Students’ fears, hopes as varsities re-open

Saturday May 30 2020

Students at the University of Dodoma are

Students at the University of Dodoma are registration in Dodomqa yesterday, as preparation for the commencement of June 1.PHOTO|EDWIN MJWAHUZI 

By Jacob Mosenda @Jmosenda

Dar es Salaam. With only forty-eight hours left before colleges and universities re-open, students are of divided opinion over their return to campuses at a time when the novel coronavirus is still a huge concern in Tanzania and across the world.

Some of the students are worried about their performance - especially given the short time left before completing the semester amid uncertainties over their wellbeing.

However, there are those who express hope that nothing would interfere with their studies - provided all players would strictly observe the set guidelines and take the requisite precautions.

The government has issued guidelines on how learning institutions can keep students safe from Covid-19 as they are set to resume studies on Monday after two months of closure.

In its guidelines, the ministry of Health, Community Development, Gender, Elderly and Children directed educational institutions to, among other things, prepare conducive study environment that prevent spread of the novel coronavirus which causes the Covid-19 malady.

It emphasised the need to disinfect the environment, educate students on the pandemic and ensure hand washing equipment, soap and sanitizer were available in their premises.

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President John Magufuli has repeatedly urged the public not to fear - but take precautions as advised by healthcare experts.

The Tanzania Commission for Universities (TCU) also instructed higher learning institutions to ensure that study programmes are covered in time - and without compromising the quality of learning - and that examinations and study tours are concluded within the remaining time.

TCU further instructed institutions to abide by the set quality standards in order to produce competent professionals.

Even so, Hadija Msafiri, a student of Mzumbe University, said she will go back to campus just because she had no option.

“I cannot guarantee that a place with over 7,000 people would be safer than my home - even with availability of set preventive mechanisms. If I had a better alternative, I would have taken it,” she told The Citizen.

“Everybody will be coming from their home. How many days will be set to have all of us screened before being allowed in? Would we be restricted from going outside campuses once inside?” questioned Ms Msafiri.

“If we want to be sure of our safety, all of us should be housed on-campus, and be restricted from going out. This cannot happen,” she speculated.

A third-year student from the University of Dar es Salaam, Mr Thomas Balihuta, expressed fear over performance.

“We have a lot of topics yet to be covered. There are also research projects awaiting - and everyone is yearning to do well especially for us who are in our final year. How will all these be managed so as to instil quality, better performance, in students?” he questioned - adding: “We should not just open schools, but also think of the quality of education after re-opening.”

Jenoveva Mdoe from the University of Dodoma had a different take. “I’m not yet sure of the exact trend of the coronavirus in the country. But, with the thorough safety measures being taken, all is well with me,” she stated, exuding confidence.

“I’ve been fearing repeating an academic year, not the virus! We can prevent spread of the virus,” she observed, adding that “a lazy student will have a tough time from the short, hectic time left to exams. But I’m glad we’re going back.”

Another student, Mr Josiah Bigambi of St Augustine University of Tanzania, said he was happy after getting the news of going back to campus.

“The issue of safety depends on an individual. Everyone should take measures to avoid contracting Covid-19 - and also strive to perform well,” he advised.

“I know, we students in universities are sometimes avers to instructions, something that we should not attempt to do for the sake of our safety. But I’m optimistic we’ll finish securely,” he adds.

Psychologist’s take

A psychologist based in Dar es Salaam, Dr Maigi Tanui, said when all universities closed as a way of responding to the intensifying concerns surrounding Covid-19, and the action eventually must have led to negative psychological consequences among students.

“Students often experience compounded negative emotions during the school “closure”. Some students who find the campus homelike and welcoming harbour intense feelings such as frustration, anxiety, and betrayal. This is what most have gone through while outside school,” he said.

He said college students will experience distress contributed by the uncertainty and abrupt disruption of the semester in addition to the anxiety caused by school closure.

“Many now have concerns and fears of infection and transmission of Covid-19. This psychologically may have some negative impacts that may translate into their academic performance,” he noted.

He says although universities have responded and put in place preventive measures, they should continue to develop courses of action and public health messaging to better address collegiate mental health issues caused by the disruptions of education,”

“Students should be continually advised and transition to the use of mobile phone and even online meeting in order to make students adapt to new ways of living in campus.

“Faculty and staff should consider offering virtual office hours to students, and they need to work together to maintain the connection and help students process and address academic concerns caused by the disruption of the semester,” he suggests.