February 1, 2021 Accra
Even in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, the need to get an education remains. Regardless, the environment for learning has changed considerably in the pandemic’s wake. What was once an in-person learning experience with fieldwork, networking and meetings with teachers, is now done virtually from the safety of our homes. For those that continued or embarked upon their academic journeys, the situation was unexpected and less than ideal. However, the pursuit of knowledge remains.
For Rachel Akata, research assistant and recent graduate of Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST), the move online sparked concern for many reasons. Initially, she was excited about the soon to be lack of early wake-up calls for class. With that aside, she did have concerns about how she would be able to get her education in a virtual learning environment. Rachel was concerned about dealing with internet connectivity issues. She explained that her area was susceptive to connectivity issues, which were exasperated by the weather. Another issue that Rachel had to deal with was learning how to work with the class software. “We were having challenges, the lecturer couldn’t get on the site, there were video issues,” she recounted.
Virtual education is a strong answer to the disruption that COVID-19 brought, but there were lessons that the internet and a device couldn’t replace. As an Environmental Science major, Rachel Akata was supposed to undertake fieldwork to complete her degree, but due to restrictions brought by COVID, that plan fell through. “We were doing a course on wildlife and we were supposed to go to Mole National Park,” she explained. “We were the only class that couldn’t go.”
To say that there were drastic changes in the way we conducted our lives is an understatement, and this leaves prospective students wondering what to do. For some, the transition to virtual learning was challenging, but for others like Research and Administration officer and PhD student, Emelda Quainoo, the change was embraced. “We were used to the face-to-face interaction and we all know that’s not going to happen,” she said. This wasn’t the way Emelda hoped to start her PhD program in Migration. Regardless, she welcomed the new way of studying and making academic contributions. “I expect to contribute to academia for my own personal development.”
Emelda’s academic institution, Centre for Migration Studies, has been forthcoming with relaying information to its students. They’ve been keeping contact with students in their courses through emails and phone calls. They also utilise their course software to help conduct classes. With that being said, the PhD student is hopeful that this will encourage African universities to diversify their learning practices. “In Africa, we haven’t put in much thought to how we will operate virtually,” she said.
The current situation has seen the world come up with solutions for a great majority of our problems, education included. However, there are some things that innovation can’t replace. As a result of the COVID-19 restrictions, KNUST’s graduation celebration had to move online, much to the disappointment of Rachel Akata. “Your first degree is a one-time thing,” she remarked “It’s unfortunate, but you give thanks because you’re able to graduate. In all the losses encountered over the last year, the urgency and drive to pursue a higher education remains an imperative. It’s something I know I should do because I might not have that opportunity again.”
Written by Aseye Banini