By Professor Dr Moy Foong Ming
Our undergraduates and post-graduates have been on e-learning for more than one academic year since the COVID pandemic started. A new academic year will commence in October 2021. However, up to today, we have not been informed officially if the new semester will still be 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, the standard operating procedures such as mask wearing, maintaining physical distancing, handwashing etc are still required to be practiced.
With the high vaccination coverage in our country, there are plans to reopen in most if not all economy sectors, including schools. However, to date, there are no plans proposed from the Ministry of Higher Education. Our undergraduates and post-graduates by coursework have spent more than one academic year with e-learning. Some students (those attended one-year course) may have graduated without entering the campus. They missed the opportunities of campus life, interaction with peers and lecturers, feedback from both their peers or lecturers. Other students may missed the opportunities in improving their communication skills, clinical or practical skills (for those in the disciplines of Engineering, Science etc).
However, this is the best solution during the COVID-19 pandemic for tertiary education to continue and to ensure there is continuation in supply of professionals or experts amidst the pandemic.
By now, the Ministry of Higher Education should be ready with well planned protocols for the possibility of re-opening the campus for full or partial on-site teaching and learning. The universities, staff and students of the universities should not be informed last minute of the decision. The plans should be open and transparent for parents, students and staff to provide feedback in order to make the campus safer and more ready for onsite teaching.
The reopening of campus should not cause a surge of COVID cases among the students or staff. There should be protocols in how to receive the large number of students back to the campus, if there should be reduced capacity in lecture halls or adjustments to timetables, the need to check on the ventilation system of the lecture theatres and tutorial rooms, if found to be in poor ventilation, what measures to be taken etc.
Another important issue to be considered is the vaccination status of the students and staff. What is the 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 ? At what level of vaccination coverage for the campus is considered safe to be reopened for on-site teaching ?
We hope the MOHE will provide answers to the above.
(Professor Dr Moy Foong Ming, Department of Social & Preventive Medicine, Faculty of Medicine, Universiti Malaya.)