Did LUMS Mishandle The Situation Created By Covid Pandemic?
As the pandemic hit the world, life took a U-turn. The education sector pummelled like all other sectors. Physical classes had to be shifted online, and annual university events cancelled or taken online. Most universities across the world and in Pakistan experimented with new pedagogical techniques. Faculty-student interaction shifted from physical, in–class to online instruction. With looming uncertainty with partial or complete lockdown, online learning and teaching, this was a new territory for students and faculty alike.
In the same scenario, universities across the country including LUMS faced several challenges. How were they to retain their resources, not lay off staff, help students in need, retain scholarships and retrain faculty for online teaching, without revisions to fee-structure. Hence this had direct impact on fee-tariff, which in light of students concerns, was adjusted accordingly.
With a formal committee in place, LUMS commenced planning for the online semester and instantly put it into action. Class schedules, exams and virtual classrooms, teacher trainings — all were worked upon. Students in far-flung areas, were shipped devices to ensure unhindered learning. The University had to quickly respond in preventing delays in the academic progress by implementing online classes.
Undoubtedly, this was not enough for the students and they continued to face challenges ranging from delayed assignments at home, difficulty with attending online classes, burdened by unconducive home environments, and connectivity. Anxiety and depression due to the situation at hand and challenges with academic progress created a communication rift.
For the overworked and visibly stressed student body, the possibility of returning to campus was a much expected and earned respite. LUMS administration, however, owing to the continuing spread of COVID-19 decided to have the entirety of undergraduate classes online, followed by a phased opening of campus given that health and safety measures were being followed by all students, faculty and staff.
LUMS set up a formal Health and Safety Committee, led by an internationally recognised public health specialist, certified by the American Board of Public Health and Preventive Medicine to guide the LUMS administration on essential steps that needed to be taken to keep the community safe, and to help develop a layered health strategy. The subsequent health strategy included bringing smaller groups of students back on campus in October 2020, mapping the situation, and creating standard operating procedures. After due deliberation, LUMS partially opened the campus – normalcy in the new normal was much needed. However, by the time it opened for the day scholars, the government directives came to shut educational institutions again because of the resurgence of the second wave of COVID-19.
The latest directive from the Higher Education Commission regarding the opening of academic institutions in Pakistan, outlines that only 30 percent of students are permitted on campus. As a result, the LUMS management had to reassess the decision to open campus for all students. Many students have provided valuable input already and in fact the only way that universities can ensure that learning continues without disruption is that all community members, students, staff and administration work together with an exemplary spirit of cooperation.