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How ASUU Can Keep Corona Virus Off Its Campuses: Lessons from Singapore

January 15, 2021 | Estimated Reading Time: 4 minutes
Written by Tolu Okunade

Angry. Tired. Frustrated.

These are the words that sum up the life of every student of a public tertiary institution right now after The Presidential Task Force earlier this week announced that indefinite postponement of the reopening of schools on the recommendation of the Association of Staff Union of Universities (ASUU). And they are within their rights to be.

Since March 2020, The Association of Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) had declared a strike action. Its impact, however, wasn’t felt because the Nation had shut down due to the Corona Virus Pandemic. Privately owned institutions were able to adapt to global standards by successful having lectures and conducting examinations for its students online.

But our students in Federal Universities? Nothing. Why? Because our Federal Institutions do not have the facilities for that. And even if they did, Lecturers who would have conducted it were on strike. The supposed ‘leaders’ and ‘future’ of this nation was left unattended and unattended to for months. Kept at home, Jobless because the Government refused to heed to the Union’s demands.

When they finally did, it was in December 2020 just as the world approached The Christmas and New Year Celebrations. And so many were assured that in January, schools would reopen unfailingly. In fact, institutions like Federal University Oye-Ekiti, University of Ilorin and University of Ibadan had announced resumption dates. So you can only imagine the tears and disappointment the news of the indefinite postponement brought.

I know that our university students are enraged (and they have all the right in the world to be), but they have failed to ask one key question. Do our universities have the capacity to control the spread of the virus? To be candid, the answer is negative. If not for anything, the overcrowding on our university grounds (particularly Federal) is a major reason to worry. The virus spreads rapidly in crowded rooms.

Will students resume to our lecture rooms that smaller than the number of students expected to be in it? It has become a norm to see a lecture room with a capacity of 1,000 hold a lecture of twice that number. Should I also mention our University hostels that are bursting at the seams with occupants? Imagine how the rate of COVID will triple in days. All it takes is one infected student. If anything, this virus has just shown the level of rot, decay and high level of incompetence that has eaten deep into the fabric of the educational system.

Did you know?

According to a report by the New York Times, Singapore has been able to keep its University Campuses COVID Free.

In Singapore on the other hand, campuses are open and they have recorded zero cases of the virus. One of these universities, (The National University of Singapore) has a teeming population of about 50,000 on campus alone. At the risk of sounding like a Nigerian parent, this article is aimed at pointing key strategies in the nation’s battle against the pandemic on our campuses how it can be adopted here in Nigeria.

Here’s how like Singapore, our Campuses can attempt to be COVID free?

First, by solving the prevalent issue of overcrowding in our universities. Like I earlier mentioned, it has become a norm to see lecture rooms host double their capacity. I went to a Federal University. And as a freshman in the university hostel, my room that was originally designed to house 8 students had 17 students in total living in it. And it was completely normal around the campus, in fact, mine was one of the better scenarios. COVID would have a field day in our universities. How can our universities solve this problem? The rest of this article would show.

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, the next line of action would be innovation. If by chance schools cannot resume, how can our students learn? We need to move lecturing and examination systems fully online because COVID isn’t going anywhere, at least not soon. Many of our universities Pride themselves as being ICT friendly, yet have not been able to hold a single lecture online. We must innovate as a matter of necessity.

If schools eventually resume online, then innovation too would be needed. Since more lecture rooms and hostels cannot be built under such short notice, lectures would have to be conducted via zoning which is what Singapore employs. To control campus crowds, their universities have relied heavily on technology. It began last spring with the Singapore Spacer project, which used public Wi-Fi networks to collect anonymized location data from people’s mobile phones.

The project, developed by Michael Chee of N.U.S. and Professor Balan of S.M.U., went live in April as a way to monitor crowds “as passively as possible and with minimum inconvenience,” Professor Chee said. The President of the National University can view how crowded the cafeterias are by looking at his online dashboard. Awesome, right? But you know what is even better? Replicating these on our campuses.

To close, we need to employ stiffer measures and enforce even stiffer sanctions. We simply aren’t doing enough. We need to employ a more aggressive response.

According to the New York Times,

“Students in the National University of Singapore get their temperatures checked twice each day via a mobile phone app. The government offers free testing and medical care to all citizens and long-term residents, and it quickly isolates infected people and traces their contacts. It punishes those found to have violated restrictions, including by deporting foreign nationals and revoking work passes. Students say they comply with the rules because of the threat of punishment. Some of their classmates have been evicted from dormitories for hosting visitors.”

Extra you might think, but that is what this virus requires — Extra Careful Citizens taking Extraordinary Precautions, every single day.

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