By Marissa Foster
THE University of Guyana recently held its convocation ceremony for the academic year of 2020. Students graduated from both the Berbice Campus and Turkeyen Campus via an online ceremony that was held for each faculty. Social media was filled with pictures of the graduates alongside their success stories. Many of these success stories resulted from hard work and determination by the students because they endured a global pandemic, but yet still they persevered. The Pepperpot Magazine was eager to find out a bit more about the challenges some students faced during the pandemic with their academic studies and how they were able to overcome such to graduate. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, all classes are now being held on virtual mediums at the University of Guyana. Before the pandemic, many students were asked to physically work in groups to share the workload and/or engage in peer teaching. There was also a sense of support in these in-class interactions.
Aneisa Alonzo explained the challenges of teamwork and group activities that were caused due to the COVID-19 pandemic; “After on-campus classes were suspended many lecturers were forced to adjust their course outlines, and in some instances, change their teaching methods. It wasn’t long before all of our lecturers introduced multiple group assignments. While this method was meant to reduce the burden of grading hundreds of individual papers for the lecturers, it proved to be quite challenging for the students. Amidst a pandemic where social distancing is the new norm, and where many students across Guyana do not have access to reliable internet services, group assignments turned out to be a complete disaster. Simply organising a meeting with members of the group presented challenges: persons with children were only available at a specific time, while other persons struggled with internet issues. Students working with shift systems found it difficult to make time for classes as well as group meetings. This meant that oftentimes, the burden of completing assignments fell on a few students. So, to answer the question, absolutely not”. Despite this dilemma, Aneisa managed to graduate with a distinction from the Associates of Public Management program at the Berbice Campus.
As students were forced to stay away from physical classroom settings due to the virus, this meant that their home space also became their school/workspace as well. This can pose a challenge for many, including Ornissa Gordon. She recently graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in Economics. Gordon explained that, “Suddenly my home became my classroom. At first, it was quite difficult not only for myself to adjust to the new norm but also for some lecturers. At one point we were all hoping to return to the classrooms but COVID-19 seemed not to be going anywhere. My biggest challenge while being at home was the very poor internet connection we had in Linden. I had to resort to putting on data plans just to access my classes. Thankfully, that worked out quite fine even though expensive. There were some minor challenges like being disciplined enough to always be present at every lecture. Some days I felt so exhausted from being restricted to the four walls of my home and having to engage in lectures at home. However, I had to remind myself that this is our new norm and this is my final lap to completion. Thankfully, my neighbourhood is quiet, so the issue of disturbances during classes wasn’t a problem for me. I believe that it was my faith and positivity that kept me going strong”, said Ornissa.
Muzzammil Mohabir recently graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in Geography. Speaking about whether it was challenging to be away from his colleagues with no face-to-face interaction, Muzzammil said, “It was my final semester when COVID-19 caused a nationwide lockdown. It would be quite an understatement to say YES, I was affected. It was challenging not to have the face-to-face interaction that I had grown accustomed to for the last three and half years. My colleagues and I relied on each other for moral, academic and mental support. However, without any alternative but to engage in online classes, I found solace that I wasn’t the only one with similar struggles. However, how I would overcome these challenges was still a burning question.
I would constantly feel like I was tumbling down a mountain. Nevertheless, I overcame these challenges by keeping in contact with my colleagues, trusting my family’s support, and relying on my wonderful lectures. It was a slow process, but one of Abraham Lincoln’s quote lifted my will power and remained my mantra to this day; ‘Discipline is choosing between what you want now and what you want most’ and ultimately what I wanted to do most at that time was to graduate with my Distinction in Geography”.
Due to the classes being held online, students had to utilise e-services to access their classes. Delroy Marks recently graduated from the University of Guyana Berbice Campus with an Associate’s Degree in Social Work. Delroy explained some of the challenges he faced by saying, “Guyana’s e-services possess a great challenge for all Guyanese especially students at the University of Guyana. I can recall many days they were endless assignments, exams, and presentations that were put on halt or pause due to the services provided by the e-services I use. If it wasn’t for understanding lecturers, these services would’ve failed me and other students. The quality of services needs improvement as the world and our country advance into a technological era”. These students graduated from the first batch of students to ever graduate from completing online classes done by the University of Guyana. They all shared their stories with the Pepperpot Magazine in the hope of inspiring other students who may have faced similar challenges.