Learning the hard way

Schools had been set to reopen in September but that may or may not come to pass as we continue to grapple with Covid-19 containment measures. For those of us who went through school with little to no disruption, it’s hard to imagine what losing a term, semester or entire academic year feels like, and that’s the prospect many students are facing. We skipped school due to bad weather, when we lost a loved one and had to go for burial, or the times we weren’t well enough to attend. 

But that usually only lasted a couple of days. School is indefinitely suspended in some places and uncertainty looms for students where life was a bit more structured in the past. 


Before the pandemic, you went to school, worked on your grades and hoped to find a job once you graduated. Now many of you have been forced to put your dreams on hold. Some of you may never even return to school because your parents were laid off, or lost their other sources of income and may not be able to raise your tuition. 


To think that we whined about having to buy handbooks and other study materials and yet you guys must now invest in costly smartphones and laptops, on top of ensuring you have reliable power and internet connectivity for your online classes. All the issues your young minds have to deal with not knowing if or when you’ll be able to complete your studies. And for girls especially, I hope your parents don’t marry you off in exasperation or despair! 


Home-schooling has been a challenge for many, and that goes for both parents and students. Even with virtual classes, certain study environments and experiences can’t be replicated. For instance, we had most of our biology, chemistry and physics lessons in labs where you went and actually conducted experiments. You held the bones and teeth you were learning about, looked down a microscope at amoeba and other organisms. 

I remember swinging the pendulum bob to test the theory of gravity. My friends did their art projects including drawing, pottery and moulding in our school’s art gallery. There were also rehearsals and presentations in full costume for those who were into music and drama. All those experiences are unique to the traditional school environment. I can’t imagine not being able to meet classmates face-to-face for the all-important study and discussion groups. I also feel for international students stuck wherever. Others almost got deported from the US because their courses can be conducted online and what not. I don’t think whoever initially conceived the policy to send them home has any idea how hard it is to fund a child’s education these days. 

I saw some snide remarks along the lines of how this should serve as a lesson to those who choose to invest abroad instead of contributing towards the development of their native countries. 

Look, nobody really knows why people make the choices they do. All I know is that these families often make tremendous sacrifices. Parents stake their land and other property hoping that their children will have a better shot at success, and I don’t think we should judge them for that. 

Every country benefits from having foreign students in its institutions, not just through revenue but cultural exchanges too. I remember going to school with students from across the region, and I always felt a sense of pride knowing that parents elsewhere trusted our schools enough to send their kids over. I often wondered what the experience of studying in another country felt like. Unfortunately, I never got the opportunity.


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