As the second semester of the 2020/21 academic session of the University of Ibadan finally begins to take shape, there are indications that the institution might announce a return to virtual classes to curtail the spread of the COVID-19, amid fears that the third wave of the pandemic has hit the country.
Recall that following a University of Ibadan Senate sitting on 15 January 2021, the management announced that the institution would resume academic activities for the first semester virtually. Despite fears by some students when the announcement was made, the institution went on with the move until June, when physical revision classes were held ahead of the first semester examinations.
The moment the switch back to physical mode of learning began, students, who had been out of the four walls of an academic institution for over a year — thanks to the pandemic and a prolonged ASUU strike — heaved a huge sigh of relief. However, their relief might have come too early.
A Third Wave: The Pandemic Is Back
After recording a significantly low number of new COVID-19 cases for months, the return of the virus became a bone of contention about four weeks ago, following the confirmation of 10 cases of the Delta variant in the country.
The Delta variant, also known as B.1.617.2, has been described by the World Health Organization as the “most transmissible variant” of the virus. It has been linked to 90% of the rise in cases in the United Kingdom (UK) and the United States of America (USA).
More worrying is the fact that according to a report, some lab-based work and analysis of real-world data indicate that the current vaccines available globally are somewhat relatively less effective against the Delta variant, and events in India have shown that it may also be associated with a greater risk of hospitalisation. As at the time of writing this report, the country had recorded a total of 181, 962 cases and 2,219 deaths.
But Should UI Return to Virtual Classes?
“I am not in support of a return to virtual learning,” Muiz Oyekola, a first-year student of history, said with an air of certainty. “Nigerian Universities are yet to get to that stage whereby we can learn at home without issues.”
According to Muiz, his antagonism to a switch to a virtual mode of learning emanates from the problems he encountered when it was used in the last semester. “During the first semester, there were certain classes where the lecturer speaks for an hour and you’ll hardly understand a minute due to the network. There is also the ridiculous amount we pay for data,” he said with a slightly raised voice.
While noting that the recent spike in COVID-19 cases is a serious source of concern, he maintained that the management should put in place measures that must be strictly adhered to, like mandatory use of face masks and sanitizers and limitations to schedule of classes in line with the need for social distancing.
Unlike Muiz, another undergraduate, Oyelakin Festus, held a contrary view. According to Festus, who was initially skeptical about expressing his view, it is important for the school to revert back to its virtual mode of learning because there is no way the people can be totally forced to abide by COVID-19 precautions.
“The school authority can only try their best but they can’t force them. And once people pass the school gate, many people remove their face mask.”
He added that the fact that the virtual mode of learning would be coming for the second time means it would be better because “we are closer to perfecting it than the last semester when it was tried for the first time.”
While Festus and Muiz took a strong stand on their respective views, Olabiyi Idris, a final-year student of the Faculty of Education spoke in support and against the possible return to virtual classes — all within 78 seconds.
“I have a dicey opinion on the topic because we can’t handle virtual classes in Nigeria the way it’s supposed to be handled due to various factors, ranging from electricity, to data and unstable network. So, I prefer physical classes. However, scientifically, we might have to continue the virtual classes because I don’t want to die,” Czar Biyi, as he is widely known, noted.
Biyi’s skepticism provides an insight into the crossroad majority of students have found themselves in.
An Expert Wades In
A microbiologist, Olanrewaju Ahmad, says the return to the virtual mode is a logical move the University management should take.
According to him, from a scientific point of view, it is advisable for the school to return to the virtual mode of learning because this would help reduce human-to-human interaction among people who are susceptible to the virus, especially those with underlying health conditions.
“In microbiology, there is something we call epidemiology, which is the study of distribution and determinants of health-related events and application of its study to control health problems,” he explained.
“Microbiologically, there is something called an epidemiological triangle. It is a model of disease conditions based on the belief that disease results from the external agents, susceptible host and environment. So before any disease can manifest in anybody, the three triangles must come to play.”
Ahmad also warned that the Delta variant has a different mutation which can have a large effect on students and lecturers.
“Some students have underlying health conditions that they do not even know about. If the school reintroduced virtual learning, it would reduce the population size, it would reduce the transmission rate. The new variant doesn’t even show symptoms and is more deadly. So it is better for the school to choose the virtual class rather than the physical ones,” he added.