I’m no virologist or immunologist or even a doctor. But I hold myself as being fairly clever (an 8/10 at least 😉) and therefore feel more than capable to conduct my own research and diligence into this horrid disease that is with us. I’m intrigued, actually flabbergasted, that there appear to be so many, globally, who think it’s a ‘trivial nothing’, ‘like a little ‘flu-type thing’, ‘not really anything at all to worry about’ and, perhaps most worryingly of all, ‘a hoax’. Do you know what? It’s not.
In excess of 12,800,000 confirmed cases worldwide and nearly 570,000 deaths will corroborate that it ain’t no hoax. However, my previous generic rants about this crisis and the flaws of major governments worldwide ( including those close to home) are well documented in the previous posts of this blog, so please feel free to rummage through them to your heart’s content.
No, today, whilst still on the ‘main topic’ of the virus, is a subject very close to my heart and, given that many of my ardent supporters are students (past and present), a subject close to theirs’ too I suspect– ‘the return’ to education.
I’ve more or less reached the conclusion that we probably should cancel as much face-to-face teaching as is humanly possible for the entire next academic session. I know that sounds drastic but I am not advocating a year long sabbatical for us all – no merely that we deliver our lectures and seminars in an alternative format. I say all this for the sake of our staff and students and even the country as a whole.
My rationale for this drastic measure is simple – I, like many others I suspect, am in danger of becoming one of the foolhardy from my opening paragraph. I do occasionally have to remind myself about this global pandemic thing and that it is not a ‘minor’ problem. There will be no gentle escape from this and a ‘return to normality’ – whatever that means and, even if there was would we want it? Until a vaccine arrives ( which is a hope more than an absolute certainty) we will sustain setbacks, of varying degrees. We have already seen some. The defiant non-compliance in Soho, Bournemouth, Kelvingrove Park and The Meadows in Edinburgh is testament to that. This morning’s latest grim prognosis is that a second ‘winter’ wave might just result in 120,000 deaths.
So, teaching and the problems it raises is a major issue for the students but also for the staff. I am rarely in my element more than in front of a class of students regaling them with stories of my 30 odd years (sometimes very odd) in the law. I don’t want to have multiple Zooms each week and papers emailed to me for comment, feedback and possibly even marking.
But what is the alternative? What options are there, in reality? Whilst we can implement all sorts of measures whilst at college, university, a workplace…we have no idea (nor should we) where people have been or go before and after attending a lecture. So a non-compliant student who chooses to not obey social distancing at the weekend saunters in of a Monday and, perhaps even unwittingly, is ‘carrying’ the virus which would then have the propensity to spread like wildfire throughout the campus. This can’t all be cured or prevented by a 50p mask or a £1 bottle of Superdrug hand sanitiser.
Further, what sort of experience are they likely to have if they do return? Marshalled along some bizarre one-way system, terrified to take a wrong turn for fear of instant retribution? Terrified to go to the loo because ‘God knows who has already been’..? Terrified that if they hear or see someone cough or sneeze they feel doomed? What of the canteen measures? A chaotic experience at the best of times. This is no way to be ‘educated’. Nor, of course, is by ‘virtual learning’. I accept that. But it is all about weighing up the various options – benefits and risks et cetera.
They would, at best, be in the same room but numbers down by at least two-thirds. Miles away from each other so no ‘group/collaborative tasks’. My students will tell you I believe this is such a potent and vital method of learning. Miles away from the academics – so we cannot approach a student and discuss their work. Everyone painfully struggling to hear and see what everyone else is doing. Then there are the students who legitimately will struggle with public transport issues and their responsibilities towards members of their households.
Then of course there are the academics many of whom have underlying health conditions that make them petrified of catching the virus. Despite the chances of contracting it being relatively low, doing so can result in hospitalisation and even death – no wonder they are scared.
We are not really sure yet what caused the first ‘localised’ lockdown in Leicester although suspicion falls on many a ‘party/rave’ within the city. Such issues do not (yet) concern our students as they’re on holiday. But keep a watchful eye – preposterously, students in Alabama, USA were holding , wait for it, ‘Covid parties’, the principal purpose of which was to become intentionally infected. A sort of ‘extreme initiation’ ceremony if you like. Read that sentence again. Good Lord.
Coronavirus is spreading at an alarming rate amongst ‘younger’ people – the real tragedy is that many of them (a great many of them) believe they are immune to a disease that has caused turmoil globally. I have some news for them – they are not.
Nobody wants to be back at work more than I do. For so many reasons. I am at my happiest in front of a class, strutting about and enthralling them with a lifetime of tales and adventures, whilst simultaneously educating them to move on to university and a solid career.
But that kind of loses its’ shine if a risk of doing so is a stint in ICU on a ventilator………..or worse.
If students can be taught ‘digitally’, and of course some cannot, then they should be.
Let’s pray for a vaccine soon.