclusively, though the pandemic has either been a curse or blessing. The University should not overload the students with activities that will affect us psychologically and should maintain the six official working days while they leave Saturdays to students to have their natural rest and revive their brains for the coming week”.
It is worthy to note that 2020 can best be described as a year of uncertainty and struggle in the education sector. While the devastating effect of the COVID-19 pandemic was not envisaged, the indefinite strike by ASUU was inevitable, following series of disagreements between the federal government and the union over unpaid salaries and allowances and the refusal of ASUU members to enrol in the Integrated Payroll and Personal Information System, IPPIS, among other issues.
However the prolonged strike resulted in frustration and disappointment among students, parents and other stakeholders, as some students got engaged in various activities, both positive and negative, while the strike lasted. Eventually, students heaved a sigh of relief as the strike that commenced on March 23, was suspended on December 23, 2020 though conditionally.
Coincidentally, it would also be recalled that ASUU embarked on strike the same day the National Universities Commission, NUC directed universities across the country to shut down for one month to prevent the spread of the virus. Prior to the order by the NUC, the Federal Ministry of Education had approved the closure of schools as a response to the pandemic.