UWI Looking To September Restart

Barbados, June 23, 2020 (Barbados Today)  Administrators at the University of the West Indies’ Cave Hill Campus are eyeing a return to physical classes instead of online learning at the start of the upcoming academic year, according to Public Relations Specialist Chelston Lovell.

Physical classes were suspended in mid-March when Barbados recorded its first cases of Covid-19 and virtual lectures and tutorials followed on April 6.

“Cave Hill is preparing to receive as many people as it can in a face-to-face setting because at the end of the day, it is a landed campus and not an online campus. So the preference is to have people leave Finland, Norway, Jamaica, Trinidad, or wherever they live and sit in a classroom at Cave Hill as opposed to taking courses online,” Lovell disclosed.

Although the transition to online learning was mostly successful, Lovell told Barbados TODAY that the campus was not equipped to accommodate e-learning full time and is not actively pursuing such a model but are preparing for all possibilities.

“What was employed was not full online teaching; it was a kind of emergency online teaching. It was not full online education in the sense that if you wanted technical support at 2 or 3 a.m. you could not be provided with it.

“We were able to quickly switch to the online platforms, but we are not yet able to deliver online education as an ongoing endeavour, because that calls for a lot of technical support,” Lovell explained.

He further revealed that a survey had been prepared for students to garner their input about the possible reopening. Lovell, however, stressed that Cave Hill’s management team would not limit itself to any single method of education.

“Nobody knows how this thing [virus] will double back, so you need to be prepared to deliver education in two possible modes – either face-to-face, online, or in circumstances where some people come and others stay away, but that can only be determined by the level of comfort the student has,” he disclosed.

Lovell stressed that it is still too early to tell how lecture rooms, dormitories and other facilities might have to be configured to satisfy possible physical distancing requirements.

He, however, added: “If minibuses are allowed to go back to carrying a full load, come September, perhaps students may be allowed to sit closer than four, five or six people apart, but everything at this time is conjecture because this is a very fluid situation.”

Campus officials are also reportedly discussing the real possibility of a drop in enrollment numbers due to health fears and the economic fallout from Covid-19. The administrative official pointed to global projections of 15 to 25 per cent reductions in enrollment but expressed confidence in Cave Hill’s ability to assist students as much as possible.

“At Cave Hill, our campaign is aiming to get as many people in as possible. To say that we do not expect some falloff would be unrealistic and we do not know how substantial that would be. But what we are doing is trying our utmost to get as many people into Cave Hill as possible for face-to-face teaching and how many people we can physically accommodate given the public policy restrictions of social distancing,” said Lovell.

“Education is just one industry. There are lots of other industries where you can see the level of PPE [Personal Protective Equipment] that people are wearing when you go to gas stations and supermarkets etc. Then there are financial institutions that have put up Flexi glasses between them and customers Then other businesses have allowed people to work from home due to the high level of uncertainty.

“Higher education is no different and you just have to be prepared for any eventuality. But we’re not making wild guesses. We’re using scientific methods to try to determine the best possible outcomes,” he assured.

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