Over the past few weeks, I have been witnessing a lot of posts on social media regarding the decision of the University of Mauritius to maintain face to face exams. Students have been expressing their utter disappointment and dissatisfaction by this decision of maintaining traditional invigilated exams. What drew my attention even more was the demonstration held by some university students for two consecutive days in Reduit. They were even supported by a well-known activist who is openly against compulsory vaccination.
While it is refreshing to see youngsters standing for what they believe in, I am speechless and dubious about the rationale of this protest. Through the pictures posted online, I came along a particular protest sign with « forcing us to give our consent is terrorism », written on it. At the time you are reading my article, believe me, I’m still looking for that provision in legislations which are directly and indirectly linked to counter terrorism. It’s nowhere to be found.
Anyway, getting back to the essence of the students’ frustration, it seems that they are scared and unprecedentedly stressed by the way exams are being held because of the increasing Covid-19 cases. It raises the question of how students, mostly final year students who will be on the job market in a few months, will be coping with life taking its normal course with Covid-19 and occasional cases resurging?
“UOM next cluster” – Another sign that grabbed my attention. Aren’t students being distracted by the number of cases which might keep increasing at this stage? What really matters now is the death rate, which is thankfully low.
Though it is undeniable that the current situation is stressful, it is by now the new normal to which we should all be adapting to. Last year, final year students went through even worse hardships with only basic sanitary measures against the spread of Covid-19 and when all the restrictions, uncertainties, stress, police presence on the campus and whatnot it entailed, were unprecedented in every sense of the word. Be that as it may, students had to adapt and overcome. It is true that we were covid-free at that time but we also did not have any vaccines yet. Besides, the fear of a potential resurgence at any point in time was very much present.
Some are calling on a tyrannical government. Wasn’t it a tyrannical government when the right to freedom of movement was curtailed? Yet this measure has been overwhelmingly accepted, with a few significant outliers. It seems that it was not a hard decision to accept because it was in fact in line with our choices. We would love to keep going with our normal lives but the fear of contracting the virus, reaffirmed by the media, buried this idea to the extent that we consciously did not want it anymore, at that particular point in time.
At the end of the day, the students’ motivation is quite blurry and highly questionable. Is it possible that there are different motivations hidden in a united protest? More importantly, are they really protesting against the mode of examination only or rather against compulsory vaccination?
It is an uncontested fact that the tertiary education system needs a big reform, and students are very right to make their voices heard in this regard. However, proposing online exams at this point in time is but a short-sighted solution to a much bigger problem. The switching of exams conditions to a remote context has much more underlying implications in terms of logistics and informatic readiness, amongst others. Although its adoption can positively contribute to our goal of transforming Mauritius into a centre of excellence in higher education, this might not be the first course of action, as opposed to what some students may believe.
Since we are meant to live with the virus, students will eventually be bound to take the jab upon resuming university, so why delay the inevitable?